Buy A Used Harley
If you’re a money guy or girl, you’ll know that as soon as you drive your brand new bike off the lot, it’s lost about 30% of its value. If you can afford that, and it needs to be new - great! But if you can live with a pre-owned Harley, then you will save big-time. I’m one of those guys who don’t mind buying a broken-in bike as long as it still looks and feels mint. But I also understand it’s a risk. Here’s how to minimize the risk of buying an H-D lemon.
Know What You Want
What you see on TV, hear from your friends, or imagine in your head, can be vastly different from reality. So, research. Research exactly what you want and what you can handle based on your skill level and lifestyle. Take into account where you live, how often you will ride, and why you want a Harley in the first place. Rent the bike you are eyeing for a day or two. The point is: know what you want in reality, not in a magazine. The real-life feel of the bike needs to match your expectations.
Decide Between An Owner or Dealer
Buying through a certified, Harley-Davidson dealer is the best bet. They will have already vetted the bike, learned its history, and done a thorough diagnostic. Their on-site mechanics will have it not only ready to roll out the door but they will, most importantly, stand behind their work. You will have a warranty that guarantees you’re not riding away on a ticking time bomb that will refuse to start the next day. Their knowledge of Harley bikes will be a valuable resource when choosing which one is best for you. It will cost more, but it’s a safer purchase.
Check The Bike’s History With The VIN
For those who are cash-strapped and need to save more, you can risk this investment by buying your bike cheaper from an individual owner. But be forewarned: this comes with no guarantees. It’s impossible to tell with certainty if the bike has had issues, been in a flood, is stolen, or has an original title. My advice is to research the title and VIN to see if there are records of previous accidents or damage. Check the VIN on the headstock or the front frame tubes looking for security marks of a star that are supposed to be tamper-proof. Make sure the VIN matches the title and then run it through faxvin.com, cyclechex.com, epicvin.com, or a similar website to see its history.
Ask For A Mechanical Inspection
Of course, your research may not result in the full history of the bike, so it’s worth the effort to ask the owner if you can take it to your trusted mechanic. Never buy a used vehicle of any kind from an individual owner without doing this. If they resist, then walk away. Offer to give him the keys to your vehicle or have him meet you at the shop, and then have the bike looked over from top to bottom by someone who knows what to look for. This will result in a better understanding of your purchase and perhaps some room for negotiation when you get the data from your mechanic.
Insist On A Lengthy Test Drive
Finally, ask for a lengthy test drive. Don’t settle for circling the block a few times. Ask for at least a 30-minute to hour-long test drive on highways, back roads, and through city streets. There are mechanical issues that will only appear when the engine gets hot enough or in certain conditions that need to be explored by running through all the gears in a real-world setting. Again, if they refuse, then make sure you haven’t emotionally bonded with the bike, so you can walk away. There will always be another bike and a better deal to be had with time, research, and patience.
Buy A New Harley With Discounts
Buy With Discounted Financing
For those who need a never-been-ridden, brand new bike, be prepared. Harley-Davidson does not offer sales. In fact, the sales often go the other way. In 2020 Milwaukee dealerships sold Harleys above MSRP 45% of the time. In 2021, it rose to 65% of all sales being executed over MSRP. Now that is a company that is holding the value of its brand. Of course, this means you may not get the deal you normally would with another make of motorcycle, but it also means that if you decide to resell, it will hold its value. For instance, I bought a used Harley for $3,800 and sold it two years later for $6,000. The Harley decal on the gas tank still means something.
So Harley’s do not go on sale. There will be no end-of-the-year block-buster extravaganza where “everything must go!” But, you still may get a discount. The gross sales margin is normally between 18-20 percent and H-D does not allow direct factory sales. The financing alone can average around $1,500 per unit. So the wiggle room is tight, but it’s not nothing.
While there’s not much of a discount on the sale price, if you are financing the bike, a better rate means more savings. You will find a discounted rate if you go through their classes, become a member of their program, or are in the military. Applying for their credit or credit card will also result in discounts on the interest rate which over several years can add up to thousands of dollars.
Of course, if you are a member of a credit union or a local bank that offers a better rate, always explore your external options. It’s rare, but you may do better outside the H-D offices.
Buy With Seasonal Discounts
Again, there are never any sales, but if the margin is a 18 - 20% mark-up, then depending on the dealership, there will be more advantageous times to see a slight discount. During the winter, especially in northern states, sales dry up. When a dealer has a surplus of inventory, they are motivated to move units to make quotas and make room for new bikes. This is always a good time to buy.
Buy With Good Information
Look For New Incoming Models
Knowing when the next Harley model is about to debut will give you an edge in buying last year’s model. There will be a “sweet spot” of a few weeks when dealers need to make room for the next generation model and will be more agreeable to discount the new, but out-of-date bikes.
Look At The MSRP
Knowledge is power, and knowing the MSRP will give you a baseline to start from. Use that for leverage when speaking with the dealership. You’d be surprised how many people go into negotiations blindly and leave with no clue as to how much they could have saved.
Look For The Basics
Add-ons are the salesperson's best up-sale technique. Know how much you want to spend and don’t become so emotionally involved in what you want that you can’t say no. You will be pressured to get the bike of your dreams at one price, but after all the “upgrades” it quickly bumps up the final price to something you can’t afford. It may be more fun to upgrade the bike yourself with aftermarket add-ons that you do yourself or at least come later when you can afford it. Stay focused on the basics of what you want. It’s never a good idea to be stressed out financially when what you really want is a stress-free hobby to enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful and powerful Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
About THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Rathbun has been hooked on motorcycles since 1987 when he bought his first bike, a 1973 Honda CBR450 for $300. Since then he has been through countless bikes and continued his two-wheeled hobby passing it down to his 21-year-old son who rides with him on the weekends in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Benjamin believes that nothing clears the mind faster than flying 26 inches above the asphalt on his Harley-Davison.Read More About Benjamin Rathbun