Owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a dream for many people. Unfortunately, for a large portion of these people, owning a Harley is nothing more than a dream since most of the Harley-Davidson lineup can cost as much as a luxury car. This can make owning a Harley a rather costly investment that requires a sizable amount of disposable monthly income and an impeccable credit rating. Fortunately, purchasing a pre-owned motorcycle can be quite beneficial for the thrifty buyer. A quick search in a local newspaper’s classified ads or websites such as craigslist can reveal a treasure trove of used Harley-Davidson motorcycles to choose from. But, before you make your final selection, there are a few caveats to keep in mind.
Finding a Used Harley
1. Research the different motorcycle models offered by Harley-Davidson to determine which one is right for you. If you don’t have an idea of what you are looking for yet, you may want to head to your local Harley dealership and look around. If possible, sit on the bike to give you a better feel of the size and weight. Don’t pick a bike that is too big, or too small, for you. This is especially true if this will be your first motorcycle. Once you have a clear goal, whittling through the classifieds will be a breeze.
2. Review the used motorcycles that are available in your immediate area first, using your local newspaper or craigslist. You may expand your search to surrounding areas if you have the means to transport the motorcycle, should you purchase it. List down any potential deals, including information such as the seller’s contact information and the asking price.
3. Compare asking prices with the suggested retail and trade-in values provided by Kelly Blue Book. Remember, these values are listed only as a guide, often representing a used Harley-Davidson in excellent condition.
4. Arrange a meeting with the motorcycle’s owner. This will give you an opportunity to inspect the motorcycle and will help you determine if this is the bike for you. Don’t purchase a motorcycle based only on a picture provided by the seller. While a picture may say a thousand words, seeing the bike in person is time and money well spent.
Inspecting the Motorcycle
5. Check for signs of damage or abuse. Although obvious damage will stick out like a sore thumb, motorcycles tend to suffer in less discernible ways. Look for oil leaks around the engine’s cylinders or small gas leaks from the carburetor. Inspect the condition of the tires and drive belt, looking for cracks or dry rot, which will cause problems down the road.
6. Look closely at the frame. Any cracks or bent areas should immediately disqualify the motorcycle, unless you have the skill and means necessary to repair the frame.
7. Test the suspension, especially the front fork. Start by looking at the area where the fork tubes meet the fork sliders. Next, press down on the front end with the brake applied to compress the fork slightly. Release the brake and run your finger across the fork tube. If it comes away slick, or if fork oil is visible on the tube, the bike has a worn or damaged oil seal, which will lead to a costly repair bill.
8. Check the odometer. While a well-maintained Harley can ride on for hundreds of thousands of miles, most high-mileage motorcycles may not be worth your time, as some of the most costly maintenance routines are performed around 15,000 to 23,000 miles.
9. Test the electrical components. Turn the bike on and check that all lights work. Make sure that the turn signals work on both sides and flash evenly and that the brake light comes on when either or both brakes are applied. Honk the horn and check that the headlight works on high and low beam.
10. Start the motor. The electric starter should turn smoothly, starting the motor easily. Listen for trouble signs, such as a rough idle or extremely loud clatter or knocking from the motor.
11. Check the motorcycle’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) against the Title. The 17-digit VIN is located on the left side of the frame and is imprinted on the steering head, the tube that the front fork pivots on. If the title and VIN do not match, leave immediately.
Closing the Deal
12. Consider the overall condition of the motorcycle. Take into account the mileage, year and physical condition of the bike when considering the asking price.
13. Make a reasonable offer for the motorcycle, unless you feel that the asking price is fair. Again, your offer should be realistic and based on the condition of the bike. A good offer will provide a win-win situation for both parties. Don’t offend the seller with a lowball offer.
14. Close the deal. Have the seller sign the title and obtain a bill of sale, if possible.