Buying a Harley for cheap might sound impossible. They’re expensive brand new and they tend to hold their value on the used market. The basic principle of supply and demand applies here, and it’s clear to see how popular they are. Whether their huge following is warranted or not, the fact remains: Harley Davidsons are expensive.
What if I told you there was a way to buy a Harley for cheap?
The typical Harley Davidson owner is more than likely someone that has dreamed of owning one for a long time. These aren’t the type of bikes that you just happen to buy on impulse. Due to their cost, many people wait for years to get themselves into a situation where they can afford one. Once they finally purchase the bike it becomes their “baby”. Since this is their main hobby, they can justify the monthly payments (or outright expense) of buying a brand new $20,000+ bike off the showroom floor.
What about those of us that want a Harley, but don’t want to dip into the budget of their other vehicles or hobbies? I’m going to show you how to buy a Harley for CHEAP. Keep in mind, this only applies to us Canadians. It’s also not necessarily easy or quick. But it works. How do I know? Because 4 years ago, I did it.
You may be thinking “Sure, I know how to buy one for cheap. Just get a used one.” and you’d be right! You can save thousands of dollars by finding an older used bike. They’re for sale all over the place, especially in the spring. The problem is, even older Harley Davidsons hold their value. That’s great if you already own one. Not so great if you want one.
Your best option for finding a deal on a bike here in Canada is to buy one in the fall. Everyone knows they can get more money for their bikes during the excitement of spring, so if someone has theirs listed in the fall or winter it’s likely that they need it gone quickly. That’s the perfect time for you to pounce.
Do the used Harleys in Canada still cost more than you want to spend?
There has to be another way. Luckily, there is a way to buy a Harley Davidson for even cheaper. And if you put all of these concepts together, you can save some SERIOUS money.
So far we have 3 great ways to save money on your Harley:
1. Purchase an older, used bike
2. Purchase a bike from a private seller rather than a dealership
3. Wait to buy your bike in the fall, when the seller may be under the gun to get rid of it before winter
But there’s one more, and it’s a game changer:
4. Buy your Harley in the USA, and import it to Canada yourself.
You probably noticed when you were browsing the used bikes for sale in Canada that a lot of them are originally American bikes. Why are they finding their way here? Well, there’s more of them available. They’re built there. And most importantly, they’re cheaper.
So, instead of purchasing a bike that was already imported here (and that the seller is likely to make a profit from) the best way to save money on a Harley is to buy one in the USA yourself. This may sound daunting to you at first but I assure you, it’s really not that complicated. It’s certainly more involved than walking into a dealer and writing a cheque, but it’s just a matter of planning ahead, filling out the paperwork, and traveling to get it.
*Please keep in mind that it’s been a few years since I went through this process myself. Things may have changed since then, so make sure to research on both the Canadian and American government sites to see what exactly is required.*
Here’s what you need to do:
Pick a state that’s near your border in Canada.
The great thing about motorcycles is that you don’t have to go to a desert state in order to find one in good condition. Why? Because even in northern areas, nobody rides their bike in the winter! Salt is a killer for any vehicle and unlike cars and trucks, most motorcycles will never see it. New York, Michigan, Ohio etc. are all perfectly fine places to buy a clean bike from. This opens up a lot of opportunities and also saves you some driving (unless of course, you’d rather travel 2500 miles each way).
Look for bikes for sale online in your preferred areas.
Craigslist and classified sections on Facebook are fine but don’t offer as much protection as other options. Many American dealers will have their bikes posted on their websites and are happy to accommodate international buyers. But for me, the safest place to find tons of bikes for sale was Ebay.
To save the most money, I was mainly interested in the no-reserve auctions. When I found one that was about to expire and no one else seemed to be bidding on, I sent a message to the seller to make sure he was willing to release it for the starting bid amount. Surprisingly he was, and that ended up being my new bike!
Before you agree to buy anything, make sure you can get it home.
This may seem like common sense but it’s important. You’ll end up spending much more if you have to pay for shipping (and that will also require hiring a customs agent to do all the paperwork for you). The key to saving money is to go down and get the bike yourself. Make sure you can get the time off work or you’re confident you can get it done in a weekend.
While you technically can ride your new bike home, it’s much easier to transport it in a truck or trailer. This way you won’t need to register it or get temporary plates and insurance in the states. Although it’s possible to load a Harley into the bed of a pickup truck, I prefer to use a trailer. Feel free to search Youtube for “motorcycle loading fails” to find out what happens when things go wrong! Unlike other bikes, Harleys are heavy and have low breakover angles. Those little ramps you use to load your lawn mower or dirt bike might not be up to this task.
A trailer is much lower to the ground and if you get one that’s meant for motorcycles, it’ll have proper ways to tie the bike down as well. If your vehicle has a trailer hitch I highly recommend renting a motorcycle trailer from Uhaul. I’ve used one a few times in the past and not only do they work perfectly, but they’re cheap to rent. And cheap is the name of the game here!
Always check the title first to make sure it’s clean.
Salvage and rebuilt titled vehicles may not able to be brought into Canada. You wouldn’t want to buy someone’s wrecked bike anyways. Checking your VIN with one of the popular services can be very helpful. The minimal cost of these checks is worth the piece of mind.
Once you’ve agreed to buy the bike, it’s time to get started on the paperwork.
You need to send the paperwork to the American border 72 hours in advance of when you’ll be crossing with the bike.
This is divided into 2 separate steps. In order to be able to import a vehicle into Canada, you have to export it from the US first. This is very important. Failure to go through the export process will result in your bike being stuck in the US, and you crying all the way home.
Exporting from the US:
Exporting from the US requires arranging the AES (automated export system) filing. This is a bit frustrating because you can’t do it yourself unless you’re already in the US. I hired an American customs broker to file it on my behalf and although it was a rip off, I still came out ahead.
Once that’s completed, you’ll get an ITN number which you’ll need to export the bike. Next, you need to send copies of the title, the bill of sale and a letter proving the lien is paid in full to the office of the US border crossing you’ll be using.
Once you’ve contacted the border 72 hours ahead of time and you have your ITN number, you can go down and get your bike. Try to get some kind of proof of what you paid for the bike (either a copy of the bank draft or even a printout of the Ebay auction listing) because they may hassle you on the Canadian side. Make sure when you pick up the bike, you also get the title. No title, no bike.
When you get to the border, you’ll need to find the Export office. Park in a spot and head in with all of your paperwork. I’ll warn you now, they’re probably going to be rude to you for no reason. Just be nice regardless, and as long as you provide what they ask for (and throw in a few “yes sir, no sir’s” in for good measure!) you’ll get through it. Believe me when I say, if you can get through the American border, the Canadian side will be a breeze!
Importing to Canada:
This is a MUCH simpler process. Their main concerns are the VIN/serial numbers on the bike, and getting their tax money. In my experience, they were a friendly group of folks. You’ll pay the government portion of sales tax here at the border.
Once everything is good to go, take a deep breath of relief and continue your trip home. You’ll have 45 days to get the bike inspected by Canadian Tire (the usual mph to kph speedometer conversion and daytime running lights check) and visit a Service Ontario branch to convert your American title into a Canadian ownership and pay the remaining provincial portion of sales tax. From this point on, it’s no different than buying a bike in Canada. Get a safety certificate, insurance, and a license plate and you’re ready to hit the highway!
The following example is from the 2002 Night Train that I purchased. Results will vary, but I’m sure if you spend some time shopping you can find a similar deal. I traveled all the way from Ontario to Missouri for this one, (19 hour trip each way due to weather) so you could save a bit more money by finding a bike closer to home.
The process might seem difficult seeing it written out like this, but it’s really not that bad. It takes time, and you have to be thorough with crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. I assure you though, it’s worth it – even if the exchange rate isn’t great.
How worth it? I can only speak from my own experience, but here’s how the numbers worked out for me:
Purchase price – $6,042 CAD
GST – $248
RIV Fee – $220
PST – $434
Trailer Rental – $79
Hotel Room – $111
Stock Exhaust (for RIV) – $57
Fuel – $310
AES filing fee – $350
Total Cost – $7,851 CAD
Comparable Harley Davidsons in Canada were listed for anywhere between $11,000 and $14,000 plus tax. Mine cost me a total of $7,851 with tax included. That’s nearly half price! Buying a Harley for cheap is absolutely possible. You just have to be willing to do the homework and put in the effort to get it home. If you’d like to read the full story of my Harley, check out the feature article.