If you're buying a used motorcycle, information is your most valuable asset. A new website launched by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration now makes it easier than ever to look up recall, complaint and service bulletin information on a make of motorcycle or even a specific vehicle.
The site is www.safercar.gov/vinlookup and it offers a few valuable functions. First, if you're looking at a used motorcycle for sale, you can enter its VIN and the site will tell you if recall work has been done by a dealer on that specific motorcycle. If you already own a motorcycle that has changed hands more than once, you may not know if recall work has been done, but now you can find out with a few clicks. The VIN lookup function works for cars, trucks and motorcycles of all makes.
In case anyone is wondering what I'm talking about, for motorcycles sold in the United States in the last 30 years or so, the VIN is a unique, 17-digit code that's stamped on each motorcycle's frame or on a plate attached to the frame, usually near the front. It's also on the vehicle title. If you're buying a used motorcycle, you're going to want to look at both, anyway, to make sure they match. If you're looking at a bike made prior to the standardization of VIN identification, there may be differences, but in that case you're a vintage bike shopper who's probably concerned with things other than recall history.
The NHTSA site lets you do more than check for recalls on a specific motorcycle. On the same web page is a search option that shows you all the recalls, service bulletins and complaints for any model of vehicle, as well as tires, and even your child's car seat. Reviews of a motorcycle you're thinking about buying provide good information, but those testers rode brand-new motorcycles. Looking at the recall, complaint and service bulletin history of a certain model, if the bike has been on the market for several years, can give you more insight into how reliable it is over the long run.
By law, manufacturers are supposed to provide recall information on their websites, too. But personally, I find it a lot easier to go directly to the NHTSA site than to wade through the manufacturers' reams of marketing material to find the link. Plus, all brands are in one place at safercar.gov.
Your tax dollars at work. You might as well take advantage of it.