How to Buy a Used Motorcycle (in Canada)

Is it better to buy motorcycles new or used? While there is no “right” answer to this question, there are clear benefits to buying a used bike from a fellow rider, as well as some inherent risks. In this ChanceMoto post, we’ll provide you with a complete guide to buying a used bike and share some tips and useful tools that even a relative novice could use to ensure your next used bike purchase goes smoothly.

Why buy used?

First and foremost, let’s discuss the advantages of buying a second hand bike:

  1. Price
    • You’ve probably heard the saying “your vehicle takes an immediate depreciation hit the minute you drive it off the dealer’s lot”
    • This applies as much to motorcycles as it does to cars and trucks which is why an almost-new motorcycle with a few thousand kilometres on the clock is still significantly less expensive than the one sitting on the showroom floor
    • Their loss, your gain
  2. Tax
    • In most provinces, sales tax is paid on the declared value of the used motorcycle
    • There is a common myth in Canada that motorcycles have a “blue book” value (like cars and trucks do) that is used to calculate sales tax but this is false and only applies to cars and trucks
    • Therefore, if you manage to purchase a used motorcycle from an individual (and not a dealership) for a sharp price, you will also end up paying less tax than if you purchased it from a dealer (new or used) who must legally charge you the full HST on the purchase price
  3. Aftermarket parts
    • Have you ever met a motorcyclist who rides a completely stock bike? Neither have we.
    • The cost of aftermarket parts is a “tax” that nearly every rider must pay but some of these costs can be avoided when buying used if you can find a bike that has the aftermarket parts and accessories you want
    • An aftermarket exhaust, tail tidy, fuel controller, paint protection, carbon goodies or a more comfortable seat could cost a few extra thousand dollars if you were to buy the parts separately but may be “included” in the price of a used bike, saving you significant cheddar
  4. Avoid “new bike gremlins”
    • As much as motorcycle OEMs do a lot of quality control and dealers do Pre Delivery Inspections (PDI -which you also pay for when buying new), new bikes sometime have issues that show up on the first few rides
    • These can range from a defective clutch slave to warped brake rotors, sensor malfunctions to even something more serious with costlier components such engine internals
    • Buying a bike that’s already had these issues resolved by the previous owner (under warranty) means you can just buy the bike and ride it instead of spending half the riding season waiting for parts or for the dealer to have time to look at the bike

Risks of buying a used motorcycle

“Mint condition. Lady ridden. Needs nothing.”

Make no mistake: buying used can also be a risky proposition if you encounter dishonest sellers or if you’re not sure what to look for. We’re talking about a rather large purchase in most cases (no refunds!) so being informed is critical. Some of the risk:

  1. Mechanical:
    • By far the greatest risk of buying used
    • Most riders have at least a nominal amount of mechanical prowess but the issues a used bike can have are numerous and can be difficult to identify
    • Often times, new bike owners get overly confident, “modify” a motorcycle and create problems in doing so which will haunt future owners
    • We’ll discuss this in great detail later in this article but suffice to say this is something you’ll want to pay very close attention to
  2. Warranty:
    • All motorcycle manufacturers offer some sort of warranty on new bikes (usually 1-2 years of coverage with unlimited mileage which begins the day the motorcycle leaves the dealer’s lot) and certain brands and dealerships offer extended warranties
    • Even though warranties are transferrable, most used bikes are out of warranty which further compounds the “above “mechanical condition” risk
    • If you’re not willing to put in the time to do a thorough inspection (or to pay for someone else to do it), we strongly advise against buying an out-of-warranty bike
  3. Scams:
    • At the time of writing this (2023), there are more dishonest people selling motorcycles than at any other time in history
    • Scams can range from someone selling a stolen or written off bike and claiming it’s legitimate to asking for a deposit only to cut communication and steal the deposit money
    • Dishonest sellers are also often aware of mechanical issues with the bike they’re selling (serious crash, frame bent, motor burning oil…) but will not disclose this to the new buyer in an attempt to maximize profit

10 Tips for buying a used motorcycle

  1. Research common issues for the bike(s) you have in mind
    • An informed buyer is a smart buyer
    • Join bike-specific social media groups or motorcycle forums so you can learn what to look for from existing owners
    • Every bike has its own list of things that go wrong and knowing this ahead of time will help you identify possible issues
      • For example: “the 2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is susceptible to radiator leaks near the top mounting brackets
  2. Know your seller
    • Although this might seem obvious, one of the most important parts of buying a used bike is getting to know the previous owner
    • As soon as you are serious about the target bike, get on the phone with the owner (the younger you are, the less necessary this will seem, but trust us, it’s important)
    • It’s a lot easier to “lie” or misrepresent the truth in an ad than it is when talking to someone live
    • A legitimate seller (with nothing to hide) should be happy to chat with a prospective buyer
    • A seller who tries to avoid this is likely to be a scammer or is trying to hide something
    • Some good questions to ask when you speak to the seller:
      • Why are you selling the bike?
      • Are you the original owner (and if not, what does the current owner know about the previous owner(s)?
      • What has been modified on the bike and who did the work?
      • What other bikes have you owned?
      • Is there a lien on the bike or do you own it outright?
  3. Learn as much as you can about the bike’s history
    • Aside from asking about previous owner(s), it’s also a good idea to ask about who did the maintenance (everything from simple oil changes to valve adjustments) and if the seller has any records/receipts of the work that has been done
    • If the owner has done the work themselves (versus having it done by a dealer), it’s not necessarily a bad thing but you should also try and get a sense of how mechanically competent they are
    • Even something as simple as an oil change could lead to a catastrophic failure if done incorrectly
  4. Make sure you have the right bike (and seller)
    • As soon as you’re serious about buying a bike, it’s a good idea to check that the VIN on the bike and the name of the owner are the same as what’s on the registration
    • An easy way to do this is to ask the seller to send you pictures of both (registration and VIN on the bike)
    • The VIN is usually clearly visible on the frame of the motorcycle
    • A missing or scratched off VIN is a clear sign that the bike has been stolen or written off so walk away if as you will have issues later on when trying to register the bike (if you intend on riding it on the street)
  5. Do your own pricing analysis
    • The sooner you can understand asking and selling prices for the make and model of bike you are after, the better
    • Use whichever motorcycle marketplaces are popular in your area (Kijiji, Auto Trader and Facebook Marketplace are some of the most popular in Canada) and create lists of eligible bikes to build a data set
    • Be sure to include dealers who sell used bikes (if possible) as their prices will usually be within $500-$1000 to the actual selling price
    • Beware of sellers who have asking prices outside the norm (many sellers may be “testing the market” with unreasonable prices and likewise, scammers will often post at lower-than-market prices to try and pull off a quick scam)
    • If a bike you’ve been watching sells, you can sometimes reach out to the seller and ask what the selling price was (this will be helpful when negotiating the price of your target bike later)
    • You can ask on social media forums and will get a variety of answers from recent purchasers (just be aware that bike prices can vary a lot from one state or province to another so try and find local owners)
    • Depending on your age, years of riding experience, location and driving record, you may want to get insurance quotes to ensure there are no surprises when it comes to insuring the bike post-purchase
  6. Do a 10 point on-site mechanical inspection
    • Download this checklist
    • If you’re not mechanically inclined or don’t trust your own assessment capability, pay someone else to do it
    • Although some sellers may not appreciate the additional hassle, it can also help you filter out dishonest sellers and scammers
  7. Wait until you’ve got all the facts to negotiate a fair price
    • One of the telltale signs of an inexperienced buyer is that they start making offers before having all the facts about the bike they’re buying
    • Depending how fair the initial asking price is, there is a myriad of factors you should take into consideration before making an offer
    • Actual condition vs stated condition, cosmetic defects, tire wear and maintenance history are all important factors to fully understand before settling on a fair price
  8. Ask for a test ride
    • Nearly all sellers will be weary of “test pilots” who want to test ride a bike early in the sale process
    • A test ride should be confirmatory, meaning that you should only do this once you’ve done the 10 point inspection, have settled on at least a ballpark price and actually intend on buying the bike
    • Unless you have cause for concern, you don’t require a very long ride to assess the state of the bike
    • Main things to look for on a test ride:
      • Front and rear brakes should engage and stop the bike smoothly
      • Acceleration in various gears should be clean and bike (motor, intake and exhaust) should sound crisp
      • Gearbox should shift smoothly and you should be able to find neutral easily once the bike is warmed up
      • Bars should be neutral and not shake or wobble when riding straight at speeds of > 80 km/h
      • Suspension action should feel smooth when going over bumps (noting however that it may be adjusted incorrectly for your weight, bike-dependant)
  9. Verify odometer
    • This may seem like an obvious one but can be overlooked in the excitement of buying a new (to you) bike
    • Make sure that actual mileage is what the seller previously claimed and that the mileage corresponds with the date code of the tires
      • For example, if a 3 year old bike only has 1,000 kms but the date code on the tires is from the current year, the rear tire was definitely replaced (and the seller should have a good explanation as to why)
  10. Sign a formal document
    • Some provinces (such as Ontario) have a government-issued form that is required to be signed, prior to transferring ownership from one owner to another
    • You can purchase these forms (for a nominal fee) online or by visiting a ministry office (depending on your province)
    • In addition, these forms will often tell you who the current registered owner is and if there are any liens outstanding on the motorcycle
    • Note that you cannot register a motorcycle in your name if the previous owner has an outstanding lien (in other words, the lien must be paid off and proof of the paid-off lien must be presented at the time of registration)
    • Make sure the seller’s name matches the name on the vehicle’s registration
    • If your province doesn’t have a dedicated form (such as the UVIP in Ontario), or for extra protection, use your own form such as the one we’ve created here

10 Point Used Motorcycle Inspection Checklist

Closing the Transaction

Once you have found the right bike, performed the inspection and have negotiated a fair price, there are a few things you’ll need to do, depending on where you intend on riding your new bike:

  1. Arrange for payment
    • Transactions between individuals are either done in cash or by certified cheque/money order
    • Either of these will require you to visit a bank in person (unless you already have the cash in hand, of course)
    • Certified cheques and money orders can usually be done on-the-spot but large cash withdrawals (over $5,000) will often take a few days as the bank may not have the cash on-hand
  2. Sign the ownership
    • In all cases, the seller will need to sign the ownership slip before you take possession of the bike
    • As the new owner, you will also have to sign the ownership, but you can do this later at the local ministry office when you transfer the ownership
  3. Get insurance
    • If you plan on riding the bike on the street, you will require it to be insured before it can be plated
    • In order to get insurance, you will need the VIN of the vehicle and current mileage
    • Call the insurance company you’ve selected and they should be able to do everything over the phone (some can also do it online)
    • Once your policy is set up, the insurance company should email you the “pink slip” which you will need to bring with you when you apply to get the vehicle plated
    • *If you intend on riding the vehicle off-road on private property or at a racetrack, you do not require insurance and can skip this step
  4. Get a safety certificate
    • If you plan on plating the bike for street use, you will require a safety certification (same as above, this is not required for off-road or track bikes)
    • Safety certifications are a service that’s done by most motorcycle shops and dealers
    • The cost varies between $50 and $100
    • Inspections follow a standard, provincially-regulated checklist (Ontario’s list is available here)
    • Make sure your bike meets the requirements before taking it for inspection to avoid back-and-forth or extra costs
  5. Get the ownership transferred
    • In order to transfer the ownership, you will require the following 5 things:
      1. Vehicle ownership (already signed by previous owner)
      2. Agreement of purchase and sale (our form or your provincially-regulated form)
      3. Safety certificate (if plating vehicle for street use)
      4. Proof of insurance (aka “pink slip”) (if plating vehicle for street use)
      5. Your driver’s license
    • If you already have a license plate, most provinces will allow you to re-use it
    • Otherwise, you can buy one at the local ministry office when you transfer the ownership
    • You will pay the associated fees and leave with the new ownership which will now be in your name
    • It’s always a good idea to keep a copy of the ownership on the motorcycle (we like to put it in a waterproof Ziploc bag under the seat for safe keeping).

If you’ve made it this far, we hope this guide is helpful to you and that your next used bike purchase goes smoothly!

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