20 Top Tips - Bidding on Bikes & Spotting Scams!

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When buying a motorcycle on eBay there's obviously no substitute for seeing the bike before bidding. But if this isn't possible, here are a few things you may like to bear in mind:

  • What's the seller like? Have a look at their feedback, see what they are currently offering for sale, and click on the sold items in the feedback section to see what they have sold recently. This will give you some good clues.
  • Then contact the seller via the 'ask a question' and see what you can find out. The bike may be fully described but check how long he or she has owned it. Are they a private seller? Why are they selling it? How many miles a year do they ride it? All year around? Do they have a run of old MoTs?
  • If they reply that they are a private seller but your research has shown that they have sold 10 bikes in the past few months then run a mile; they clearly tell porkies and are presumably trying to evade their legal responsibilities as a seller. Plus if they lie about this then they may lie about everything else. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a dealer so long as they tell you.
  • If they have had the bike a few years but can't remember how many miles and are vague about the MoTs and service details then make your own mind up. Would you be confident if you were selling like this?
  • What are the photos like? Ask for more. Check the engine and frame numbers with a search engine to see if they are the correct model and year. Even a suspicious vendor should give you the numbers even if they insist in marking them thus 7502141*009 or such to prevent number theft.
  • If the photos are blurred then ask yourself why. Cameras are cheap. They may be blurred for a reason - such as covering up the terrible appearance!
  • Check the model against the club's website. I've seen many desirable models on eBay that appear to have been registered three or four years before the factory made such a variant. People who fake bikes to sell at a higher price (ie make a 'cooking' model took like a valuable and rare sports version) are sometimes amazingly stupid and forget that the year will give them away - but then I guess many buyers don't bother to read up on the bike until it's too late.
  • Ask about condition of paint, chrome, wheels, spokes, tyres, chain, sprocket and so on. Then if you are told 'excellent throughout' and you win it, then turn up to collect and find that it's sha**ed out then you will have brought the seller's replies (that you've printed out) with you; then walk away... Frankly if you ask questions like these beforehand then you are less likely to have a bad experience anyway - the seller will realise what you are doing and probably be honest in their answers.
  • Ask how it starts and runs. Does it smoke? Again, if you are told it's brilliant then see how it is when you turn up to see it and walk away if you have been lied to. Most ebayers will actually be very honest about their bike's faults, even telling you things that you may not have seen for yourself!
  • When you turn up to collect, check all the replies against the facts. You've been told that  there is a full service history and four year's MoTs - so where are they? Do the MoT mileages build up year on year or does one suddenly go down indicating a 'clocking' or new speedo?  
  • Touch the head of the engine and the downpipes (and the radiator if it's water cooled). Did the owner just start the bike before you arrived? Why? Sure there could be a legit. reason but maybe it takes ages to fire when it's cold! Check for oil leaks, smoke, rattles and knocks. Do the gears engage? Does the clutch take up OK? You can try all this without riding away so don't be told that you can't try it because it's not insured, taxed or whatever.
  • And when you go to get it, if possible take a pal for moral support and for a second pair of eyes. Remember, eBay is based on trust, so if the seller has lied just walk away.
  • BUT that trust works both ways so don't be a smart-arse and try to haggle after you have bought it if it's as described. The seller will probably simply sell it to the under-bidder and give you negative feedback so be warned!  

Info added: Thanks for your kind comments - I'm glad these notes help. One thing I've seen more often recently is bikes being offered by scam sellers. Some are clever but most are very crude. Look for the signs:

  1. Short auction - often one day
  2. Strange location - the one I saw yesterday was a seller in China offering a bike located in Dublin. Presumably this happens when they steal identities and make a mess of it.
  3. Copied photos. Last weekend I saw a Harley Electraglide supposedly located in Cornwall - the villas, trees and cars in the background showed it was obviously Florida (unless Cornwall has changed significantly since I was last there!) so presumably the images had been lifted from US eBay or other websites.
  4. Multiple similar sales - click on sellers other items. Mr Electraglide was also offering five others. That's one heck of a clearout!
  5. Silly prices. The Vincent was £3000. The Harleys were all £400 - £500, and no reserves.
  6. Seller usually wants quick payment by the dreaded Western Union or direct transfer into his account, and he will get the bike shipped to your door. Yeah...'course he will! Think - would you really give £3000 to an unknown bloke in a pub for a bike you've never seen? Of course not. But that's exactly what people do when they fall for these. For a bit of sport I sometimes send an email saying not to worry about Western Union - I'll pop around with the cash. The excuses they give are better than any comedy show!
  7. So if the deal seems too good to be true...it is. Any dealer would pay £10,000 for a Vin twin - so why would our Irish Chinaman sell it to you or me for £3000?

Take care out there my biking chums. Best wishes, Richard

...PS Thanks so much for rating these notes 'helpful' - I've done my best! And thanks again for everyone who has taken time out to write to me; I had two more today alone - what a nice bunch of people you are out there.

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