Alright, it’s time to upgrade your ride and Milwaukee is calling your name. If you’re a card-carrying HOG rider, then it’s not your first time making the decision to buy a new or used Harley Davidson. For everyone else, you have to weigh the pros and cons of buying a Harley brand new.
If you’re not the type to brag about the model year of your bike, buying a used Harley Davidson can provide nearly the same experience as buying new – but at a lower price. Modern Harleys are very reliable and pride of ownership is a common trait among owners. Careful inspection is important though.
Benefits of Buying a New Harley
The look and sound of Harleys haven’t changed much over the years, but the technology has. They’ve been subtly adding new technology to their bikes like Bluetooth connectivity and text-to-speech. If you want the latest and greatest tech then you’ll most likely be going with a new bike.
One of the biggest perks of buying new is the manufacturer’s warranty. New HDs come with a 2-year unlimited mileage warranty. That’s equivalent to what Indian offers, and on par with European manufacturers.
It’s double what you’ll get from the Japanese motorcycles which tend to only have a 1-year warranty. Your ability to diagnose and fix issues on a motorcycle will play a role in how much value you place on this peace of mind though.
Some of the additional cost of buying new can be offset with financing. The average new HD sells for just over $20k, and if you’re like most buyers you’ll need a loan. As a rule, new vehicles receive better interest rates than used, and buying new often opens you up to promotional offers from the manufacturer.
Interest rates for motorcycles are always significantly higher than what cars are eligible for since they are considered toys like a fishing boat or R.V. For a new bike 3.99% would be decent, but don’t be surprised to see rates around 8%.
The dealership will probably try talking you into purchasing some accessories too. While I can’t in good conscience recommend financing those too, you can usually get a better deal buying those at the same time. They might even offer to install them for free but modifying on your own can be half the fun.
Of course, the best reason to consider buying new is simply for that new bike smell. Sorry, logic and the family budget go out the window here. There is just something so special about it being YOUR bike from day one.
Benefits of Buying an Older Harley
If you’re looking to save some money, then maybe a used bike makes more sense for you. Since the majority of riders in North America only use their bikes as toys, there are always a lot of clean, low mileage bikes available for sale.
There is a risk with buying used though, and you want to be confident in your ability to assess the condition of a bike before handing over your hard-earned dollars to some stranger you met up with in a gas station parking lot that you’ll never see again.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, bring along a friend who has more experience or consider paying a trusted mechanic or dealership to do an inspection for you. Spending some money here could mean you don’t have a chrome-laden paperweight a year from now.
Harley has recently gotten into the certified used vehicle market which could be the best of both worlds. They’re calling the new program the “H-D1 Marketplace.” Their certified bikes are subject to a 110 point inspection and include 1 year unlimited mileage warranty plus 1 year of H.O.G. membership with roadside assistance.
They also have promotional financing on the certified bikes. Currently, you’d get 3.99% vs 4.49% if you take an accredited riding course. Kudos, Harley, for encouraging people to better their rider skills.
Of course, if the new Sportster S just doesn’t do it for you and you’re craving the simplicity of an 883, then used is going to be your only option. Sometimes the older models appeal more to us for different reasons.
I know I have a particular bike in my garage simply because I remember being in high school and hearing one for the first time while walking home from school and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. They don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Harley Davidson Depreciation
Harleys have historically had very strong resale values, which is a positive trait for new and used buyers alike. I’ve been especially impressed by the prices of their used trikes. They seemed like more of a niche market to me, but wow those things are crazy expensive used!
The Sportsters tend to fall off faster, but there’s a bottom to the pricing and used ones can be ridden for a year or two with near zero depreciation.
The Pan America is a very different bike sold to different demographics (who will hopefully be taking them off-road and beating them up a bit). I’m very interested to see how their values hold up.
Speaking of different bikes, I would not bet on the Livewire having strong resale. Electric vehicles tend to have poor resale since the technology is evolving so rapidly. Victory was selling their electric Empulse for HALF off when they were new, which does not bode well for used values.
The Big Twins have consistently had the best resale values among all motorcycles and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Harley has a clear advantage here compared to other manufacturers. Be aware that while accessorizing your bike is half the fun, you should never plan to recoup any of that cost when it’s time to sell.
Also, keep that in mind when negotiating the price of a used bike too. A lot of used bike ads will boast about the thousands of dollars in accessories they’ve accumulated. If those accessories aren’t to your liking or make it impossible for the bike to pass a safety inspection, then they’re not adding value.
Harley Davidson Reliability
Reliability is another check in the pro column for buying a Harley. Regarding the note above about modifications not adding value, be wary of any electrical or performance modifications. No need to fear dealership installed Screaming Eagle performance parts but buying someone else’s hot rod project is certainly a gamble.
If a used bike has had any electrical modifications, be sure to look at the wiring and inspect the quality of the work. You don’t want to end up stranded on the side of the road because someone tried to add heated grips using wire nuts and it shorted out against the frame.
When is a Good Time to Buy a Used Harley?
Getting the best deal on a used bike comes down to two things: patience and quick reflexes. If you’re trying to find the right bike, I recommend searching Facebook and Craigslist like it’s your job. It might take months before the right bike shows up, but when it does, you need to be ready to act fast.
I recommend having same-day access to the money and a means to get the bike home. You don’t want to miss out on “the one” because your wife couldn’t give you a ride and your buddy hasn’t returned the trailer after his trip a month ago.
If you’re unfortunate enough to live in a place with less than 12 months of riding weather, then late fall and all through winter are prime for finding good deals. People aren’t thinking about riding which means less competition for you, and your low-ball offer just might be the only one a seller gets.
There are also people trying to offload their bikes to free up garage parking for the winter or pay for that PlayStation 5 they had to pay 3x retail value for as a Christmas present.
Tax season usually drives up sales of new toys, which could mean someone eager to get rid of their old bike. Good deals can be had year-round though, so I’ll stress again the importance of just being patient for the right bike (and being ready to pounce when it comes along).
If you’re considering the certified bike route, pay a visit to the dealership. The salespeople will likely be happy to give you a call when they have a trade come in that matches up with what you’re looking for.
What’s the Final Verdict?
There’s no single right answer for everyone. Whether you’re buying new or used, be sure to do your homework and consider your budget. Don’t forget to follow your heart a little too though- whatever bike you choose; it should make you do that double-take over your shoulder every time you walk away.