When's the best time to buy a used Harley Davidson?
With Fall upon us here in the Midwest the time to buy a used motorcycle is now. A lot of people come to the realization that they didn't ride their motorcycle very much in the spring and summer months or they just want to upgrade to something bigger and decide to part ways with their current ride. This makes fall the best time to find a used motorcycle.
You may ask yourself, “what to look for when buying a used Harley?”, "What is a good price?", "How do I negotiate a fair price?", "What do I even start looking at when I finally find a bike I like?" These are all valid questions and Todd has got the answers.
WATCH OUR VIDEO ON WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN BUYING A USED HARLEY
In this video Todd talks about a 2003 Harley-Davidson 883 XL Sportster we just picked up for an upcoming project. He walks you through what he looks for when buying a bike and gives you some helpful tips and tricks on what to look for when buying a used Harley and how to close the deal.
Sit back, relax, and after you watch this vid you will know exactly what things to check when buying a used motorcycle and when trying to find your next used motorcycle / project!
You can read a full transcription of this video below:
Hey guys, Todd from Lowbrow Customs here. We just picked up this awesome '03 Sportster. In this tech tip video, we're going to go over some things to look for when buying a used motorcycle.
It seems to be a buyer's market these days. There's plenty of these late-model Evo Sportster out there for sale. You can check your local Craigslist and get in your truck and go drive it around town all day long until you find a really good one like we did.
How to Buy A Used Motorcycle
The more stock it is, the better
We purchased this stock Sportster for $2500 and when looking at it for the very first time we noticed the low milage and that it had some nice upgrades that we could possilbly sell to offset the build cost. Thunderheader pipes, Mikuni carbs, hard saddlebags etc...
One of the things that I look for when purchasing a used Sportster is the more stock it is, the better because you're going to want to change it around anyway.
Sometimes there are some okay parts on it for this particular motorcycle. There are some things I don't care about that will be removed, such as the saddlebags in the engine guard. This is not a touring motorcycle, this is a Sportster. Basically, you're going to call up the people and you can't really go by the pictures that you're going to see online because a lot of bikes look really good in pictures. Then when you get there, a lot of times you're disappointed. You're going to get in your truck, it's a good idea to have your ramp and your cash with you when you go to look at it.
Much easier to make a cash deal than it is to tell the guy you can be back the next day only to find out that it was a good deal and somebody else bought it that same day when you were already there. Now you just lost out on a good deal.
Do a Check While the Bike is Cold
Feel the top of the heads to see if they are warm before starting the motor, this is a good indicator if it was warmed up before you got there. You want to try and see if the bike will start cold and with no trouble.
Upon arrival, you're going to give the bike a look over, take a look at it. You're going to be looking at the cosmetics, you're going to be looking at things like mechanical condition. It's always a good idea to ask the seller, do not start the bike before you show up, that way you can see how it starts from cold.
One good way you can check to see if maybe it has an issue and it doesn't like to start and they've got it going before you got there. Before you go to run the bike, you can go, "Oh, is it warm? Oh, gee, I asked this guy not to start this thing and he did it anyway." You want to see how the bike starts from cold. The other thing you want to look at is if you're just planning on buying a bike to ride around on, you want it to be set up the way you want it.
If you're buying one to modify, say you're going to hardtail it, you're going to make a track or whatever the case may be, look at parts that are on the bike that you know you're going to remove and you can offset the cost of the initial purchase to buy the new motorcycle parts you want.
Bring a Couple of Things to Examine the Condition of the Bike
Use a flash light to check things like oil level, oil leaks under the bike and looking in those dark in between crevasses.
It's not a bad idea to bring a couple of things along with you to look at the motorcycle, flashlight. You want to look underneath it, you want to look around in the nooks and crannies. Look for things, tire pressure gauge. You're going to test ride this thing.
You want to make sure there's air in the tires. This bike was sitting in a shed, it didn't have any air on the tires and it's a good idea to have shop rag so if you want to pull the dipstick and check the oil and such are not bothering the-- You just look like you know what you're doing.
Pull it out of your pocket, check the dipstick. That is one of the things you want to check, is there any oil in the tank? Does it look clean? Does it look dirty? This one's not showing on the stick. That's where the flashlight will come in handy. Yes, it's got some in there and it looks pretty clean. That's a good sign. You see really black dirty oil maybe the previous owner didn't care about changing his oil and oil is cheap insurance. Check your fluid. Probably not going to check the primary on this because you're going to have to take the cover off and sometimes people selling things aren't down with you disassembling their motorcycle in their garage. Easy enough to pull the dipstick.
One other handy little tool that I often take along to look at a motorcycle is basic tool kit. Most of these would have a Phillips head.
One other handy little tool that I often take along to look at a motorcycle is some 4/0 steel wool. You can use this on chrome, not polished aluminum like these covers have clear coat on them so I wouldn't use it on there, but you can see how this chrome fender cover strut thingy is all got some weird discoloration starting to rust up from moisture.
What to Look For When Buying a Used Harley
From a far these tires looked great but when you got closer look at the rear, there was some cracking in the sidewalls from age / dry rot, this is a good negotiation tool to try and get some money off the purchase price because new tires aren't cheap.
The other things you want to look for, tires. I know you're thinking you're going to put some new ones on it anyway, but if you're buying a bike just to ride around on, you want to have good motorcycle tires.
On this particular motorcycle, which incidentally has a whopping 4,684 miles. Wow, that's some pretty low miles for this bike, 2003. I would assume these are the original tires. Yes, they still have tread on them. They both look pretty good in the tread department, but if you look closely, you can see the back tire is dry rotted.
See the dry rot in the rear tire circled in red, this is what to look for and defiantly will need replaced.
I don't want to ride around on dry rotted tires. Right there, now you've already found one thing wrong with the bike, which you can maybe negotiate a little bit with the seller. He thinks the tires are great, I don't.
Rear master cylinder - check the pedal function, see if theres any brake fluid leaking, rust on the lines and also that it stops the bike when pushing it down.
You might want to take a look at the brakes. All these small things add up. If you've got to put new brakes on it the minute you get it home, you're already spending more money after the initial purchase. You could look down in the front there and check out the pads. Obviously, the pads aren't going to be worn out on 4,000 miles so they look pretty good. You want to take a look at the lines, the cables, the controls. I did notice--
Check both the calipers with a flash light and see how much pads are left and also look at the brake lines to the master cylinder and see if they are corroded, chewed up or damaged.
Oh my gosh, you got to be Hercules to pull this darn clutch. Nothing that a little cable lube wouldn't fix. It does have a non-stock braided cable. It looks like that's the only braided cable on the bike.
Check all the lights to see if they are working front and rear including turn signals, brake light, and headlight.
You also want to check the electrical system. All right, out of the gate, we got a bulb out, running light bulb out. If you are going to retain-- Look at that. We also have an issue there.
It looks like we have two bulbs out because whenever I depress the left turn signal, the back one lights up, front does nothing. That's just more money to spend when we get home. That side seems to be working okay. You got your high, low beam. Look at her go and you've got a horn. Yes, we got a horn. Look at that.
You're going to check the electrical equipment. You could also bring a multimeter and check the charging system. Simply put it on DC volts, 12 volts DC, put your meter leads on the batteries, start the bike, give it some RPM. Does it have more battery voltage than what you checked with the key off? Charging system's working.
You also want to check the operation of the brake light. You do have to have a brake light. You don't want to get run into. The hydraulic switch is working. Would you look at that? We've got no break off the hand control. That's something else to fix. It's all these little things you're finding that need fixed are negotiating power when it comes time to make an offer.
Check for Oil Leaks
Where circled is some good places to look for oil leaks. Underneath the rocker boxes where it meets the cylinder heads and in the middle where cylinders meet the cylinder heads.
One other thing that's important to look for on these Evo Sportsters is they like to leak oil. One of the places they like to leak, rocker box. We do also have a tech tip video on repairing Leaky Rocker Box Gaskets. Very notorious for the rear rocker box to leak on these bikes. If it's leaking now when it's going to start leaking because they all do it. This one looks pretty dry. I don't see any signs of any oil coming off of that rear rocker box. That's a positive thing, that means we don't have to yank that off of there right away because that leak will get progressively worse until it makes your pipe smoke.
Shift Shaft Seal Leaking
Check the shifter shaft that holds the shift peg on. Look for any oil leaks down the primary case when moving it up and down.
One other place these bikes are notorious for leaking from is the shift shaft seal on the primary right where the shifter lever comes out. It looks pretty good there. Also, it's got a Live to Ride aftermarket primary cover. Those are difficult to seal up. One of the other things you want to look for is, has the bike been dropped? A good way to, check for that is look at the ends of the-- These generally hit the ground. Is it rough? No. You can look at the ends of the grips. This one might not hit there because it has an engine guard. You could look at the bottom of the engine guard. Is it scraped up from being dropped over?
Another place to look for evidence of if the bike's been dropped is the bottom of the primary cover, more prevalent on a big twin, that's the one lowest point. Once again, the engine guards probably not going to let that happen. This bike does not appear that it's been dropped before, which is a good thing.
Check the Mag Wheels
This bike has 13 spoke mag wheels, be sure to check if they have any flat spots in the rim.
This bike does have mag wheels. They can get bent, not very common. If the bike you're looking at has spoked wheels, it's a good idea to give them a spin to see if they're bent. A good way to do that is if you have a helper, you can pull the bike up on the side stand and spin the front wheel back one's a little bit harder.
Maybe if the owner of the bike has one of those jacks, you could ask, "Can you please put this on the jack so I can spin the wheels around?" You don't want to get your new bike home only find out your front wheels bent. Now you need a new direct replacement wheel. Could have negotiated that in the price.
This bike had a chrome Thunderheader on it, which is a nice upgrade, not the pipe we want to use on the build we are going to do, but can resell easily for some good money.
Once again, if I'm just buying a motorcycle and I'm going to ride around on, I'm going to want to put my own parts on it, not what someone else liked. There's a couple of parts on this bike that aren't terrible. They're okay, upgrades. Probably, not my choice as a Thunderheader. Not a cheap exhaust. I could probably sell that and get what I really want on there.
Another upgraded part on this bike was it had a Mikuni carb. We want to go with CV carb for this build so another great thing to sell and make some money on to help with the build.
Also has a Mikuni carburetor, which is not a bad carburetor, pretty expensive. I prefer a CV carburetor on this particular bike. One other thing worth mentioning about the Evo Sportsters, these bikes are generally pretty darn bulletproof. They're very reliable. The transmissions are very stout. They're just one of the better engines that Harley built. This is a great platform, a great first bike as far as Harley goes and a great platform for making a custom because there's just a ton of different parts out there.
Condition of the Paint
Paint wasn't horrible on this bike but we are changing the all the tins on this build anyway. For resale we could do a little buffing to try and make the tank color pop a little more, plus its an anniversary model which some people really seek after.
Okay, once again, if you're not planning on souping up your new bike right away, you just got it and you're going to ride it around a little bit. You know you're going to want to take a look at the condition of the paint. This one looks sad, probably could be buffed and some wax would make it a little shinier.
Check for Details of Any Previous Incidents
Ouch!?! That's a big crinkle dent that probably you aren't gonna be able to save, just more negotiation power.
My goodness, what do we have going on here? Back fender's crinkled. That's not going to be easy to fix. The tail lights cracked along the top edge. I would guess that it got backed into something or somebody ran into it, something hit and it hard enough to bend that side, but not this side. Once again, there's some negotiating power for you. I got to fix this once again.
Probably it be pretty easy to just bang that straight and touch it up. If you're not worried about it right away. If you're going to soup it up and were probably going to get rid of this fender anyway.
Pop the Seat Off
What in the hell!?! Look at all that filth, this could be a good indication on how the bike was stored etc.
One other thing, probably not a bad idea to take the seat off. Have a look underneath there. That wasn't very tight, but we'll pop the seat off real quick, real simple. I'm just going to pop this one screw out.
Most of these would have a Phillips head, which you could bring one of those along. Just have a little tool tray with a couple of little this, little that. Seat real easy to take off. Would you look at how dirty it is under there. On one hand, the bike is really good because it has super low miles. We know this engine is probably in perfectly fine condition, is going to go for a hell of a long ways. On the other hand, it's pretty apparent the guy who owned it didn't really care about cleaning or taking really great care of it.
Check the Battery
Once again, it was stuck in a shed, probably unused for quite a few years. Another good reason to check the battery because if you got to buy a motorcycle battery, Harley batteries aren't cheap. It's also not a bad idea to take your flashlight and lay down on the ground and take a look underneath the bike because sometimes you'll see something under there that you might not like and other times it'll look perfectly fine and clean. We'll just take a quick look underneath there with our flashlight and I don't see any signs of any leaks. I don't see any scraping where they've high sided it. Everything looks pretty good under there. No problem.
Don't be afraid to check out underneath the bike with a flash light for any leaks or cracks in the engine cases.
Also on a higher mileage bike, you want to take a look at the belt unless you're going to put a chain on it, which we have some nice chain conversion kits. The belt on this one just looks like it has a little bit of a discoloration on it. Once again, when you leave these poor things sitting for a long time, they tend to deteriorate just sitting there.
What you can do with your steel wool is just give it a little and see. Wow, look at that. That's stuff cleaned right off of there. No problem whatsoever. It looks perfectly shiny under there. They're good bargaining tools. If you've got some corrosion and different things going on like that, but don't let it deter you from not buying it because as you can see that cleaned right off of there. Boom, no problem.
I also noticed the same thing going on on the front forks. Once again, steel wool 4/0 not going to hurt it. Look at that. Stuff cleaned right off of there.
Check the front fork seals for any leaks or any fork oil residue on the tubes.
You can also look for any signs of a fork oil leaking. These forks, great forks, 39 millimeter, one of the best forks Harley ever used. Very good front end. Also good for if you're doing a custom. You see here some more issues going on here and see that one is pitting. It's not coming off. It did clean the rust discoloration off, but that would probably need to be replaced if you're worried about cosmetic things. Oh, my goodness. You can plainly see the handlebars are way too low on this and it has hit the gas tank right there.
Smell if theres bad gas in the tank, also use a flash light to see if theres anything floating in there that shouldn't be.
It's also always a good idea to take the cap off the tank and see if it's got really old gas in it. If it's been sitting around, especially before you're going to start and run it. What do we got here? What is this? That doesn't belong there. Class of 2017. Gas doesn't smell old, that's a good sign. It's also not a bad idea to shine your light in there to see if there's any floaties or if there's any rust in the gas tank because that's a bad thing. It looks pretty good in there. I think we're okay.
What to Look For When Test Driving a Used Motorcycle
Once you've inspected the bike thoroughly and you're ready to go for a test ride and you're assured the engine is cold by touching it to make sure it is not already warmed up, go ahead and fire it up and see how she runs.
Fire Up the Motorcycle
Petcock location on stock Sportster most of the time is on the left side of the bike, make sure the gas is on and under that will be the choke knob.
One thing I can say about Evo Sportsters, they are kind of cold-blooded. They don't like to idle when they're cold, especially if you're looking at a Sportster that has the stock air cleaner and the stock exhaust system, you're probably going to hear some hiccups coughing at the air cleaner through the carburetor when it's cold because it's a little lean so you want to go ahead and use the enricher on any Sportster. You're going to pull that knob all the way out.
If it goes back in when you pull it out, that just means the nut on the backside needs tightening down and so you've got your choke on. Give it a couple of squirts from the accelerator pump, run switch to the run position. Make sure she's in neutral and fire it up. Once you get it fired up, you can put your choke at half choke if it's warm out. Let it warm up for a few minutes before you start to try revving it up or it'll probably hiccup and you'll think there's something wrong with it.
Once she's fully warmed up, you can shut the choke off. As you can see, it doesn't want to stay running. It is idles a little low probably because she might be cold. You don't want to mess with that until you fully warm up the engine. As previously mentioned, this does have a Mikuni carburetor, a little bit different characteristics than a stock CV carburetor. Wow, and look at the air cleaner. She's missing some fasteners. If stuff like that's wrong with the bike, you can mess with it while the guy who's selling it standing there. Make him feel bad that he lost screws out of there and didn't put them in.
Is there any white smoke coming out the tail pipe?
Notice if Smoke Comes Out of the Tailpipe
All right, you may have noticed when I fired it up and revved it up a little bit, some black smoke came out to tailpipe, that's not unusual because the choke was partially on and it may possibly be running a little rich, so if you see some black smoke coming out of the tailpipe, that's just an indication of it running rich. Nothing to be alarmed about. Now have you see a cloud of white smoke coming out the tailpipe, then you might be concerned because that could possibly be rings or valve guides.
Listen Closely to the Engine Running
You want to listen to the engine run. Does it sound normal? Does it have any unusual noises? A very loose primary chain will make a god-awful noise that tells you the bike wasn't taking good care of. Is it the end of the world? No, you can adjust the primary chain. You want to listen to the engine, if you hear any funny, unusual noises, there's plenty of these bikes out there for sale. You don't want to buy something that you're going to have to do a bunch of repairs to as soon as you get it home.
Tips For Buying a Used Motorcycle
Check the VIN Number
You can find the vin on a Sportster frame on the right front down tube as shown circled here.
One other very important thing to check is once you're ready to start bargaining is do you have a clear title and do the numbers on the title match the motorcycle? You'd be surprised what I've seen over the years when purchasing mostly vintage bikes, it's not so prevalent on a new motorcycle, but there are some things going on and so you want to ask the seller, "Can I see the title?" Is it in your name? Is it a clear title? He doesn't have a bank loan on it that he has to go pay the bank off to purchase a thing. That might end up being a hassle.
Basically, on this motorcycle, there's going to be a VIN number on the frame right here. It's going to start with 1HD1 and there's going to be a matching VIN number on the crankcase over here. You want to check those numbers, look at your title, look at those numbers and the Harley-Davidson Model Codes, compare, make sure everything matches, make sure everything's on the up-and-up.
Having Cash in Your Pocket
Cash is king in any deal like this. See how stoked Kerry is!
At the end of the day, when you finish the checklist for buying a used motorcycle and you decide you want to make an offer, there's a couple of good ways to do that.I personally, like I said at the beginning, bring some cash with you. Don't say, "I got to go to the bank or I'm coming back later," or whatever.
You want to strike while the iron is hot. Generally, people always try to ask more than what their stuff is worth. You're not going to hurt anybody's feelings by offering a low offer. You've got to start somewhere. If it's priced very fairly, you don't want to try to beat the guy down too hard. It's not like you're going to say, "I'll give you $500 for it." That's just rude. Then you set the tone for the rest of the negotiation.
At any rate, having cash in your pocket is always one of the best bargaining tools when purchasing a motorcycle. You've looked it over. You've decided you liked it. You started it. It ran good. You took it for a test ride. Everything seemed to be working other than we've got a couple of the light bulbs out and things like that. When you get back from your test ride, you're going to go ahead and make that offer. One of the other good things about having cash in your pocket is you could always pull it out. Show it to them.
Visualize it, then make your offer and stand by it, If it doesn't work out there's plenty more of these bikes out there and don't let all your cards show that you really want that bike.
Be Firm With Your Offer
Okay, I'm prepared to give you this much for this motorcycle right now. Sometimes they'll go, "Yes, I just want to really get rid of it. It's just sitting in the shed. Sure, I'll take it." Get lucky, boom, done. Load it in your truck, go home and have some fun. Other times they may say something like, "I've got someone coming to look at it tomorrow." Then you could also say, "I've got cash right now. There's my truck. I'm ready to purchase it right now. I may not want to give you that same offer tomorrow or the next day."
Be firm with your offer. Don't let the excitement of getting your new motorcycle override your willingness to pay more money for it when you don't really need to because there seems to be quite a few decent used Evo Sportsters out there these days. Hope you enjoyed our little video on here on what to look for when buying a used Sportster.