You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve thought it yourself. Dealerships are “stealerships” — entities not to be trusted.
And so we resist the temptation to do a trade-in, and instead, try to sell our motorcycles privately. But is selling a motorcycle privately worth your time? Or are dealerships worth it? Let’s examine the case of dealers vs private sellers in detail.
A quick disclaimer — there are good dealerships, and there are not-so-good. There are good salespeople, and those who are not really into it. I’ve personally mostly bought and sold motorcycles from and to individuals, but sometimes I’ve worked through dealerships.
The best dealers become friends or even partners, offering test rides, giving me cheap deals, calling me when there’s something they think I’ll like. And I’ve bought from those dealers multiple times.
But the worst dealers or salespeople are those who see me as a transaction, and treat me just as a customer.
Like many people who ride for pleasure (and not just as a means of transport), buying bikes (and selling, sometimes) is a thing I want to enjoy. Unfortunately, both those transactions can be distasteful when you realise before or after the fact that you’ve gotten a raw deal.
So the question of comparing buying from a dealer vs a private seller is — what do you get out of buying from a dealer? And how much are you willing to pay for that benefit?
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
The (Sometimes Unspoken) Benefits of Dealerships vs Private Sellers
Firstly, there’s much more to a dealership than “a place you buy and sell bikes”. There’s a lot dealers offer you that private sellers do not (or cannot).
The obvious downside to selling your bike to a dealership is that you’ll get less money for it. Less money = cost. And when buying from a dealership you sometimes will pay a little more… but rarely much more (they dominate the market, so they set the “market” price).
But there are some things you get from motorcycle dealers that aren’t immediately obvious to everyone who’s extremely cost-conscious.
Here are the benefits I think are most important to acknowledge we get from a dealership.
Get Hassle-Free Test Rides
When you go to a dealer and are interested in a bike, they will usually offer you a test ride. Not always — not if it’s a new model and there are no test ride models, or not if you’re in a part of the world (like many states in the US, crazily enough) where the insurance can’t cover it.
But for most people, most of the time, a dealer offers an easy way to take a bike for a spin for 30 minutes. It’s a really quick way to answer questions like “is the seating position weird?” or “am I revving this to the moon just to ride it” or just “does this bike speak to me?”
Getting test rides from private sellers is a trickier situation. They might demand partial or full payment, or just not give you a test ride at all. It’s always a bit of a negotiation. I’ve had people simply not give me a test ride unless I paid the full amount. Usually, people can tell I’m a decent person and don’t ask for any down payment. But you can’t always be sure.
And private sellers offer you a test ride if you’re really seriously interested. It’s very rare for someone to offer me a ride if I have a passing interest. At dealerships, it’s much easier.
(Frankly, if I don’t feel good about someone and they seem like they don’t trust me enough to let me take a test ride with no money down, I’m unlikely to buy from them anyway.)
Hang out, Relax for a while
One thing I really like about dealerships is that many of them just welcome people to come in and browse with zero pressure. Particularly if you know them already (maybe you’ve bought a bike there), or if you look like you might (maybe dress well before going to a fancy dealership).
Sales staff ask me “Are you looking for anything in particular?” And I usually reply: “I’m looking for inspiration.” Which is true.
You can sit on bikes and see if they speak to you. Maybe move them from side to side and see if you like it. Even just sitting on a bike is something private owners are sometimes hesitant about — you always should ask.
BMW dealerships, I’ve noticed, are particularly nice. They are often nice places to be inside. Staff offer me sparkling water or even a coffee. I have only bought one BMW from a dealer, but it was such a pleasant experience that simply knowing I get to go to a dealer like that makes me lean that way again.
Relationships and Sometimes Unsolicited Advice
The second benefit that’s important is that a dealership can give you a relationship — if that’s what you’re after.
If you find yourself dealing with someone you like, then you will find yourself going back to that same dealer and talking with that same person — for fun.
The only two dealerships I’ve dealt with are ones I’ve bought multiple bikes from. Those dealers/salespeople have encouraged me to test ride a few bikes they thought I’d like, and discouraged me from riding bikes they thought I wouldn’t like.
Dealerships can offer community, advice, and support where you need it. Some dealerships have cafés attached to them, run events, and give informal advice on service. And while some do it because of synergies with the bottom line, a lot of dealerships do that stuff just because they love it.
Going back to those dealerships has been fun for me. I do it sometimes just when I need to have a break from work.
A Community of Strangers
The third thing I like from the best dealerships is the community they create.
Dealerships organise things like bike nights, barbecues, swap meets, and so on. Sometimes they even have a cafe on site where bikers come to hang out.
Yes, you could say they do it because there are obvious synergies between building a community and helping sales. But most dealers I’ve come across do that stuff because they like bikes. Buying and selling motorcycles is not a quick way to riches, after all (it’s a tough business!), so you have to get some other benefit.
A Somewhat Guarantee You Won’t Be Totally Screwed Over
Yes, you can buy a lemon from a dealership. I’ve done it, and it was annoying, but it was nobody’s fault.
But there’s a lot more that can go wrong when you buy a motorcycle privately. Here are a few things:
- The bike might be in bad shape. You might fail to do a complete inspection and you might miss a glaring red flag like blown fork seals, old tyres, or rust. Dealers disclose this stuff (or they say “as is”). (See my inspection checklist which can help with many major issues.)
- The bike might have bad paperwork. It might not be the model the owner claims it is, or it might be written off, have an odometer not showing the true mileage, have money owing, or be stolen.
- The person selling the bike may rip you off. Imagine how much can go wrong with “Hey, meet me at this address, and bring thousands of dollars in cash.” This hasn’t happened to me, but I have definitely felt lucky at times.
When you buy from a dealer, you get at least peace of mind that the bike isn’t stolen, it has no obvious major faults they haven’t disclosed, and that they’re not going to rob you.
Saving You Your Precious Time
Finally, dealerships save you time. What’s your time really worth? More on this below.
At a dealership it’s very quick to sell a bike, and very quick to buy one. All the bikes are right there. It’s easy to browse them, get details on them, and generally be confident they’re in the condition they say they’re in.
You also save time on the registration process. When transferring title on a motorcycle the steps can be complicated, particularly if you buy from interstate and it doesn’t come with the right paperwork. Then you have to get it inspected, go to the vehicle registration office… the list of time suck activities adds up!
All that time is time you could be spending on yourself, with your loved ones, or riding. So what’s your time worth?
The Time benefit of Dealerships — What’s your Time worth?
You probably enjoy doing things yourself. Learning how to service a bike, ride a difficult road, or improve your racing skills. I’m the same. Buying a bike privately is usually fun, too — I get to meet people and talk bikes!
So let’s put to one side the things we might enjoy doing ourselves, like doing a difficult operation on a bike that isn’t our primary transport/source of leisure. Sometimes even washing a bike is a good stress relief.
But sometimes, we make choices to do things because we think it’s the economical choice. Why sacrifice thousands of dollars in a trade when “all you have to do is put a few pics up on a site”?
In the past, I’ve been against using motorcycle dealerships because I’ve thought “I have time, I’ll sell it myself and pocket the difference”. And I try to break even on the cost of motorcycles over the long term.
I’ve made these decisions at times when I’ve been time-rich and money not-so-rich (times which continue today, relatively speaking), and was aghast at the thought of losing thousands of dollars arbitrarily in a transaction that I had the resources to do myself.
That is a lot of money. Many other people would agree.
But I’m starting to change my tune. Here are a few reflections on the value of time.
The Real Time Cost of Selling a Motorcycle
Thousands of dollars is a lot of money. Even more so if you’re cash strapped — motorcyling is an expensive hobby.
But selling a motorcycle is a deceptively time-intensive activity. For example, when compared to just taking it to a dealer, you have to do all these extra things:
- Clean the motorcycle (some pleasure in it… but it’s still a chore)
- Take nice photos (this does also bring certain pleasure too)
- Write description and details on 1-3 platforms
- Do any minor repairs needed to make it saleable (changing light bulbs, tyres)
- Do the paperwork for a registration transfer (e.g. getting a roadworthy certificate, or a smog certificate in some places)
- Answer many enquiries, chat with them, troll the lowballers or try to make fun of them (they don’t care)
- Show it to a few people, then make sure you’re at home to show it and talk about it (this one takes lots of time — people don’t show up, or aren’t on time, and you have to show it a few times)
- Generally be being anxious about it, waiting for it to be over, lowering the price occasionally
- Negotiate the final the sale price and arrange for collection
That whole process of selling a motorcycle takes time, especially if you haven’t done it often. Let’s say it adds up to about eight hours effort spread out over weeks. What’s that time worth?
What’s your time worth? Probably more than you think.
Let’s say you earn something between $25/hour (basic salary) to $100 an hour (you’re an experienced tradesperson or a well-paid salary worker). Does that mean your time is worth that much? Maybe, if that’s all you do. But it could also be worth a lot more.
Firstly, think of the potential economic value of your time. There are so many things you could be doing other than working, even if you enjoy your work.
You could also be getting an education, improving your skills, or building your own business.
If you do one of those things and in a few years are making a lot more money as a result, then in a purely economic sense, your time is already worth more than what you’re being paid right now.
Secondly, think of the value of your time when doing something you love, rather than a job you do for money.
Let’s say you have weekend plans doing something you enjoy (e.g. going out on a date, or riding with friends). Now I offer you money to not do that thing. How much would I have to pay you?
Whatever number you eventually accept, you might accept it because you think “I can do that another time”. Well, what if I made the same offer next week? Your price might go up.
After dedicating many hours to our jobs — including the commute, sometimes overtime, and de-stressing afterwards — we have very little leftover time. That time is precious.
Thirdly, time decays in quality as we get older. As we get older, we age. It’s true. It’s happening to me, anyway!
So we can’t physically do many of the absurd things we did when we were younger. We find it harder to do all-day rides, sleep in airports without back pain, or tolerate foods from less sanitary establishments.
So if you have a year off when you’re 60, many more things may be off the table than when you were 20.
Finally, you can’t buy more time.
Let’s say you take money to cancel your weekend plans.
You’re booked in to work the following weekend (and you have nobody you can swap with). Can you pay your boss to cancel a shift? No.
You also can’t buy more time later to do more things you love. This is because you can’t buy time directly as an asset, you can only sell it.
Considering this makes the value of time go up for me. Time is an asset of which I am running out and of which I can’t buy more.
So, considering that every time I sell a bike it costs me 4-8 hours of time, I can’t help but think: is that time priceless? Or is it at least worth $2-3K?
The only Way to Buy Time: Avoid Spending it
This comes to the final redux for me in why dealerships can be worth it. You can’t buy back time, but you can avoid spending it, and thus have more time for other things.
You can pay for people to do some of your things for you. Like when we eat out, we avoid the time expense not just of cooking, but also of cleaning up. And when work with dealerships, we avoid the time expense of both selling and inspecting a new bike.
So that’s why sometimes, when the stars align, I pay for people do things for me like — like sell my motorcycles.
Another way you can avoid spending time is to avoid selling a bike. That way you don’t lose the time selling privately OR the money selling to a dealer. Hold on to it and maybe accessorise it, customise it, or learn to further appreciate it for what it is, and don’t sell on a whim (definitely guilty, I often feel I should have held on to my BMW R 1200 S).
If you want to go halfway, then you can still buy privately, and just sell to dealers. It’s fun waiting for the right deals to come along once in a blue moon. Then sell to a dealer and don’t lose quite as much in cash.
But it’s up to every individual to find their own economic balance — and it just might change over time.
So — What have been some of your favourite motorcycle dealerships, and what have you liked about them? Do you like buying and selling privately? Let me know in comments or by dropping me a line.