Should You Buy an Older Harley-Davidson? Key Considerations Before Purchasing a Used Model

Whether you're a casual or hardcore fan of motorcycle riding, there's probably a part of you that dreams of owning a Harley-Davidson. As one of the oldest motorcycle brands, dating back to the early 1900s, Harley-Davidson boasts a proud heritage. However, buying a brand-new Harley isn't cheap; even a basic model like the Softail Standard starts at $14,999.

If you're looking to save money, buying a used Harley-Davidson can be a smart move. Similar to purchasing a used car, a pre-owned motorcycle can save you cash and prevent unnecessary waste. But buying used comes with its own set of challenges and requires thorough checks to ensure the vehicle's condition, safety, and functionality. Before and during your search for a used Harley, make sure you can answer these key questions.

What kind of Harley-Davidson bike should you be riding?

Don't buy a used Harley just because it's a Harley. While the brand is famous for its robust choppers, it offers a wide range of bikes for different riding styles and purposes. If you're buying to ride, not to collect, ensure the bike suits your needs and abilities.

If you're a new rider or not experienced with Harleys, avoid models designed for seasoned riders. For example, a Road Glide ST might be too powerful for casual use, whereas an Iron 883 could be more suitable. Ask friends who ride Harleys for recommendations on beginner bikes. Even if you can't find their exact suggestions, you'll have a better idea of what to look for.

Is the bike in a verifiably functional state?

The most important aspect of buying any motorcycle, new or used, is ensuring it works properly. Someone could sell you a "vintage" Harley that turns out to be a heap of scrap. When purchasing a used Harley, verify that it’s in a functional, drivable state.

Inspect the bike in person if possible. A dealership should allow you to start the engine, check the electrical systems, and maybe even take a test ride. If you're buying online, request video and audio footage of the bike being ridden by the seller to prove its functionality.

How much has the bike been ridden?

A functional used Harley is great, but its mileage is crucial to understanding its longevity. High mileage means the bike has been heavily used, which could lead to more frequent repairs. Ensure you’re getting a good deal if the bike has high mileage.

Inspect the bike for signs of wear and tear, like aftermarket modifications or poor welding. High mileage often means multiple repairs, so look for any hidden flaws the seller might be trying to conceal.

Does the bike come with all necessary papers and information?

A Harley can reveal a lot about its condition through its meters and appearance, but some information is only found in documentation. Any used bike you consider should come with a full set of records, including ownership history, accident reports, repair and modification summaries, and any records of theft or impounding. Verify the VIN for additional information.

The most crucial document is the title or proof of ownership. This shouldn’t be an issue with reputable dealerships, but when buying from an individual, ensure they provide the title. If a bike lacks a title, it might be stolen, and you don’t want to inadvertently become part of an illegal transaction.

Is this particular model still supported by the brand?

Even if the used Harley you're considering checks out, consider the age of the model. Harley-Davidson supports its products up to a certain point, offering repair services and replacement parts. Older models may no longer receive support, making maintenance more challenging and costly.

If the model is no longer supported, garages might not have the necessary manuals or parts, and sourcing them yourself can be difficult. This adds a layer of complexity that you need to be prepared for.