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Buying or Selling a Motorcycle

Copyright 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 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.  If you know the model and year, you can get a world of information on them from Listers.  You might want to review the following website, which has a lot of information on various models of Airheads:

You may join the LIST here:

Do not ship the vehicle or otherwise let it go until & unless it is 100% fully paid andany 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, and either can be reversed by the buyer before it clears your bank!). 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; and, YOUR bank can phone them!  Take pictures 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 close friend, & several others present ...where the potential Buyer sees the bike you are selling. They all, togehter, 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, & it gives a more friendly atmosphere.   I even take a photo of the buyer next to the motorcycle.   Tell him/her that you are doing this so you can tell fellow owners/folks of that brand/model to say hello (or, make up your own story).

Test Drives are tricky. Does YOUR insurance cover the bike? Does YOUR insurance cover YOUR liability? Try to avoid test drives without sale first. It can be stolen; or be in an accident (YOUR liability), etc. Consider having a modest amount of Agreements already typed up and printed. One copy for each of you, each signed by both of you!    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.  I do that in front of my witnesses.  That also gives the buyer a better feeling. One good suggestion to ADD to the mix of suggestions here is if you or a friend has another bike there, follow the potential buyer if on a test ride.

NEVER 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).  You will need to have a proper and clean title & registration, etc.  Provide complete service records, history, 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.  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 Owners AND service history. Find out if the bike has been totaled or "salvaged" & then repaired, which may be difficult, as many titles do not show it, although some do. Your insurance company or Agent may be able to find out, but you should have the VIN number to give them.  If you can, either personally, or a representative, should inspect the motorcycle, and make sure the Seller's title has the same VIN or serial numbers as the motorcycle.  Photos of paperwork and of the bike's VIN or serial are nice to have, so have the Seller or your representative or yourself, use a camera, preferably you.  A totaled or salvaged and then repaired bike should sell for less than the equivalent of not-so. Watch out for the occasional motorcycle that was in an under-water situation, such as drowned by a hurricane.  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.  One method is to ask your favorite vehicle insurer to check for you, and, yes, they can, and they also lie about this.

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. If you are not quite well prepared with knowledge about the year and model, do so, ahead of seeing the bike for negotiations....You want the Seller to know YOU know things, and the Seller is less likely, then, to "overlook" telling you things you might want to know.

Don't be afraid to negotiate!

You should know that a wad of CASH, for an Immediate 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 (bring a friend or two as bodyguards...) is POWERFUL.   BARGAINING is a good idea most of the time.  If the Seller says immediately, or so advertises, etc., that there is no negotiations, not consider that as absolute.  No matter what might be said, etc., if the Seller REALLY want to sell, and really had lots of folks waiting to purchase the bike, it surely would have been sold long ago! You can also consider showing the cash, and using some of it as good faith money, and using a test drive, or, if all seems safe, and you have friends, etc., with you, handing over all the cash, in exchange, may be the way to go.   There are complex methods of dealing with purchasing (and selling), involving third parties, so check and think, carefully.  There are a LOT of various scams....for both buyer and seller.

There ARE exceptions.   Don't let  your emotions run away with your wallet.

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).  DETAILS IN DEPTH!   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/Registration/Ownership, the paperwork 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. The seller should have filled in their current address, which may not agree with the sellers title 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.

To protect both Buyer and Seller, it is best for both of you to go to DMV at the same time and handle the title paperwork, etc.   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 (Seller NEEDS full information about the Buyer, for safety, and paperwork). 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.  Seller should make a copy of the title and other paperwork ahead of selling the bike.

Whether you are a Buyer or a Seller, remember that MUTUAL TRUST is important in a sale. I suggest both buyers and sellers read this entire article, and try to put themselves into the others' shoes.    There are plenty of crooked buyers and sellers (yes, both) out there, but there are also plenty of very honest straightforward folks.

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.
12/08/2017:  Major cleanup.  Eliminate CSS styles, eliminate excessive html, fix layout, reduce colors, reduce fonts.

Copyright 2014, 2017, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Tuesday, December 15, 2020