What to look for when buying a write off

Scott Redmond
By Scott Redmond
ScottRedmond4 Used bike expert, bike anorak, lifetime wheeler dealer and sometime bike breaker. Regularly rides off for a 'mooch'.
Modifications that are hot or not when it comes to buying or selling
So you want the latest bike but can’t stretch to the prices down at your local dealer? There is another way to buy the bike of your dreams without shelling out the going rate and the answer is, to buy a damaged one. It sounds easy enough but you really need to do your homework before you buy your mangled machine. Here’s a few pointers on how to avoid getting your bottom smacked if you opt to go down this route.

The first thing to do is work out what bike it is that you actually want. It sounds such stupid advice I can hardly believe that I’m typing it, but you’d be amazed how many people change their mind and buy the wrong bike, either out of impulse or frustration and end up buying a bashed up bike that they didn’t actually want. Once you’ve got a model in mind do your homework. Your local dealer may sell them for top book price but hunt around and check out the private prices. After all where do you think that stunning bike at the shop originated from? If they’re still out of reach only then consider buying a damaged bike.
 
Buying a crashed motorcycle

The damaged bikes to avoid

The heavier the damage the cheaper the bike, but don’t get carried away. Never, ever buy a damaged bike blind. If there’s one on eBay etc get off your cheeks and go and look at it. Anything with frame damage is best avoided, especially if your plans involve returning the bike back to its former glory. Even if the frame appears ok get on your hands and knees and check it out. Is that paint still wet!? Are those welds still warm? No I am not joking. What’s to say it’s been straightened or repaired already? The other biggie is engine damage. Anything with crank case damage isn’t really worth getting involved with but also cosmetic blights to an engine will dent any resale value. 

Do your sums

As a rule of thumb, the cost of used bike parts work like this: the nearer the front the dearer they will be. A front wheel will be more expensive than the rear, a headlight is pricier than the back light etc. You get the gist. Do your research and check the used prices of parts for your chosen model. Lots of bikes share components with various other models within the manufacturers range. Again get savvy with what lesser model shares parts with your bike, they’ll be cheaper because less people ask for them.

New parts are stupid money. That’s why so many bikes get written off so easily. Some blame the insurance companies whilst others blame the manufacturers. It’s always been this way so used parts are your best way out. It’s not just parts that are expensive but workshop labour rates aren’t cheap either. A bike might fall of its stand and the total extent of the damage is purely cosmetic. For example dented tank and/or silencer or bust fairing, so by the time you price up new parts and fitting, it can be more cost effective for the insurer to write it off. They’ll recoup a chunk of their money selling on the salvage, someone selling  you another bike and capitalism plays out.

 

2001 KAWASAKI ZXR 400 L9 NINJA DAMAGED

Where to buy a write off?

It’s pretty much a closed shop these days. Companies like CoPart etc who hold lucrative contracts to deal with recovering crashed bikes, storing them (which is yet another fee) and then selling them on. Heavily damaged bikes and those that might have involved a fatality are classed as Cat A and B destruction only, usually sold to registered breakers who’ll savage them for anything sellable.

The lighter damaged or just beyond economical repairs are registered as Cat C and D. Lots of these will get broken for parts too fuelled by the eye watering prices that frames with logbooks continue to make. It’s a big problem still and could result in a theft that sees that bike ringed and resold. These are the facts of this business. The best way to keep your bike if you’re unlucky enough to have an accident is to retain it, but so many policies include recovery these days which will take the bike to a shop etc to await a repair estimate. Insurance Assessors will inspect your bike at your house so always insist on this. It will put you in a stronger position should you want to buy it back.

Things to consider

If you do find the bike you want and repair it to showroom condition, please bare in mind the bike will be on the hit list. It’s Cat C or D marker lives with the bike even once it’s repaired. It will damage the value of your shiny bike and most big dealers won’t take it in px. They struggle to offer finance on write offs, plus it’s bad for their image. There are even some insurance companies that will refuse cover.  

 

2006 HONDA CBR 125 R-5 DAMAGED SPARES OR REPAIR

Conclusion

Is it worth the hassle? Depends, if you’re handy with the spanners and know where to find good used parts then maybe, but if you aren’t it’s possibly going to be a hiding to nothing. 
One sector where buying a write off could be shrewd is if you want to build a race bike or track day weapon. After all, the chances are it’s going to bounce off a tyre wall at some point! Also, you can use pattern fairings etc and you don’t need lights etc. Buying damaged bikes is a gamble and like gamblers you only tend to hear the stories of those who won. There’s plenty of tales of those who lost out. Never throw good money after bad. 

 

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