Buying a motorcycle is normally a pleasure. Parting with your cold hard cash to get your heart’s desire; what is there not to like about that?
The two top worries are paying too much and buying a dog, or a lemon, or whatever term you use to describe a polished “…. ” Well, I can’t use the word I was thinking of.
The internet makes buying a motorcycle online easy. We get to see the wide range of prices people are asking, and eBay will sometimes even show you what was actually paid. It only takes a couple of hours of surfing to establish the right price range for the motorcycle you are dreaming of, in the condition you want.
It can also work the other way around. After an hour of internet trawling, I’d establish that the model and condition of Triumph 675 I’m dreaming about as a second bike… isn’t available for the money I want to spend.
But buying a motorcycle without seeing it – should I even consider doing such a thing? Even the most skilled traders get caught out, so how do I reduce the risk?
Having picked the brain of our resident eBay god (Carle) and talked to numerous motorcycle dealers about the process, what follows is their collective advice on how you might avoid the Dog & Lemon Trap.
Talk to the person
Just recently I bought a KTM 1090 from Bournemouth Kawasaki. Having done my internet research, watched all the Youtube videos and read through the forums, I bought that particular KTM because of the long telephone call I had with Pete Extance, who owns the business (and the BSB race team).
I didn’t get to speak to Pete because I’m special; Pete answers the phone and talks to all the customers, in the same way that Chris Walker does at Chris Walker Kawasaki – who I’ve bought more than a couple of bikes from over the years.
Perhaps that personal involvement is a Kawasaki Dealer thing, but for me, that conversation is a hugely important part of the deal. I’m asking all kinds of lame questions and talking about the sensitive subject of money, but it’s an open conversation between two normal people.
That conversation gives me a sense of who I’m buying from. It could be all show, but my experiences suggest otherwise. In contrast, I’ve spoken to other dealers and had a sense of them being only interested in my money or wanting to impress me with how clever they are.
Tip #1 – Talk with the seller. Have a proper conversation and decide whether you trust them.
There are hundreds of sales techniques, some are helpful, some manipulative and some are so obvious they make your teeth itch. The salesmen who inserts “for you” in every other sentence, for example.
If you were there in person, they would circle the figure they want you to pay, suggesting that they have done this special deal “for you”.
The worst sales technique I ever experienced was the salesman who told me they were so busy, that if I gave them a call in the morning – to remind them, no less – they’d send the photos I’d requested over to me. I didn’t call back.
I spoke to a sales trainer – who works for a well-known consumer electronics company named after a fruit – about this technique, and he roared with laughter.
The technique has a fancy name which I can’t recall, but is based on the psychological premise that trust is more rapidly established if the salesman can get the customer do something for them first. This action gets you invested in the sale and increases their chances of parting you from your cash.
Tip #2 – Consider the interaction between you and the seller. Are they pushing you towards something or simply being helpful?
When buying a motorcycle online, photos are the only visual clues we have as to the condition of the bike. With that in mind, I do wonder why so many dealer websites still only support medium-size or poor quality photos. High-definition photos have to be one of the best ways in which a seller can build trust with buyers.
One of the best dealer sites I’ve seen uses high definition video, delivered through YouTube, to help ease the suspicions we all start out with when buying a motorcycle online.
The dealer has taken the time to invest in a few lights, softboxes and a decent video camera – so you get a well-lit, two-minute video of the motorcycle, covering the whole bike with close-ups of the important areas.
The icing on this particular cake is that the dealer starts the bike at the end of the video and lightly revs the engine. It isn’t the same as doing it yourself, but they go through all the actions we typically go through when buying a motorcycle in person.
Not that you need fancy equipment; a decent mobile phone or a GoPro and a private seller can complete with the dealers when it comes to showing you the bike they have for sale.
Tip #3: If the photos don’t show all of the motorcycle, if the photos are blurry or taken from too far away, contain things other than the bike to distract you, or do anything other than show you the motorcycle… start getting suspicious.
Skin in the game
Myth and folklore have it that bad news is repeated seven times and good news only once. Once a dealer has acquired a poor reputation it is both hard for them to lose it and hard for you to know about it if you are buying remotely.
For private sales, the seller only has one objective – sell the motorcycle – and really they have little or no investment in the transaction beyond that. Understanding why a private seller wishes to part company with a motorcycle is a good thing to know.
One of the reasons for selling the V-Strom was that there was nothing left to do to it. Having sorted out the fueling, overhauled the suspension and ridden 20,000 miles on it, it was time for something different. It is a simple enough reason. As as to whether I would believe someone who told me this, would depend on whether I thought they were being honest with me.
For a dealer though, there is a lot more at stake.
Buying the KTM from Bournemouth Kawasaki, I was aware that they had a lot more “skin in the game” than I did. If I sell them a lemon, other than being a lousy human being, I lose nothing. For Bournemouth Kawasaki, they are backing every motorcycle they sell with their reputation as a dealer and as a successful racing team.
There are “pile them high and sell them cheap” dealers who just won’t care, but pretty much any main franchise dealer has a lot invested in their reputation and they are not going to flush all of their hard work away for a few extra quid on one deal.
Whereas you will almost always pay a lower price through buying privately, are you really getting a better deal – especially when it comes to buying a motorcycle online?
Does that make every private seller an unscrupulous, underhand seller of Dogs and Lemons? Of course not… but with nothing to lose, how do you tell the difference?
Tip# 4: Ask yourself what the real reason is for that motorcycle being for sale.
This is one of those moments when the lawyers want me to make it clear that I am a motorcycle geek, not a financial advisor. You have been informed.
There are numerous online services that will tell you the history of the motorcycle. Lots of them claim to be free, but they provide you with minimal information. A decent online vehicle check costs between £10 and £15.
The reports can only tell you what the insurance and finance companies or the government know about that bike. If the motorcycle you are buying online has been crashed and repaired by the owner, then the reports will not show that.
One of the most important parts of the vehicle check is whether there is any outstanding finance – has someone borrowed money to buy the bike and used the bike to secure the loan (PCP and HP finance rather than a personal loan)?
If they have and they sell the bike without repaying the loan, the finance company can come and take the bike away. Essentially, the finance company “own” part of the bike.
Tip #5: Invest £10 – £15 in a vehicle check, it could save you thousands.
Section 75 is an important part of UK consumer protection law. What it says is that your credit provider must take the same responsibility as the retailer (seller) if things go wrong with a purchase.
If you pay more than £100 for something, but less than £30,000 on credit, then the credit provider is equally liable if something goes wrong. The even better news is that you don’t have to pay the whole amount on credit, just more than £100.
Paying the deposit on your chosen motorcycle using a credit card is all it takes. Then, if something goes wrong, you can include the credit card company in helping to resolve the issues.
Most private sellers are not going to accept credit cards and using PayPal isn’t the same thing. Just about every dealer, though, is going to have credit card facilities.
And now, I have to remind you once again that I’m not a financial advisor. Check out Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act on Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert site for more details. They know much more about it than I do.
Tip #6: Understand the advantages that Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act can bring you.
Head Not Heart
We, motorcyclists, are a passionate lot. We will spend hours telling you that our bike is the best and why we bought it.
Take that passion to a keyboard, and fuel it with a glass of wine or a beer and anything might happen. So when buying a motorcycle online, we all need a sober companion. Someone who isn’t interested in what we do and who provides an objective view to temper our passion.
The Financial Controller is my objective onlooker. Not in the slightest bit interested in motorcycles, and listens dispassionately to my inane ramblings about whatever motorcycle it is that I’m interested in this week. I couldn’t wish for a better brake on my enthusiasm.
The more I protest about how wonderful a deal it is, the more I hear the error of my ways. If it is that good a deal I wouldn’t have to ramble on about it.
Tip: #7: Show the deal to someone who doesn’t care if you buy the bike or not. The more you sell the idea to them, the more you should walk away from the deal.
Having arrived at your decision, there then comes the logistical problem of collecting the motorcycle – which could be at the other end of the country. Buying a motorcycle online brings both the pleasure and the problem of not being constrained by geography. The obvious answer is to go there yourself, but there are excellent alternatives.
Amongst your options, you may wish to include Transport-My.Bike who can bring more peace of mind to your online motorcycle purchasing than just collecting your new purchase.
If you are buying a motorcycle without seeing it, an excellent final check before parting with the cash would be to have someone check that the words in the adverts and the photos you have been viewing match the bike you are buying.
Transport-my.Bike also offers an escrow service where they hold the payment for your new pride and joy, and only pass on the money to the seller once you have confirmed you wish to proceed.
If you want to add that extra layer of confidence to your online purchase, Transport-My.Bike may be the ideal people to provide that dispassionate voice that may help you avoid buying a lemon.
Top Tip; #8: If you are not going yourself to see the motorcycle before parting with the cash, consider calling Ryan or Delphine at Transport-my.Bike.
How was it for me?
This article was trigger by my experiences buying a motorcycle online. So did I follow my own advice?
- Talk to the person – Yes, I had an unrushed and honest conversation with Pete at Bournemouth Kawasaki.
- Sales Techniques – Never detected any. It was a series of straight forward conversations and confirmation emails.
- Photos – Failed a little on this. The photos were all medium resolution. I should have asked for more detail.
- Skin in the game – Bournemouth Kawasaki has a lot more invested in this deal than I do. Trust is a two-way street. They haven’t seen the V-Strom other than in my photos.
- Finance Checks – Yes, clear of HP and PCP, and I checked the insurance companies and the government website. Additionally, I have the protection of buying from a registered motor trader.
- Head Not Heart – The Financial Controller approved the deal with their normal air of disinterest. Begging and grovelling were not required.
- Transport – Pete and I split the costs, with Bournemouth Kawasaki using their preferred transport company so they can inspect the V-Strom.
My score … Seven out of eight. Pretty good.
If there is one rule above all others that applies when buying a motorcycle online or buying a motorcycle without seeing it – once you have found the bike you are looking for, at the right price – stop looking! You will only start doubting your decision.