Nine things to look for when buying a used scooter

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Summer is right around the corner, and you let another winter slip by without building a scooter from scratch.  If you don’t own a scooter, and you’re reading this, chances are that you’re looking to buy one.  Or you just fell down an internet rabbit hole.

There are plenty of reasons to buy new, like peace of mind, financing options, warranties and roadside assistance.  If those are major selling points for you, then you should plan a visit to your local scooter shop.
Used Scooter DealershipThere are at least two good reasons to buy used- saving money and selection (chances are there won’t be any P200s rolling off the assembly line any time soon).

Dealerships are a great stop in your search for a used scooter.  They often have a few used models available and can give you a good run down on what to expect out of your used scooter.  Some dealerships even offer a house warranty on used bikes. 

The other stop is the internet.  Craigslist, Facebook Market Place, Cycle Trader and Offerup are all good sites to checkout inventory*.Scooter Starter ParkIf you find a scooter that is in your price range and area, there are a few key things to look at, even before you reach out to the seller:

1. Does it have a clean and clear title? 

If the answer is no, you should brace yourself for some headaches.  Laws vary by state, so you may have less of a problem getting it plated/registered and insured.  If you will only be using this in your private hippie commune, then do whatever you want. 

2. Does it run? 

If the answer is no, the fix may be as simple as a carb clean or a new ignition coil.  The fix could also mean you need a whole new crankshaft installed.  Even if it does run, it may still need those things. 

3. How long has it been sitting?

If it looks super dusty in the pictures, chances are the answer is “Very long”.  Sitting isn’t good for a scooter, especially if it wasn’t prepped before being put in storage.  It might need a new battery, a carb clean, fuel flush and new tires

 3. Are parts still available for it? 

If the answer is “no”, you might not be looking hard enough.  Or you’re checking out a Cushman.  You can still get parts for most old scooters and pretty much any scooter that came out in the last 10 years.  Replacement body parts are tricky.  If the scooter you’re looking at is missing a bunch of body panels, it was probably a.) involved in a crash, b.) involved in a botched “custom” project that the owner gave up on, or c.) stolen.  Or it is a Ruckus/Ruckus Clone/Chuckus, and they don’t really have many panels to begin with (if it is a Ruckus, you should still double check that it isn’t a botched custom attempt, just to be safe).

That’s a lot of “mights”, and you haven’t even seen it in person yet.  If you are still set on seeing it in person, there are more things to look at.  A lot of private sellers are wary of letting you test ride, so don’t count on riding it until you’ve paid for it.Line BreakHere are a few things to check in-person:

4. Are there keys for it?

You can get replacement locksets for most scooters, but, like with cars, the newer the scooter, the more complicated the ignition switch could be.  For instance, a Buddy 170 ignition switch won’t work on a Buddy 125, and Buddys built after 2012 have a different ignition switch than the older models while a PX150 tumbler set will work on every PX150 and any Stella.  Key blanks only work if you have at least one key to begin with, or you’re really good at disassembling and arranging tumbler pins and tiny springs.

Also, if might be stolen.

5. Does it actually run?  How does it sound? 

Four stroke engines have a nice and smooth hum.  Two Stroke engines sound like a gentle chainsaw or weed whacker.  If the scooter already has a performance pipe on it, the sound will be a little different- a four stroke will typically have a throatier grumble, a two stroke with an expansion chamber exhaust will have a “brap” sound, that sounds a little like things are popping.

Is it smoking? If it is a four stroke and it is smoking, you’ve got a problem.  If it is a two stroke and it isn’t smoking, you’ve got a problem.

If it is rattling or making a grinding noise, something isn’t right.  Is could be a worn cylinder, it could be a crank bearing that’s about to disintegrate. 

Ask the seller to rev the engine.  It should respond quickly and drop back down to idle speed quickly.  If it doesn’t, it could need carb work, the throttle cable may be sticking, the throttle tube could be sticking, the throttle slide could be sticking- basically, something is sticking somewhere, it should return to idle quickly.

If the bike dies right away when the seller revs it, feel free to knock $100 off of whatever they’re asking.  Something is up with the carb.  It is always the carb.  Maybe it’s the air intake.  (It’s probably the carb.)

6. How do the tires look? 

Do they hold air?  Bald tires need to be replaced.  Tires with dry rot (cracking along the sidewall) need to be replaced.  If it is a vintage Vespa and the tires look worn and say Cheng Shin, you should replace those, they’re super old.

7. How are the brakes? 

You can test this one without test riding.  If the levers bottom out (or are snapped off) you don’t have brakes.  If you can hold down the brakes and still turn the wheel, you don’t have brakes.  If you can barely squeeze the lever, you probably have brakes that need to be bled/adjusted, or you have a stuck cable, seized caliper or seized shoe.

8. Do all of the lights work?

A signal that won’t flash is usually just a bulb that needs replacing, but sometimes it is a bad relay or a super fun electrical gremlin. 

9. How rusted is the exhaust?

Exhaust pipes are usually the first thing to go, the temperature extremes, combined with getting splattered with road grime mean they’re prone to rusting out.  Replacement stock exhausts are relatively easy to find.  Aftermarket performance exhausts are fun to have.  Replacing a scooter exhaust is pretty straightforward but can be complicated by seized headers and mounting bolts.Line BreakThat’s a lot to look at, but it could be the difference between you terrorizing the neighborhood all summer long on a new-to-you scooter and you staring at the new-to-you lawn ornament that you can’t get plates for and doesn’t run.  

Of course, everything can be fixed.  And there are a fair amount of basket cases out there that deserve a second chance on the road.  It is just a question of whether or not you want to sort out (and pay for) all of the headaches.

*Please proceed with caution.  This is not an endorsement.  The intersection of the internet and reality should always be questioned.

tl/dr

Do your research when buying any scooter.  If something looks off, it probably is, but everything is fixable.