Everyone likes to save money, and get a “good deal”. In the end, a good deal means you are getting the most value for your money. Finding quality used parts takes more time and has more risks than buying new, but you can save big. In this post, I cover everything you should know before you start your search.
To get the best deals you must be an educated buyer, this means spending time researching and gathering information. In the end, you are trading convenience for cost savings. Ordering your new parts online or dropping by the dealer is fast and easy but more expensive.
Safe Parts to Buy Used
First of all, not all parts are not the same, some are more suitable for buying used, with less risk of them being poor value.
Good Candidates for Buying Used
- Parts that have no or few moving parts, easy to visually inspect – like footpegs, brackets, bodywork, side covers, lens covers,
- Low wear components – such as wheel assemblies, seats, these can also be visual inspected or checked with simple tools,
- Measurable wear parts – parts that have known and measurable wear characteristics – like engine cylinders, chains & sprockets,
- Parts that can be tested – starter motors, speedo/tachometers, fuel pump.
Poor Choices for Buying Used
- Most motorcycle electronics, other than connectors and wiring harness sections. You will never get an exchange warranty on electrical parts, the seller has no idea what you did to it while installing, you could have fried a perfectly good unit, so there are no exchanges on these parts.
- Parts that take a lot of labor to replace – risk doubling the effort if a used part fails and you need to do the job again. It depends on the motorcycle’s design but some water pumps and most alternators are in the category.
- Consumables – gaskets, control cables, brake pads, tubes & tires – it’s false economy to buy these used. You can, however, find a stash of second hand, never used items for cheap. It all comes down to knowing what you are looking for, evaluating and getting the best price.
First Step – Part Identification
You will need to 100% identify what you need, and ultimately the correct part number (PN). This means starting with your motorcycles brand, model and year. Watch for the occasional non-domestic model that someone has imported. The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) will tell you all you need to know. Be aware of transition year machines, this is where the models were changed over, or some improvements made. Manufacturers have done partial year changeovers, so the same model year can be built differently. Sometimes very “standard” parts can be different between one year to the next. This applies to factory upgrades, like ABS, basic brake components could be very different between models of the same year.
A factory parts manual lists all parts – major assemblies are shown in exploded view diagrams (which are also a great reference for reassembly). As a bonus, manuals often provide cross-reference tables, between the different models, listing which parts are interchangeable. On the downside, these manuals can be hard to find and expensive. But they hold their value and can be resold.
If you don’t want to buy a parts manual, a trick I use is to go online to vendors like Bike Bandit and use their online microfiche system. They have digitized the old-school microfiche system that at one time all dealers used to look up part numbers.
Part numbers are sometimes stamped or cast into the part itself. There may also be a label, just make sure you are reading off a part number, not a manufacturing-related or tracking number. To validate the PN type it into a search, most times the part will be verified in the search results.
If you can’t get part number, then the placement, its function can be used to describe the part. For example, a seat for a 1998 Gold Wing, or left side cover, gas tank, etc is good enough for shopping purposes.
If you have the old part off the bike, that is great to have regardless of knowing the part number. Take it with you when looking at a replacement used part. Along these lines, if there is a mating part the worm part goes with, try to take that too. This will help verify the part is correct and if it is worn too much.
Where to Find Parts – Online & Local
You will either buy online or in person. Inspecting the part in person is always better, If you can’t and need to buy online then the sellers rating and return policy become more important. With information available to everyone online most sellers know the going price for used parts, which is a fraction of the OEM prices. Whether you buy directly or online try to get a replacement warranty/exchange, know the part and how to inspect it, and buy from a reputable seller. Don’t forget to add shipping cost, if cross border you may have customs or duty charges to online purchases. And consider that if you return it you will be dinged for shipping.
Online – eBay
Everyone has probably heard of eBay, and many have used the site. It has some real advantages for the buyer that put it well above other online sources. I would say the top two reasons I like it are the wide selection of parts and vendors, and the money-back guarantees that eBay enforces on vendors (if you used PayPal). Regardless of vendor size, if you the buyer are unhappy the vendor is very motivated to make things right. Ultimately the buyer can request a full refund of all money paid, that includes shipping costs. If a vendor gets too many complaints they risk eBay score going down, and even to the point of being shut down.
eBay is also more than an auction site, you can find new parts from large vendors, as well of quality parts from small sellers. Most vendors will also have a buy-it-now price, like a regular store, and often skip the auction mode altogether. There are typically multiple choices for common parts too, which helps with pricing.
eBay Buyer Tips
- Watch for excessive shipping and “handling” costs, a great deal can become not so great once these are added
- Shop around – mark the part/vendors that look good and read reviews and any fine print
- You can make an offer on anything, whether it’s an auction or buy it now – try it, nothing to lose
- Be aware of knock-offs, these parts can look like OEM, read all descriptions to verify the origin
- Be very cautious of a vendor with a low rating, they got this buy not providing good parts or services. New and low volume sellers may have a lower ranking but it is based on a handful of sales.
- Take advantage of any bulk deals (oil, air filters – items that you will use), by name brand.
- Always ask a new (to you) seller at least one question – if they respond quickly (enough) and answer directly this is a good sign. There is no excuse these days with 100% connectivity to not reply reasonably quick.
- Clarify where the part is shipped from, overseas vendors will have longer shipping times.
- Do not deal with anyone who is willing to transact outside of eBay, this removes any buyer protections you would have, and points to an unethical seller
- The exception is the local dealer or just a seller who is also on eBay. The seller will need to delist the parts first then you can buy them directly. This will save on shipping.
The most well-known online boards are Craigslist and Kijiji. You may find parts on local boards, or classified sections user groups and even a Facebook Marketplace, or something similar. They are Ok as long as you physically inspect the parts. Buying sight unseen, and having the parts shipped is very risky, since there are no vendor requirements like eBay. These sites are a great way to find “collectors”, who have several bikes and may want to sell parts now and in the future, or you could buy a complete parts bike.
These places are like automotive junkyards. They buy up insurance write-offs, damaged and old non-running machines. They often take popular models and completely disassemble, inspect and list the parts online. Similar to junkyards, they often have bikes stored in a warehouse or yard, and you can search for the part you want. This is when it pays to really know your ride – what does it look like with no tank or seat! Tip – look for the engine-exhaust “profile” for identification in a crowd of machines.
Usually, they do not warranty the part other than it is the correct one, and it is suitable for use. Some places have a request service – and they can help find your part.
If you have a local disassembler than this can be your go-to source for used parts. Remember they are a business and know the OEM costs, so you will pay the going rate. If you need numerous parts and there is a good bike there it may be worthwhile to consider buying it as a parts bike for the best overall price per part. And you can also order online, or over the phone for most disassemblers too.
You can find a casual, home-based version of the disassemblers (collectors). You can find them in online advertising on a local board. The typical collector has 5 or 6 bikes most of the time the same or similar model. Gold Wing collectors are the most common I’ve seen. They can be a good place for parts or a parts bike. Even if they are trying to sell all a lot, it’s worth contacting and asking about the parts you are looking for.
Some dealers may have used parts or old stock that is discounted. You will have more luck at a repair shop than OEM branded dealerships. When starting your search, try to check your local dealer first so you have a baseline cost. The dealer may be having a promotion or have other discounts available. I always ask if they have any deals coming up, it’s free to ask!
If you have a part that is critical or will take a lot of time to remove & install a new OEM part might be cheaper in the long run. If this is a critical part, and it fails on the road you could be stranded or worse. If the part is difficult to install make sure the savings greatly outweighs the cost in time to remove & replace. For a time estimate check with the dealer for the cost of the new part installed, asked specifically what the part costs and the estimated labor will be.
These are organized events, like flea markets for motorcycles. Swap meets are generally better for vintage and niche bikes, but you never know what you will find. Vendors often will truly swap parts if you have something interesting they are interested in. Bring cash and be ready to haggle.
Know True Total Cost
The point of buying used is to save money. So, make sure you are actually saving – include all costs, like shipping & handling for online orders. If you need to travel to see parts, consider the cost, although some people enjoy these outings (I am one). Have a risk factor too, in other words, how much of a discount is worth the trouble and risk of the part not working out. I suggest at least 50% of new is where you need to be.
Warranty Exchange Option
Warranties on used parts are very rare, as close as you get is eBay’s buyer protection, where you can ultimately send back your purchase under the “not as described” option. However, sellers may have an exchange policy. Check the details, the buyer is typically responsible for return shipping. You could pay to ship up to 3 times, first part – sent, then returned for exchange, then exchanged part sent – clarify this with the vendor ahead of time who pays to ship in each case.
- Plan ahead, for example – you will be changing your oil – so make sure you buy at a discount well before oil & filter job is planned for.
- When consumables are on sale, like oil filters, stock up. You will use them at some point, and if not they can sweeten the deal when you sell your bike.
- Buy top quality parts if removal & installation takes a lot of time.
- Always know the part’s OEM price new, this is your baseline price point to evaluate all other parts
- Take photos of the part on the motorcycle and off
- Recognized name brands can be as good as OEM, Nippondenso is as good as Honda, in my opinion.
Alternative to Replacing
Many parts can be rebuilt or refurbished, and almost any cosmetic issues can be fixed or minimized. The question becomes if it is worth the time and money to refurbish, repair, repaint, etc. Check Youtube for how-to’s to see the effort required, but don’t be fooled by the editing, no one shows you the total time it took.
Should I buy a Parts Bike?
If you have space, time and plan on keeping your motorcycle for a long time, then a parts bike could be a good option to consider. A good parts bike can be a goldmine of parts over time and might be the cheapest option in the long run. The best candidate is low mileage accident, insurance write-off. Parts will be as new as possible and the price will be right. You really need a moderately older ride to consider a parts bike, a bike that is only a few years old has a long way to go before needing a lot of parts.
I had good luck, with a parts motor. I bought a late 70’s Yamaha fixer-upper, that came with a spare blown motor. I used a few of the better-looking parts and sold the rest on eBay. My gains paid for the fixer-upper, so overall great deal! I still have a complete transmission gear set kicking around too.
What is Reconditioned?
What does reconditioned mean” Well not much, since it has no strict definition. It is defined by the seller, and what they have done to call it reconditioned. If a seller is offering a reconditioned part then it should come with an exchange option, or guarantee it works and is within factory specifications. Reconditioned should mean the part has been cleaned, inspected and high wear components have been replaced, so it will function like a new part.
Wrapping it Up
The key to getting the best quality part is education and research. Know the parts you are looking for, the cost new and what the service limits are. Go online and start your search, or call up your local disassemblers. The good thing about looking for used parts is that you get better at it the more you do.