Is Buying a Used Scooter Worth the Risk?

Maybe it’s the hunter/gatherer in us, but stalking the local listings for a perfect steal can be so gratifying. While saving money is the obvious advantage when it comes to buying used, there are other issues you may not have considered. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Benefits of Buying Used

In my experience, the benefits of buying a used scooter are worth the perceived risks. (My experience is detailed at the end of this post.) But this is a personal decision based on individual comfort level. Your mileage may vary. Either way, here are some items for the “pros” list when buying used:

Buying a used scooter can save you money.

Used scooters are cheaper, period.

Used scooters keep more of their value.

A used scooter keeps more of its value, so if you buy one and decide to upgrade a year later, you’ll hold on to more of your money, assuming the scooter is still in good shape.

Used scooters come with free accessories.

When buying used, you may also get add-ons like cargo racks, topcases, spare tires, windscreens and chrome crash bars thrown in. The price of these accessories can add up substantially when purchased at retail and installed on a new scooter. You may pay a few dollars more for a used scooter with a topcase and full chrome kit, but the savings can still be enormous.

As a sidebar, one accessory I don’t recommend getting second-hand is a helmet. You just don’t know its history, and if it’s been in a crash or even dropped, the integrity has been compromised. Take the money you save buying a used scooter and splurge on a new helmet.

Initial service has been done on a used scooter.

(The one’s you would buy, anyway.) As mentioned above, the first few services for your scooter as it’s “run in” can add up to a big chunk of change the first year. A scooter with 1200 miles is still very new but (ideally) has had at least the first two services performed. This saves you money and the hassle of taking it in to the shop. You’ll want to ask for paperwork confirming this maintenance has been done, of course.

The kinks have been worked out.

If there are any “known issues” with the scooter, the first owner gets to sort them out for you. One example is the problematic fuel lines in 2003 Stellas that became apparent after the first model was released. The fuel lines were too long and would get crimped, blocking gasoline from getting to the engine.

Ideally, a brand new vehicle comes problem-free right from the factory. But the reality is, you hear lots of stories about new scoots being problematic until they have all the kinks worked out. I’ve purchased two new scooters, and I’ve got two stories about a long list of “kinks.” Not the word I used at the time, but let’s keep this place polite, shall we?

A used scooter is already scuffed up for you.

When your neighbor backs into it while trying to park on the street, you won’t feel as bad about the chips in the paint if the scooter has already seen some light wear.

Used scooters have been around the block and lived to tell.

The longer a model of scooter has been on the road, the more information there is available. You can get more feedback from other scooterists, read about that model on scooter blogs, and peruse reviews for more ammunition in making your final decision.

Drawbacks of Buying Used

Like any coin with two sides, buying a used scooter is not without its drawbacks. You can minimize the risks of buying used by buying a recent model with low mileage. Or you can take a gamble on an older scooter with a deep discount and hope for a diamond in the rough. Here are some possible issues you could encounter, along with ways to lessen your risk.

Finding the right used scooter requires patience.

While dealers may have the model you want in the showroom today, you’ll likely need to be patient if you’re shopping the classifieds.

You might have to settle.

When buying used, you may not be able to get the exact year or model you want unless you’re very patient. This will depend on the market in your area. Some geographic regions have lots of scooter activity and you could likely get just what you’re looking for. Others you may have to make do with blue when you really wanted gray.

Used scooters could potentially be less reliable.

Buying used is a crapshoot. The odds depend on how old the scooter is and how many miles are on it. If it’s going to be your only mode of transportation to work, avoid the 20-year-old scooter with 30,000 miles on it. (Although I’ve purchased one of those, lucked out and had no problems! I did have a back-up to get to work, just in case.)

Used scooters have unknown histories.

The first 500 – 800 miles of a scooter’s life are essential. Manufacturers provide details for properly “running in” the engine, such as not riding the scooter at open throttle for long periods of time while the engine is adjusting to life on the road. It’s difficult to tell how the scooter was treated as an infant, and improper running-in can lead to big problems later on.

You can get some information about how it was treated by asking the owner how it was run-in. There’s no guarantee they’re being totally honest, but if they ask, “what’s that mean?” you might want to move on.

A used scooter probably doesn’t include a warranty.

In a private sale, you probably won’t get a factory warranty unless the original one is still active and it’s transferable. If the seller still has the factory warranty, read the fine print! Be sure they haven’t voided the warranty by skipping required service appointments or adding modifications like performance exhaust pipes or cylinder kits.

If you’re buying used from a dealer showroom, ask if they can include a warranty. Some dealers offer an in-house warranty for a few months after purchase.

Used scooters might have cosmetic imperfections.

Cosmetic blemishes can be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it. A lightly scuffed scooter is no worse for the wear and lets you off the hook if you drop it while parking or leave it out in the rain.

But if you’re looking for a flawless, glossy paint job, it’ll be harder to come by in the used market. Particularly since lots of new riders wipe out, decide they don’t want to ride anymore, and sell their scooter.

Payment is by cash only.

If you have to finance your purchase, you’ll probably be out of luck in the used market, unless you buy from a dealer that offers financing on “certified pre-owned” scooters.

Availability of parts and/or service may be limited.

Getting replacement parts for an older model scooter used to be more of a concern – now we have the Internets. Some of the more popular vintage scooters, like a 1978 Vespa P200 for example, have ample parts easily available online.

Are your sights set on an older scooter? Check out the availability of service in your area before you buy. If there’s nobody within 100 miles who can work on a 1985 Honda, don’t buy one unless you’ve got a garage and the ambition to learn how to fix it yourself. Or you can play it safe and just stick to scooters that came out in the past couple of years – especially ones that are still being manufactured.

My Experience

I’ve bought both new and used, and ironically, I’ve had more problems with my brand new scooters than the used ones. My Vespa GTS had several electrical problems initially that were covered under the factory warranty. While it was a royal pain in the patootie to break down (on my birthday), need countless tows, and be scooterless for weeks at a time, I didn’t have to pay for any of the repairs.

The Frankenstella included a “gentleman’s warranty” that was not really honored. (Perhaps I’m not a gentleman?) That’s the last time I make that particular mistake. In the end, the Frankenstella cost me about $8,000.

Afterwards, when I bought the Vespa GTS, I opted for the extended warranty for peace of mind. This decision worked out well for me, but the extended warranty cost a pretty penny.

Meanwhile, the ugly-as-sin scooter I picked up for less than a month’s rent never gave me the slightest hiccup despite being more than 20 years old. It required only new brakes a year after I bought it.

Ultimately, the decision to buy a used scooter comes down to your comfort level and your price point. Do you like to gamble or do you want the sure thing? Only you can answer that one.

If you have additional pros or cons, leave them in the comments. I’d also like to hear about your experience with either new or used scooters – good or bad!