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Used Motorcycle Guide

Are you one of those people who can listen to a bike's engine and declare: "The cam chain's on the way out or "One valve seat's worn". No, few of us are. It's bad enough diagnosing a problem on your own bike in your own garage, let alone in a buying situation at someone else's house, most of us would miss something minor, or much worse, something major. Short of paying over the odds by paying someone from the AA to come with you and check the bike over, you can learn a lot by studying the bike's paperwork. Any bike that's been looked after by a careful and loving owner, will have a string of paperwork with it, supporting all the work that's been done over the years, a bike is worth much more by keeping the receipts and proving that it's been cared for. Review all the paperwork before you agree to buy any bike or part with your hard earned cash. It's not a substitute for actually checking the bike over but it is the most commonly ignored source of vital information. Important documents to check are;

Tax Disc - Some owners keep previous years but it's not a problem if there aren't any. Check for forgeries by taking a legal one with you, forgeries look dodgy by comparison. If there isn't one the bike hasn't been taxed for a while or the owner is a tax dodger (could say a lot about the current owner).

Service History - The most ignored yet most valuable piece of information supplied with the bike. Is the mileage in sequence with the other documents (MoT, logbook etc), check the date and type of work carried out, what was included in the full service. Garage address/phone number, if in doubt give them a ring. Also check for mechanics footnotes, usually to cover their back, this will provide any previous problems they found. Bikes under warranty should have a service history from a garage, if there isn't any history can the seller be trusted to maintain a 160mph superbike, a careful owner will keep all receipts and provide them when selling the bike as it can add value.

History Check - Most are re-branded versions of the HPI check and will tell you if the bike's been stolen, written off or has an outstanding finance agreement. They can also warrant the mileage, this can all be done over the phone in a few minutes (you will have to pay in the region of £35 for it, but it is not worth the risk without and could save you a packet), confirmation of the checks will also be sent in the post for your records and can be provided to the next owner when you sell it on. Most checks also have a guarantee if the information they provided was incorrect.

MoT - Forgeries have spelling mistakes, more than you think, it should be stamped by a garage, a VOSA number should also be present, you can ring the Vehicle and Operators Services Agency and they will tell you if an MoT certificate is suspect or genuine. If an MoT certificate is not available it may mean that the bike needs some major and expensive work doing before being roadworthy.

Your Guide To Getting A Great Deal

No-one in their right mind would ever pay the advertised price on a new or secondhand bike. The advertised price is the one that where the seller receives the maximum profit, it is merely a point for negotiation. Many Brits are uncomfortable with haggling but you have to be bold and put your foot down.

Do Your Homework: Scour the classifieds, internet, ask friends and get as much opinion as possible and feel for the market, once you have chosen the bike for you.

The Market: The best time to haggle is the last day or two in the month, when salesmen targets are near month end, they have more room for negotiation to hit sales targets. If you are really patient wait until winter.

Sales: Don't be intimidated by the salesman, be confident and take your time. Ask the question "What's the best deal you can offer me", patients pays dividends.

Hidden Extras: Make sure a large discount on a new or secondhand bike isn't offset by high interest rates or a poor price for your existing bike. Remember, the salesman will make more money and prefer if you buy on finance (unless, of course, they are offering 0% finance deals). Interest rates will vary massively between HP, Bank loan and credit cards, do your homework and get the best deal. Is the bike's service history up to date, make sure you wont be hit for any routine maintenance costs after you ride away.

Legal: Under English law a dealer isn't obliged to say if the bike that's being sold has been damaged, unless you ask the question. A bike you buy must be fit for its intended purpose. New consumer law means that even if a used bike suffers a defect it is up to the trader to prove it wasn't faulty, regardless of any warranties. Six months on and the onus is on you.

Find The Right Finance Package

To those unlucky enough not to be able to buy a bike outright, choosing the right finance option can be tricky, make sure you do your homework as it cost you in the long run.

Hire Purchase (HP): Simple and straightforward, you pay a deposit, make the monthly payments for a set period of time and the bike's yours at the end of the term, until then, the bike belongs to the finance company.

Most dealers will be tied to a finance company to arrange the HP, which is very simple as you can buy the bike and arrange finance at the same time, but it could cost you in the long run. Dealer's will always prefer to sell a bike on 'finance' as they receive a 'kick back' for arranging it. However, default on payments and they may repossess the bike, unless you have paid 1/3 of the value, when you sell the bike, the finance will have to be repaid. Also, the bike may be harder to sell if it has outstanding finance.

From time-to-time dealers will offer 0% interest rates, you cannot beat this no matter how much shopping around you will do, a larger deposit may be required though. However, make sure the bike is insured for the full amount of the HP agreement or you could be left short if the bike's nicked.

Personal Loan: Similar to HP, the payments are fixed for a period of time but the loan is not secured on the bike, so the finance company cannot repossess it. Choose the lender carefully, there are a lot of deals out there, all competing for the same business, so you should be able to get a reasonable rate. Lenders prefer do not like borrowers that represent a high risk, such as the young, unemployed, bad credit history, it's not unusual to be charged 25% APR. Make sure the deal is right for you, don't buy a bike you will sell in 5 years and borrow the money over a period of 10 years, paying the money back early may also mean you will be charged so check the small print.

Credit Card: Like a loan, the APR can differ greatly and you may be able to get the first 6 months at 0% and the amount you pay back is flexible and dependant upon you, unless you pay the minimum payment each month but then you will mainly be paying off the interest. Some credit cards also offer extra protection if the goods are faulty. However, credit card debt can soon mount up and spiral out of control as there is no payment structure in place. Credit Card companies will also try to sell 'payment protection' to you.


More and more bikers are out-of-pocket as a result of fraudsters paying for bikes with forged cheques, unfortunately, from a legal point of view, it is the receiver that suffers, not the bank. In some cases it can take weeks for a forged cheque to be returned, don't work on the basis that it takes 5 working days (or less) to clear, we have listed below the most common forms of payment, the level of risk is dependant upon the seller - be warned.

CHAPS: A same day electronic bank transfer, very safe but it costs the sender about £20, depending on the bank or building society - recommended.

BACS: Electronic bank payment, very safe but takes three working days to clear, free to use and can be done over the internet - recommended.

Cheque: Easy to use and cheap but the receiver risks the cheque bouncing, the banks refuse to admit liability if a fraudulent cheque has been used and in some cases can take weeks before the receiver is aware that payment has been returned - avoid.

Bankers Draft: The bank guarantees payment, costs in the region of £10 but how do you tell if the draft is fraudulent - avoid.

Cash: It's in your hand but check for forged notes, easily stolen - recommended.

A-Z of Jargon

APR: Annual Percentage Rate. One way of comparing the various finance deals on offer, it includes all the interest and charges. Don't always take the finance a delaer offers you may get a better rate at a Bank or Building Society.

Banker's draft: The next best thing to cash, a bankers draft is drawn from cleared funds, made payable to a third party and guarenteed by the Bank. This method of payment is much more acceptable and secure than a personal cheque.

Book price: Dealers may often refer to the 'Book' price in a deal. They are referring to the CAP Green Book, a confidential, industry-only guide to secondhand bikes; what price to sell and buy for.

Classifieds: Privately advertised bikes. One of the easiest and best places to buy and sell, cheaper than a dealer's showroom but you buy at your own risk.

Dealer margin: The difference between what a dealer pays for a bike and sells it for, somewhere in between is your scope for a discount.

Depreciation: Your bike's loss over a period of time. New bikes take the biggest loss in the first year, up to 40% of their original value, only Harley;s and some BMWs show any resistance to the price slide, which makes for privately-bought onw year old bikes a good investment, providing you pick from the right owner. Any bike you buy new that may slump in value, which will hit you hard if you have bought on finance and want to sell it.

Extras: Useful bargaining tools in a private deal, useless at the dealer's when trading in. Dealers like standard bikes and will only pay a fractionof the value of your extras against another bike. You will be better off selling them separate and making the bike as standard as possible.

FSH: Full Service History. Check the stamps and dates carefully to make sure the servicing is genuine, call the garage to check. A bike with FSH is much more desirable than one without.

GSOH: Good Sense of Humour. Essential when ploughing your way through the classifieds.

HP: Hire Purchase, finance spread over a long period of time. The bike is only owned by you when the final payment has been made.

Logbook: Also known as the V5, the logbook is the official record of the registered keeper, not necessarily the owner of the bike. Off-road bikes don't tend to have one but don't buy a bike without it.

MoT: The Ministry of Transport test is a compulsory annual inspection on machines over three years old. It is a basic check that cover's a bike's roadworthiness, but shouldn't be taken as a guarantee of good condition.

Part-exchange: Also know as P/X or part-ex. Off-setting the price of a new or secondhand bike from a dealer (usually) against the value of your existing bike.

Pre-reg: Pre-registration. When new bikes have number plates issued by dealers to alter sales statistics or other reasons. For example, dealers pre-registered thousands of Yamaha's Fazer 600 to avoid punitive emissions laws. Expect mint zero mile bikes, prices should be slightly lower than new.

T&T: Taxed and Tested. The bike has some tax and MoT left to run.

Terms and Conditions: AKA the small print. If you have any sense you will read the small print, otherwise you may regret it later.

VGC: Very Good Condition

Warranty: Manufacturer warranties on new bikes are not necessarily invalidated by using non-franchised dealers, despite what you may be told. Unofficial add-ons may comprise the warranty, so check before you meddle.

Write-off: Damaged repairables are a pig to sell on, so unless you plan to keep the bike for a long time, or are prepared to accept less for it when you sell, they're best avoided.

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