motorcycle 101 guides

How to Identify a Poorly-Maintained Motorcycle

How to Identify a Poorly-Maintained Motorcycle

Motorcycles are known to be a low-cost mode of transportation. Compared to a car, you need less finances to purchase and insure a motorcycle. In addition, the maintenance costs of a motorcycle are also quite less compared to a car. But if you want to make an already affordable option even more cost-effective, then buy a well-maintained used motorcycle. Used motorcycles cost less to insure as well. However, if you buy a badly used bike, it will cost you a lot of money in terms of repair work and replacements. This article will explore signs of a badly used motorcycle, so you can easily identify one and save yourself from making a regrettable purchase decision.

Also Read: How to Calculate a Fair Price for a Used Motorcycle

1. Tell Tale Signs of a Poorly-Maintained Used Motorcycle

Contrary to popular belief, less mileage on a motorcycle is not a reliable measure of a well-maintained motorcycle. Sometimes a bike sporting high miles proves to be a more dependable option because the previous owner had maintained it so well. Finding a well-maintained motorcycle with fewer miles is an added bonus and should be your first priority.

Unfortunately, one can not always be sure that the bike he/she is investing in is well-maintained, except for a new motorcycle with a warranty. But a few tell-tale signs always help to distinguish a properly maintained motorcycle from others.

Also Read: Should You Buy a New or a Used Motorcycle - Which is Right for You?

1.1 Signs of a Dropped Bike

Knowing whether a motorcycle has been dropped is crucial to gauge the value, safety, and condition of the used motorcycle. Though it is common for motorcycles to fall over, some falls are more damaging than others. And if the owner has not properly addressed the damage a fall might have caused, you will end up fixing it for as long as you keep the bike.

The most common signs of a dropped bike include large scratches and scuffs running along the sides of the fairing and fuel tank. Some sellers try to mislead potential buyers by calling these signs a result of a kickstand parking lot fall. However, a simple parking lot layover includes a few small scuffs on the handlebars, minor scratches on the front forks and swingarm, and a few chips on the chromed wheels. If the bike on display is damaged beyond the minor scuffs and chips, then it has a major fall. This is a clear indication that there is more damage lurking beneath the cosmetic defects. 

Another thing to consider is that minor cosmetic damage leads to rusting and paint chips, and you would have to put in extra effort to maintain the bike and prevent rusting.

Once it is established that the bike you are interested in buying was dropped, then also consider checking the bike for random aftermarket parts. For example, mismatched footpegs, side mirrors, blinkers, etc. A rider who is trying to upgrade his bike will not replace just one part of the old pair. On the other, a rider who is trying to cover the damage to retain the resale value of his bike is mostly likely to only replace what has to be replaced.

1.2 Check the Chain Drive

Condition of a motorcycle’s chain will tell everything about its maintenance history. If the motorcycle chain is rusty or looks freshly lubricated and oiled, then it has not been maintained properly over the years. Chains are the most common motorcycle parts that get overlooked when it comes to maintenance even though chain maintenance is simple, affordable, and time-efficient. Owners can easily perform chain maintenance on their own. So, if the motorcycle you are planning to buy has a poorly-maintained chain, do not purchase that motorcycle. If the owner of the bike didn’t make the time to perform the easiest maintenance task, he would have neglected other parts as well. A failing chain drive can damage other mechanical parts of the motorcycle, especially the engine, costing you a fortune in engine repair. In addition, a rusty chain damages both front and rear sprockets. So if you buy a motorcycle with a bad chain, you would not only have to replace the chain, but also replace the sprockets, further increasing the cost of the motorcycle.

Also Read: Top Tips to Increase the Chain Sprocket Life for Any Motorcycle

1.3 Check for Signs of Rust

Rusty motorcycle parts are a clear sign that the bike was left outdoors. It is also a good indicator that the bike was dropped and got damaged at some point and the plastic bodywork and fuel tank of the bike were compromised. Moreover, not washing the bike after riding it near the ocean can also cause rusting. In winter, road salt may stick to the motorcycle parts and cause rusting if not cleaned immediately after the ride. All these things indicate that the owner neglected regular maintenance of the motorcycle. It is extremely challenging to reverse or fix rust spots. Hence, making maintenance even more difficult. Rust spots are a serious issue, and you should not buy a used motorcycle with rusty parts.

1.4 Check the Tires 

When buying a used motorcycle, most buyers are already prepared to replace the old tires. But if you don’t want to buy a bike that requires immediate tire replacements, then check for irregular wear patterns, holes, cracks, bulges, and punctures on the tire. Uneven wear patterns are a clear sign that the bike has been abused, requires suspension adjustments, or has bent forks. Check the tire tread to find aggressive lean angles and signs of burnouts. When buying a sports bike, pay extra attention to the front tire and check for signs of aggressive leans. Small crusty marks are a clear indication that the bike has been ridden extremely hard. It is worth mentioning that a motorcycle that has been ridden aggressively can be a great buy, provided it does not have other mechanical issues. To ensure that, ask a lot of questions about the motorcycle’s maintenance frequency.

Also Read: Why Do Motorcycle Tires Wear Out Faster Than Car Tires?

1.5 Check the Rims

If the bike you want to purchase has spoked wheels, check for bent spokes, and make sure all spokes are tight. On the other hand, if the motorcycle has cast wheels, then look for dents, cracks, and scratch marks. Rust spots are also a common wear sign on rims that you should look for.

1.6 Start the Motorcycle and Listen for Unusual Sounds

Pay attention to engine sounds. Also, check for any clicking, ticking,  and gurgling sounds. In some engines, clicking noise is an indication of low oil level, loose cam chain, and valve train problems. If a motorcycle makes a clattering or clicking noise during a ride, it may be an indication of primary drive chain maladjustment.

A grinding sound along with vibration indicates brake pad failure. On the other hand, grinding sounds from the engine or transmission indicate bearing failure. Failing wheel bearings also make similar sounds. And a clink sound emanating from the drive chain indicates a dry or failing chain drive.

It is worth mentioning that bikes sound different when they are cold and warm. So let it run for a few minutes to get a better picture of what the motorcycle sounds like. Sometimes there is nothing really wrong with the bike despite all the noise it makes. A quick tip, ask the seller not to start the motorcycle before you get to the venue. You can find out a lot about the motorcycle by running a cold engine.

1.7 Check the Forks & Seals

Fork and fork seal replacements are one of the most labor-intensive and expensive motorcycle maintenance tasks. This will easily cost you over $1000. So if you want to avoid buying a bike that requires immediate expensive maintenance, then make it a point to check the forks. Make sure the fork seals are properly aligned and straight. Take a test drive to feel the alignment. When riding on a flat surface, test the suspension by putting weight on the handlebars and pushing hard to activate the front suspension.

In addition, check the fork seals for leaks when the bike is warm as warm fluids are less viscous and tend to push through the broken seals. You can easily find stains of fork oil on the steering column. When the fork oil drips on the brake rotors, it affects the stopping power of the bike. Hence, broken fork seals are a big safety concern and should not be taken lightly. However, if the rest of the suspension system works fine and you are willing to pay around $200-$500 to repair the broken seals, then it may be worth it to buy the motorcycle.

1.8 Check the Rear Suspension

Compared to front suspension, rear suspension is a bit more difficult to check for signs of poor maintenance. You can check the shocks for cracks and other irregularities. Next, drop all your weight on the rear suspension. The rear shock should move down and back up easily without any squeaks or noise. If the rear shock feels springy even when you are not bouncing on the bike, it is an indication that it needs to be repaired or replaced.

1.9 Check the Brakes & Fluids

It is difficult to detect brake failure or unreliable stopping power without removing the brake calipers. If you don’t have the required tools, experience, or owner’s permission to remove the calipers for brake inspection, simply look through the spokes to locate frictional material on the pads. Also, check the rotors for cracks, bends, and grooves. Warped brake rotors are usually caused by glazed brake  pads and cost hundreds of dollars to replace. Also check brake lines for fluid leaks and cuts. To check the brake sounds, take the bike for a test ride. If test ride is not allowed then move the bike forward and backward and pay attention to sounds. Well-maintained brakes usually don’t make any sounds.

1.10  Check for Loose & Missing Bolts

A well-maintained motorcycle will not have empty mounting points. When buying a motorcycle, many buyers don’t think much about missing screws and bolts. However, they can be expensive to replace. Not to mention the trouble one has to go through to find the right size of bolt. Check the entire motorcycle frame carefully to locate missing, broken, or loose bolts. Stripped and broken fasteners also indicate aggressive riding, abuse, and maintenance neglect.

1.11 Bike Fails to Start

If you find it difficult to start the bike or keep it running idle, it could be because of different issues. Some problems are more expensive to fix than others. Simply put, a bike that is difficult to start may have fuel issues, a dying battery, a faulty starter motor relay, bad spark plugs, etc. It is best not to buy such a motorcycle. But if you have a trustworthy mechanic who has diagnosed a minor problem, such as a blown fuse or a dirty carburetor, only then is it worth the risk.

1.12 Check the Fluids

Before starting the engine, it is best to check the level of different fluids, including engine oil, coolant, fuel, and brake fluids. If the fluids are too dark like tar, have a milky appearance, or have a burning smell then avoid buying such a motorcycle.

Oil, fuel, and brake fluid checks and maintenance are some of the easiest tasks. If they have neglected that, there is a high probability that the owner neglected the overall maintenance of the bike. Also, check the area where the owner stores the bike. If you find any oil or fuel stains on the floor, then avoid buying the bike.

If all the fluids pass your inspection and appear clean, then remove the gas tank cap and gently rock the bike. Smell the gasoline and check for rust particles and other impurities. If the fuel smells fresh and clean and there are no signs of rust, fuel leaks, and broken rubber seals, then the bike may be worth your investment.

1.13 Inspect the Engine and radiator

The engine performance can be gauged through a test ride, but you should also look for visible damage, signs of a crash, and rust spots. Look around the valves and cylinders for leaks. Also, check the oil filter for rust and damage.

Consider asking questions about the engine specifications. If the motorcycle is equipped with a liquid-cooled engine, check the fins of the radiator. Rusty or flat fins are expensive to replace and indicate that the motorcycle was washed with jet-water systems that damaged the radiator fins. Hence, the bike is poorly maintained. If the hoses also show signs of damage and leaks, then walk away from the bike.

1.14 Check the Air Filter

If possible, check the air filter for dirt and debris. Air filter placements are affordable, especially if the motorcycle has paper air filters. Bad air filters are an indication of poor maintenance practices. 

1.15 Check the Spark Plugs

Check the spark plug for rust and grime. Rusty spark plugs indicate that they have not been replaced for quite some time. Also, check the wires connected to the spark plug. If the plugs are corroded, there is a high chance wires are damaged as well.

1.16 Check the Shaft Drive

Most motorcycles feature a shaft drive instead of a chain drive. To check the condition of the shaft drive, raise the rear wheel of the ground like you would when performing a wheelie. Try to move the rear wheel forward and backward across the rear axle. The rear wheel should feel rigid and in place. If you feel any movement, it is a sign of worn-out wheel bearing, failing shaft drive, or worn-out swingarm. 

1.17 Check the Wheel Bearings

The test for shaft drive can also be used to detect damaged wheel bearings. During a test ride, if the wheels make unusual noises, the alignment feels off, or if your bike drifts to the right or to the left, then it is a sign of failing wheel bearings.

1.18 Check the Electrical Equipment

If the battery is fully charged, then all the lights will illuminate properly. You can ask the owner about the age of the battery. Ideally, a battery lasts for three-to five  years. If the battery is already three or four years old, you would need to replace it immediately or after six to twelve months. Check the battery terminals and wiring for corrosion. Dim lights can also be a sign of a dying battery.

1.19 Check the Seat

Prolonged use also affects the motorcycle seat. Even a well-maintained motorcycle can have a flat and uncomfortable motorcycle seat. But if the leather is torn or has holes, it can instantly become less appealing. If you don’t mind installing an aftermarket motorcycle seat immediately after, then buying a bike with a worn seat may not be a bad idea, provided it is well-maintained. 

1.20 Check the Paint Job

A well-maintained motorcycle has a shiny and smooth paint job with no chips, rust spots, blisters, or scratches. Some sellers apply cheap spray paint to cover the irregularities and hide crash marks or rust spots. However, a close look is all it takes to identify mismatched paint finish, uneven thick coats, and paint bubbles. If you detect any signs of a poorly maintained motorcycle paint job, it is best not to purchase the bike unless it runs exceptionally well.

2. Tips for Buying a Used Motorcycle

Besides inspections, here are a few things you should check before completing the purchase.

2.1 Maintenance Records

Motorcycle maintenance records help increase the resale value of the bike and private sellers know this. If a seller has no receipts or documented maintenance history, it is best not to buy from him. Riders who take maintenance of their motorcycles seriously, compile all the receipts to create a record that not only increases the resale value but also help them to stay at the top of their bike’s maintenance.

2.2 Check the Vehicle Identification Number

All the inspection is useless, if you forgot to check the vehicle identification number (VIN). It is located on the engine or steering neck of the motorcycle. You can also ask the seller to give you a copy of the vehicle identification number for research purposes. Through VIN, you can ensure that the bike was not stolen or crashed in the past. You can also find out the title history to learn how many times the bike has been registered with the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV)  in the past and also if there are any liens on the motorcycle.

2.3 Ask for Owner Manual

After buying the motorcycle, you would have to take responsibility for its maintenance. Therefore, ask for the owner’s manual of the bike so you can maintain it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

2.4 Factory Tool Kit

Most motorcycles come with a small factory tool kit. These kits are kept under the seat and come in handy for emergency repairs. If the toolkit is not available, make sure you get one the earliest possible for roadside maintenance.

2.5 Warranty

If you are buying a recent model from the second hand market, it may still have a valid warranty. Moreover, local dealerships also offer limited mileage warranty on motorcycles with defects. Private sellers usually do not offer any warranty and once the sale is complete they will not take the bike back.

3. Where to Buy a Well-Maintained Used Motorcycle

For smart motorcycle shoppers who have an empty spot in the garage and cash to purchase their next favorite motorcycle, nothing is more tempting than buying another well-maintained motorcycle to add to their collection. With so many platforms available to buy a used motorcycle, the challenge is where to start looking? Thanks to reliable digital platforms and dealerships, buying a used motorcycle has become quite convenient. But you must be aware of the risks involved in online motorcycle shopping, otherwise, you will end up with a two-wheeler with a failing engine and broken clutch.

3.1 Online Second-Hand Motorcycle Market Places

When it comes to buying a reliable and well-maintained motorcycle online, there are only a few digital platforms that you can trust. These include:

  • Craigslist
  • Cycle Trader
  • eBay

Though these online marketplaces are reliable, each has its share of pros and cons.

eBay for Used Motorcycle Purchase
Pros Cons
Best Motorcycle Listings
User-Friendly Interface
Buy It Now Option Available
Auction Available
Search is not Restricted to ZIP Code
Shipping & Financing Facilities Available
A Large Variety of Motorcycles
Affordable Prices
Inability to Check the Motorcycle in Person
The Option of Test Drive is Not Available
Inability to Identify Cosmetic Defects of a Motorcycle  
Cycle Trader for Used Motorcycle Purchase
Pros Cons
One of the Oldest Platform
Simple Interface
Buyers Can Check Motorcycles from Private Owners and Dealerships
Shipping and Financing Facilities Are Not Available
Inability to Check Motorcycle in Person
Test Rides Not Possible
Craigslist for Used Motorcycle Purchase
Pros Cons
A Range of Motorcycles Available
Buyers Can Check Motorcycle for Defects Before Purchasing
Search Results Are Based on Geographical Regions
Some of the Motorcycle Listings Available
Cheaper Prices
Owners Do Not Allow Full Diagnostic Checks by a Licensed Motorcycle Mechanic
Financial Assistance is Not Provided

3.2 Local Dealerships

Besides online motorcycle marketplaces, local dealerships are your best bet to find a well-maintained used motorcycle. With over a thousand motorcycle dealerships across the United States, finding your next used motorcycle should not be a problem. In local dealerships, there is a wide range of motorcycles that you can purchase. In addition, they make motorcycle financing hassle-free.

You can apply for a loan in the dealerships’ finance department and finish your purchase without visiting private money-lenders and banks. However, the finance departments of dealerships can also be predatory with their high interest rates. It is best to go through all the terms and conditions of the loan before availing one. In addition, you can only purchase the motorcycle from the same dealership from where you expedited a loan. Hence, it is recommended that you conduct research for fair rates before approaching a local dealership. An online rate calculator might come in handy to figure out what a motorcycle purchase from a dealership will cost you every month.

Besides higher interest rates, dealerships are known to have higher prices for used motorcycles than regular owners. When you sell a motorcycle at a dealership, they offer a rate below the prevailing market value. However, when you purchase a motorcycle from a dealership, they sell at a rate higher than the prevailing market rate to increase profitability. Make sure you contemplate these facts before making a purchase.

Local Dealerships for Used Motorcycle Purchase
Pros Cons
Wide Range of Motorcycles
Well-Maintained Fleet
Hassle-Free Finance Facilities
Higher Prices
High Interest Rates

4. Last Words

A poorly maintained motorcycle is not just a waste of money, it is also a big safety concern. Riding a motorcycle with bad bearings, broken fork seals, poor alignment, or bad spark plugs can cause you distress on the road through frequent breakdowns. In addition, these mechanical problems can lead to fatal accidents. Oftentimes buyers end up crashing after buying a poorly maintained motorcycle because they were unable to pick on the signs of poor maintenance.

Therefore, it is recommended that you use this guide and also conduct independent research to learn how to identify signs of poorly maintained used motorcycles and protect yourself from scams and frauds.

Also Read: What to Do After Buying a Used Motorcycle?

Reading next

The Remarkable History of BMW
The Remarkable History of Suzuki

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.