How To Buy a Motorcycle on Craigslist

Example of a Good Craigslist Ad

When you're in the market for a motorcycle one of the easiest places to start looking is Craigslist. Many riders list their motorcycles for sale or trade. So how do you narrow down the right one and avoid the scams?

While Craigslist scams do occur, and there are stolen bikes for sale, it is important to note that the vast majority of listings will be legitimate sellers just looking to sell their current bikes in order to upgrade to other ones.

How To Perform a Search

Once on the Craigslist website, there are a few features you can use to perform an accurate search. Once you have selected your region/location and you begin searching for you bike you can narrow results down by year.

For example, searching for "Yamaha R6" will yield 77 pages of results, while adding in the year of the model, 2009, will yield four listings total.

Specific vs Broad Searches on Craigslist

Searching for Yamaha R6
Searching for Yamaha R6 | Source
Searching for 2009 Yamaha R6
Searching for 2009 Yamaha R6 | Source

Questions To Ask Before Buying

You'll want to ask the owner a few questions before you decide to go to see the bike in person.

  • How many miles are on the bike? What is the odometer reading?

If it is not explicitly stated in the advertisement, and anybody making a good ad will include this information then you can contact the owner and ask. If possible you want to ask for a picture of the odometer, this gives you an exact answer that you can verify.

  • Why are you selling this motorcycle?

An answer you are looking for: I am looking to purchase a different motorcycle for reason X.

An bad answer: "It's been sitting in the garage for a few years. Haven't ridden it." Or, "It's broken. X, Y, Z, doesn't work."

  • What is the maintenance history of the bike?

Personally, I keep a running list in Excel with the dates that I have serviced the motorcycle and what was done to it, and whether it was done by me or a shop. I also try to keep receipts for repairs from shops. It shows the bike has been maintained and taken care of. Of course you can't expect everyone to do this and hand you a log of maintenance but they should be able to tell you the last time the chain was cleaned and lubed, when the oil was changed, when the tires were changed, brake fluid...and so on.

  • Was the bike ever dropped or damaged in any way?

If you are arguing for a lower price you could use this as a bit of leverage although be prepared to look for mechanical damage on the bike. Often in minor crashes or a case of dropping the bike in a parking lot, the only things that become damaged are the fairings, or turn signals of the bike. Depending on the model these can range anywhere from $100-$1000+ to purchase new so ask for a price reduction accordingly. You cannot expect to get a $500 price reduction because one of the turn signals has been scratched. For example, a set of new fairings for the 2009 Yamaha R6 example we used can cost from $250-$350 on eBay.

  • Has the motorcycle been inspected?

Definitely ask about inspection status if it is not listed in the ad. You may wish to take the bike with the owner to a nearby shop to have it inspected before you, but be prepared to cover the costs of the inspection, which are generally nominal.

  • Can I do a test ride on the bike?

It is up to the seller to agree to let you do a test ride, and set the conditions of the test ride such as a written agreement that if damages are incurred during the test ride, the rider will buy the motorcycle or pay for the damages. But ultimately, you want to be able to at least get a feel for the bike (while it is cold and hasn't been started up is ideal).

  • Can I see the title of the motorcycle?

This is pretty self-explanatory. You don't want to buy a bike which the seller does not actually own or is stolen. There are very few exceptions to why somebody would not have a title.

Make sure you do not buy the motorcycle only because you liked the test ride. A brief note on test rides can be seen in the video below by CycleCruza, a funny moto-vlogger. He talks about test-riding motorcycles from dealerships, but the same mentality can be applied to test riding when buying from a private party.

A Note on Test Rides

Deciding To Buy or Not

Make sure you thoroughly inspect the motorcycle for signs of visible damage or mechanical issues. The video below covers some common points of inspection to look for. Ask if you can test-ride the motorcycle if you are unsure. Make sure it is you who turns it on and starts the engine—preferably a cold engine—so you can deal with any start-up issues on the spot.

What To Look for When Buying a Motorcycle

How to Buy the Motorcycle

You and the owner will need to find a public notary who can transfer the title from the seller's name to yours. The fees of the notary transaction are the responsibility of the buyer. The notary will issue a new license plate to you and entitle the bike from the seller to the buyer. Depending on the state, you may need to show that you have proof of insurance for the motorcycle you wish to buy. If you can't show that, the license plate may not be issued right away, meaning that you cannot drive the motorcycle home as yet. It may need to be trailered or towed to your residence until you purchase insurance.

That being said, if you are certain you wish to buy the bike, you can arrange with the seller to keep it for you a few more days while you get a plan from an insurance company.


If you have more suggestions and tips about buying on Craigslist please leave them below.

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