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Bike Buying Guide - Posted Ages Ago
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Buying Classic Bikes Unseen

It's never been easier to buy an old motorcycle without even physically clapping eyes on it. The prospect of buying unseen might spook some folk, but you've got solid legal protection IF you buy from a recognised trader...

Pick up any classic bike magazine (including our own) or flick around the Net and you'll find plenty of dealers who'd be delighted to sell you a bike without even seeing you in the flesh. They offer full photo sets, a vehicle report, delivery at cost, cash on delivery - you name it. The whole deal can be done on the phone or by email and the bike will be delivered direct to your door. If you've got a good idea about exactly the type of classic motorcycle you want to buy then this method seems ideal - the time you save on travelling you can spend on haggling, and get the very best price on your new old bike.

Worth 50 quid of anyone's money. Except mine.

Now, if you're buying a new bike there's very little to worry about - after all, a brand new scoot is covered by the manufacturer's warranty. But you might feel just a little bit more nervous about buying a 30 year old machine without giving it a personal once-over and a test ride. That caution is extremely sensible - but given how popular 'distance selling' is becoming, you'll be relieved to find that the law is actually on your side and, crucially, it applies to secondhand machines just as much as it does to new ones.

However, in the case of classic bikes the law also applies a certain amount of common sense: an 'antique' cannot be expected to be flawless. A trader is unlikely to be held responsible for how the bike performs in your hands - so if you find any faults upon delivery then you have to leap into action straight away. You can't ride around on a old clunker for six weeks and then return it to the seller, kicking and screaming when it seizes. How could a court be certain whether you kept the oil topped up? And so on…

Make sure the picture (left) fits the description (right).
Honda 750s on eBay.co.uk

If you buy a bike 'sight-unseen' then the law gives you a raft of specific rights. Before buying, the dealer has to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. So you should be told:-

  • the dealer's business name and address
  • a full description of the bike and its condition
  • the price including all taxes
  • delivery costs where they apply
  • arrangements for payment
  • arrangements and date for delivery
  • that you have the right to cancel the order
  • how long the offer or the price remains valid

    On top of all this, the usual consumer legislation applies, too, so the dealer MUST tell you if there are any known problems with the bike.

    If you decide to buy a bike over the phone, after getting all the info about it, then the dealer needs to send written confirmation (by letter, fax or email) giving yet more detail:

  • when and how you can exercise your right to cancel
  • information about who is responsible for the costs of returning or recovering the bike if it's unsatisfactory
  • details of any after-sales services and guarantees

    There's then a cool-off period. If you place the order and pay the man you can still change your mind and cancel - and get a full refund - within seven working days.

    What a lovely pair. Etc.

    Even after delivery, the law gives you the absolute right to cancel an order within seven days of receipt of the goods. Where a contract is cancelled in this way you MUST ensure that reasonable care is taken of the bike. You can't go out and ride a hundred miles on it and then a week later decide you don't like it!

    If you decide upon delivery to cancel the transaction then you have to give back the bike in the same condition it was in when you received it (take photos and date them!). The law also says that you don't necessarily have to return the bike to the dealer, merely 'restore' it to them. This means it has to be made available for them to collect - and they do that at their own cost unless they made it clear in the earlier paperwork that you'd be liable for the cost of return in the event of a cancellation.

    So this means you can confidently buy an old bike from a dealer without seeing it; have it delivered to your door and - if the worst happens and you're not happy with it, or feel it doesn't fit your expectations - simply ask the dealer to take it away again and refund the entire purchase price. By law, the dealer has to make the refund within 30 days of you writing to cancel the deal.

    Too much polish can lead to patination...

    So that's all the good news. What's the downside? Well, as you've probably gathered, you have to read through all the paperwork very carefully to be sure you understand who is responsible for what. These regulations only cover 'distance contracts' which are ones where there is no face-to-face contact between you and any representative of the dealer, for the whole transaction.

    Most crucially, the law does NOT protect you if you buy through an auction (including online auctions like eBay), even if the seller is a dealer. If you buy at an auction then it really is your look-out. Finally, these rules only apply to trade sales, not to private transactions. A 'trader' doesn't necessarily have to work from a shop, of course - anyone who regularly buys and sells as part of their profession is, effectively, a trader; and someone who advertises a range of bikes for sale definitely comes under the heading of 'trade' even if they operate from private premises.

    Despite all this legal protection, buying a classic bike can be opening a can of worms. (Isn't that half the fun?). So whenever you buy an old bike, 'caveat emptor' really should be your catchphrase…

    Got A Problem?

    The Office of Fair Trading and the Trading Standards authority will give you more advice about buying new and used vehicles and your legal rights:

  • www.oft.gov.uk
  • www.tradingstandards.gov.uk

    On reflection, buying unseen might not be a bad idea.

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