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Tips when buying a used Motorcycle

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Pre-Owned Venture


This article was written by a mechanic in 1988 who worked on all types and brands of motorcycles, but as you read it you will see the general points would be the same for all motorcycles.


From a service standpoint, there are a few things to look at if you are considering buying a pre-owned motorcycle. Exterior cleanliness and mileage do not always tell the whole story. Service records are a good indication of the owner's attitude toward maintenance. If the owner takes the time to keep records of service and repair, he is most likely to have it done right and on time. Without the service record, you are just shooting in the dark and must rely on the seller's telling you the complete truth. Unfortunately, most people do not keep the best records. So here are a few things to be aware of:


TIRES: Tires are the first things to check. Naturally, the depth of the tread and condition of the side walls are what you look at. Any cracking in the side walls or cuts or splits in the tread will have you buying a new tire in the near future. If the bike has new or nearly new rubber on it, always check the mileage on the speedo, and casually ask the seller how many times he has put new tires on the bike. This will give you an estimate of how much abase the machine has gone through. For instance, a Venture with 14,000 miles which is on its third rear tire but still has the original front tire is telling you the guy is into stoplight drag racing. This could indicate clutch wear as well.


CLUTCH: Because the clutch is on the inside of the motor and you can't see it, you must ride the bike to check for slippage. This can be done at a moderate speed in fourth or fifth gear. Just fan the clutch a few times while under acceleration and listen to the motor. If the clutch is slipping, the rpm's will remain high after releasing the clutch lever. If the rpm speeds up and the bike does not, this machine is in need of a new clutch. The other tell tale sign is to remove the oil filler cap and smell the oil. If it smells like burned toast, this could indicate a problem also.


OIL: Anyone who has any sense at all will probably change the oil before he tries to sell his bike. Nice clean oil looking at you through the sight window makes the machine a little easier to sell. But be careful even a bike with new oil may still have a little burned toast smell left if you check closely. Also, look at the underside of the filler cap for sludge or anything that may indicate what the rest of the inside might be like. With the motor cold and not running, stick year finger into the filler hole and take a sample of the scum on the inside motor case. A quick peek at the drain plug and oil filter cup will also let you know if the oil was just changed. There is usually a little oil residue left there after a recent oil change. Rear gear oil usually looks pretty clean because there is no internal combustion or clutch wear to dirty it. The drain plug has a magnet on it to collect the worn pieces of metal and such that accumulate there. Even though the gear oil is clean, the magnet will look like a dirty ball of metal fuzz. This is normal. But if any large pieces of shrapnel are found, you should look further to see where they came from. The rear drive shaft splines are impossible to check or see without removing the rear wheel and gear case. If you do buy the bike, it would be a good idea to pay for the hour and a half or so of labor and have it properly greased and inspected. This is for your peace of mind and may save you trouble down the road. A new drive shaft is only about 55.00, but the aggravation of this kind of trouble on the side of the road is not worth pinching pennies over, so if the splines are worn, replace it now. The drive shaft is not a failing part of the Yamaha Venture, but as the bike gets older and gets higher in mileage, a little preventive maintenance is a good idea.


Scratches and scrapes can tell you a little about the machine's history. You may not be able to tell how many times ifs been down, or to what extent damage was sustained if the owner had it repaired, but you should check for a few things anyway. All body parts may not be the same color because they don't always fade in the sun exactly the same. But if there is an obvious difference in color, the part could have been replaced, so find out why. It could have been changed for a lot of reasons, but if it was the result of an accident, make sure it was replaced correctly. You may want to check with the repairing dealer to make sure no corners were cut to keep the cost down. A bent sub frame or mounting tab could cause a painted body part to crack later on. If it has been down on the right side, always check the water pump joint between the thermostat case and the pump itself. It's an L-shaped silver plastic piece and is very vulnerable to being damaged by the right case guard. Also on the right, make sure the throttle does not stick or bind up because of damage on the end of the grip from a fall. Ventures don't have a history of things going wrong with the radiator hoses. With that in mind, they have probably never been replaced. Check carefully for cracks and to see if they are still pliable and not brittle or hard. The coolant itself should be clean and free of dirt or sludge, never milky or brown (that color could indicate internal engine trouble). A sheepskin seat cover is nice, but look under it; it could be hiding a real mess. If you are partial to the stock leather cover, make sure it's fit to sit on. Trunk repair on early Ventures is not uncommon. Look at the bottom of the trunk for cracks around the mounts and lock assembly. A fiberglass repair kit is not a lot of money, but you will want to consider it when talking price. Light bulbs are not expensive either, but the instrument bulbs are not very easy to get to and some after market accessories have bulbs that are harder to find in stores. Brake pads are easy to check because they can be seen without removing anything. The rear pads can be viewed by looking between the right saddlebag and rear fender or from under the bag on late models. You may need to use a flashlight to get a good view, and if it has all the Venture accessories you may need to remove the right bag on early models. Once you have spotted the end of the brake pad, you should check to see that there is at the very least one millimeter of brake fiber between the rotor and the metal back side of the pad. One millimeter or less and you should replace the pads before they begin to damage the rotor. The front pads can be seen easily from each side and the same measuring specifications are used. If the Venture has rotor covers and caliper covers, don't worry, just look through the wheel at the pad on the opposite side of the bike to check the wear. The rotors themselves are almost impossible to destroy unless they were bent in an accident or run for a long time with brake pads that were completely worn out, and were metal-to-metal. If the rotors are blue and obviously were very hot at one time, spin the wheel and check to see if they are warped. An improperly adjusted brake pedal or lever will cause pressure to build up and the brake pads will drag on the rotor, causing it to heat up enough to turn color but not necessarily warp the rotor. Brake and clutch fluids should be clean and clear or a light color. If fluids are dark and have a lot of black "gook" in the bottom of the reservoir, they will need to be changed and flushed. This is caused by heat. The clutch fluid will turn dark faster because the clutch slave cylinder is bolted to the engine cases. This heat from the engine is transferred to the clutch fluid and turns it to a dark color as it is slowly cooked. The brake fluid used for the brakes does not get this hot unless the brakes are not adjusted properly, as explained above. it shows a good or even strong reading,.


Battery: Because we change batteries about every two years their is not much to see here except to check the cables for corrosion this could mean having to replace them. One thing that's almost always overlooked is the fuse box. It has to be moved to check the battery but most people never look inside. "Why?" you might ask. Well, if there are no spare fuses under the lid, they had to go some where. If this is the case, ask the owner about it and you will probably get some interesting stories about what happened. If the Venture is covered with lights and accessories with all the bulbs burned out, look for bad grounds or dirty bulb sockets or even a loose accessory causing the bulbs to vibrate them selves to death. Electrical problems are something to avoid when buying a used bike. The fact that there is a problem is bad enough, but it's a lot harder for a mechanic to find the problem if you can't give him any of the history of the bike (or the problem) you just purchased. These thoughts on electrical problems may help to keep the sparks from flying after the sale! I hope these last three months have helped you to make the right choice. Of course, these are not all the things to look for. Any whine, grind, squeak or knock should be investigated, and if it's hard to roll or the levers and pedals are stiff or bind up, you should make sure they just need lubrication and not some new parts.


Bill Daly

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  • 4 months later...

I have now bought 2 of these wonderful bikes over the internet. One has 96k and the most recent 36k Both have similar issues even though advertised as in good condtion, and well cared for. As a buyer, familiarity with this particular bike, is important as the seller or consignor may not really have any idea. Issues common to both were valve cover gaskets leaking, valve adjustment, rear brake issues, carb sync, clutch slippage, and fairing and trunk cracks and damage, which I know now are commom on these. The higher mileage bike also had steering bearings worn, diaphrams had tears, class system board needed soldered, pilot jet plugged, lower fairing damage that had been repaired, coolant hoses cracking, and the shifter linkage worn. Just the valve cover replacement, valve adjust, and carb inspection and syn was 500.00. That being said, if you can justify taking it to a shop to do the work, it will be expensive to restore to the point where everything works. But if you can do the work yourself, and it will need attention to things down the road, it is a lot of bang for the buck in a full bagger touring rig. Both bikes are now in good condition now. Went over budget on one but education gained for the second made it a good buy, especially with the lack of choices and the cost for a full tourer these days. Hope this helps someone avoid the surprises and cost that I did not.

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