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Buying or Selling a Motorcycle

Copyright 2014, 2017, R. Fleischer


This is not an article on how to pre-purchase-inspect a BMW air-cooled twin motorcycle (aka Airhead, manufactured 1970 to 1995).  Nor is does this article contain information about preparing the motorcycle for sale.    This is an article for a seller or a purchaser about safety in negotiations and making a deal, test rides, handling a title, etc.     The author's website contains well over 100 articles on maintenance, but I do not necessarily expect you to read them prior to, for example, purchasing a motorcycle.   If you are new to BMW Airhead motorcycles, I suggest you post an inquiry to the free Airheads LIST, for comments on things you should know in general and specifically about Airheads, and, even if you don't have a specific model (and perhaps year), or specific questions, that LIST is THE place for inquiries.  You may join the LIST here:

Do not ship the vehicle or let it go until & unless it is 100% fully paid for; and, any check or money order has fully cleared your bank; ...say, 2+ weeks. Best is to avoid possible problems of depositing any sort of checks or money order, and simply cash the buyers check or money order at the buyers own bank upon which the check or money order is drawn (you need not be at his personal branch of that bank), if that is possible. DO NOT deposit or cash the check at YOUR bank, unless you are willing to take the chance/risk on the buyers check (even if a cashiers check or money order ...both of which can be forged). Consummate the sale with CASH (bonafide) if you can, NOT a cashiers check, NOT a money order. You could handle it all at the BUYERS bank, both of you there in person, & same for DMV. Be aware that YOUR bank cannot be immediately sure his check or money order is valid, but HIS bank can.
Take a picture of the vehicle you are selling & take a picture of THE BUYER & THEIR VEHICLE (with their vehicle's license plate in the photo).  If they brought a rental truck or a trailer, take photos of the license plates.

Have a wife or girlfriend, & a buddy, & others, present ...where the potential Buyer sees the bike you are selling. They make good witnesses in case of any problems, & they also tend to make the Buyer feel that you are really selling a bike YOU really own, & give a more friendly atmosphere, etc.   I even take a photo of the buyer ...and tell him/her that I am doing it so you can tell fellow owners/folks of that brand/model to say hello ...or, make up your own story.

AVOID test drives without sale first. It can be stolen; or be in an accident (YOUR liability), have an agreement signed.   Best way to handle a test drive is, perhaps, YOU take THEM for a ride!..........or; perhaps accept all cash, returnable if no sale and no scratches, wrecks, etc.   
Offer to return the cash, void the sale, within half hour of the buyer taking a test drive.
DO NOT sign off paperwork in the slightest until fully paid; fully paid means cash-in-hand (or check or other forms of payment are fully cleared at your bank).  If you or a friend has another bike there, follow the potential buyer if on a test ride.

Have proper title & registration, etc.  Provide service records, bills & receipts, if you have them. Those are often big selling points.

Under no circumstances should a seller accept any type of check, money order, etc., in excess of the bike (including any accessories) selling price.  That is, do NOT accept such where you will cash it and then give back some of the money.  This is my advice no matter what the buyer says.

Do all that you can to obtain history of the bike, especially a full service history. Find out if the bike has been totaled or salvaged & then repaired, which may be a bit difficult, as many titles do not show it, although some do. A totaled or salvaged and then repaired bike should sell for less than the equivalent of not-so. There can be some problems titling and certainly registering a 'totaled' or 'salvaged' bike in some States.  You may want to have a smart phone, etc., with you, to look up the vehicle by VIN number, on the internet, for any wrecks, or anything you can find out.  Learn to do this ahead of seeing the vehicle.   Be aware that the Title the seller gives you may well not be up-to-date, so be sure to see the Registration papers.  Be further aware that the Title might still show up as Salvaged during YOUR DMV registration and titling process ...due diligence on your part may eliminate problems for you.   How to obtain the information from the State that has issued the title that the Seller has, can be a problem.  Just one method is to ask your favorite vehicle insurer to check for you, and, yes, they can.

Be prepared to do all you can to keep the Seller happy with you & possibly your test ride. Don't drop the bike! Don't be gone longer on the test ride than agreed-upon. Give the Seller your cell phone number and have his/hers.  Offer to have the seller write down your drivers license information, and take note of your license plate number on the vehicle you arrive on ...this will promote confidence that you are truly legitimate and a nice person.
Know that a wad of CASH, for an All-Cash Deal, is very likely going to get you the very best price!  The seller not only will be more likely to reduce their price, but there is no problem with the seller not wanting to be scammed by money orders, checks, banks, etc.  Having CASH is POWERFUL.   BARGAINING is a good idea most of the time.  There ARE exceptions.

Two copies of a (preferably printed) Bill of Sale. You both sign both. One signed copy goes to the buyer, the other signed copy to the seller. The bill of sale should specify the condition, such as "as-is", salvaged, any warranty, etc.   I prefer to not only have the registration, title, etc., signed off, but an actual printed, signed by both parties, Bill of Sale and Declaration (of whatever details).

The more detailed the condition noted, the better it is for the buyer, but there are advantages and disadvantages for the seller for really good details.

When transferring a title/ownership, the title should not have any other person shown as buyer, nor seller, that are not directly involved.  The title sign-off usually means the seller signs the specific place to relinquish ownership, and be sure that the seller has filled in the current details, which may not agree with the sellers present address.   It is a good idea to have all details signed off.  Arguments can be made to NOT have anything signed off except vehicle release/ think it over.  Seller should consider making pictures of the two sides of a title before handing the signed-off title to the buyer.  Consider doing this at the bank if that is where the sale is completed.

Best to go to DMV and handle the filling in of title paperwork, etc....and do the transfer at DMV.  If seller and buyer do not both go to the DMV, then, whether the buyer does later or not, the seller NEEDS TO mail the information to the DMV showing the date of sale and new owner. This helps eliminates liability for what the buyer might do with the motorcycle. Many titles have a sale section attached, that you can separately mail it to DMV.
Make a copy of what you send to the DMV, and when/where/time/date mailed.


Initial release: 04/04/2014
09/09/2014:  clean up for smaller devices.
01/25/2016:  Clean up, update meta codes, larger fonts.
06/19/2017:  Minor clarifications and layout changes.
07/25/2017:  Minor cleanup.

Copyright 2014, 2017, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Tuesday, July 25, 2017