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Common Tread

Negotiating new motorcycle purchases: Some dos and don'ts

Aug 15, 2017

For whatever reason, people place a lot of import on dickering over the price when buying a new motorcycle.

Everyone has their own ideas and the whole situation is infused with lots of emotion — much of it ugly. Like almost everything in this world, added information makes the process a little easier. Here’s a few things you might want to try (or try to avoid!) if you’re shopping for a new mount.

DO: Know that bike and car margins are very, very different

The most expensive motorcycles are about the cost of a mid-size sedan. The cheaper ones? A few grand. There’s not a bunch of profit built in. For instance, a 2017 Yamaha TT-R230 dirt bike carries an MSRP of $4,199. Walk into any dealer in America this year and try and buy that bike for three grand. It won’t happen. Especially on smaller, less feature-laden bikes, MSRP is often a few hundred bucks greater than the dealer’s cost. They’re not going to let that profit vanish silently into the night.

Little bikes
Small motorcycles don't have huge profit margins in them. Knowing that will make you look a bit more intelligent when you are dickering over the price. RevZilla photo.

I’m not encouraging you to pay sticker price, but I am suggesting that it’s harder to negotiate the cost down very much on modestly priced bikes. Knocking a grand or two off a Harley Street Glide may happen. Dropping two grand off a Suzuki Boulevard S40 isn’t in any way realistic in 2017, and 2018 ain’t lookin’ good either. (Unless you’re buying a leftover 2013 model!)

Margin on the less expensive new bikes is usually around four to seven percent. Do some math.

DO: Understand you can get a great deal — if you’re not too picky

Everyone has heard that one story of the rider who bought their bike for thousands and thousands under MSRP. Guess what? It happens. Not often, but it does occasionally occur. Here’s how. The model is almost always a new bike, but not being sold in its model year. These bikes are known as leftovers. The models generally are an undesirable or unpopular ones, and the dealer will have had it forever. Note that does not mean these are bad bikes. In fact, they can be wonderful, if you are aware of how this situation comes about and how to capitalize upon it.

First, the dealer almost always does not own the new bike. The dealer has the motorcycle on loan and the loan ends when they sell it to you. (Industry parlance is “on floor plan.”) The dealer estimates how long it will take to sell the bike and rolls that floor plan cost into the bike’s price. You also need to know that a dealer will generally be required to accept not-so-desirable models in order to receive the popular ones. A good example of this was Triumph’s line of Modern Classics. Thruxtons sold like hotcakes, but Speedmasters and Americas were slow movers. The Thruxton purchaser was paying top dollar, because the model was hot, but a buyer who was willing to take home a Speedmaster had lots of bargaining leverage.

Those way-under-retail deals you hear about do happen. You might not take home the color bike you wanted, and it might have an inch of dust on it when you see it in the dark corner of the showroom, but you can get a very good deal on a new bike. When a bike has been on floor plan for months and months, it’s often sold at a loss. Since dealers cannot send the bikes back, they’ll often sell way below cost just to stop the financial hemorrhaging.

If a customer stormed out on you in a huff, would you scramble to get him a discount? Photo by Lemmy.

DON’T: Plan to walk out of the dealership

“Never buy a bike on the first trip.” I hear this constantly. “Don’t be afraid to walk out.” Good Lord. This is some sort of macho posturing tactic used by those who have no idea how to do business. If a salesman offers you a great price, why would you leave? Because some internet article told you it was a good idea? Forget that noise.

If you’re not getting the bike you want for the price you want, you’re obviously going to have to leave at some point, but you should know that salesmen are accustomed to watching people walk out the door. It doesn’t rattle their cage too much. All it does is make you look like you’re having a tantrum if you’re not being reasonable. Also be aware that often bikes do sell for retail prices, especially popular models. Heck, there was a time in the early 2000s when H-D had such a waiting list that bikes sold for well over MSRP.

Remember that these are not cars. Some motorcycles are made in extremely limited numbers. You may be passing up a chance to own something you may have a hard time finding.

DON’T: Negotiate any other price besides OTD

Many people get upset over the added costs beyond the price of the motorcycle. Doc, prep, and other fees may or may not be controlled by the dealer. So don’t even compare them. Just talk about the out-the-door price (“OTD”) What do you care if they stick you on the MSRP, but then knock off a doc fee? Who cares? The only number you’ll give a hoot about is the one on the check.

Similarly, don’t negotiate your monthly payment. Stretching your loan terms out a bit longer can make payments smaller — and also hide another couple bucks of profit for your dealer. Figure out what OTD prices will give you the minimum and maximum monthly payments you can bear.

Examine the interest rate, too. (Come armed with your own financing, and allow the dealer the chance to beat it!) The dealer may get a kickback from the financing bank, so they may not be getting you the best interest rate possible.

DO: Get creative

The dealer needs your money. You need a new motorcycle — but you also need some other things, too. If you can’t get together on the price of the motorcycle you’re shopping for, why not see if the dealer can chuck in some stuff that doesn’t cost too much money, but that you really need?

Motorcycle covers, fluids, accessory installation labor, free service loaner bikes, or a detail or two could all sweeten the pot for you, but the cost on those items is fairly low for the dealer. Maybe they have a bike trailer and they’d be willing to pick your bike up for service. Perhaps you’re going to order a fancy set of handlebars that the dealer might install for you. Remember, you can haggle in ways that aren’t just good ol’ greenbacks.

DON’T: Forget that the dealer does more than sell bikes

If you’re willing to waltz off to some faraway dealer who will undercut your local dealer over 50 bucks, how’s it going to look when you stroll into your local shop needing a flat fixed? Are you going to be high on their priority list? Do you place any value on the dealer having an OEM part you need on the shelf so you can make your race on Sunday? Does having your bike rideability issue diagnosed and repaired correctly matter to you?

Your dealer probably ain't driving a Rolls-Royce or riding a Brough Superior, so it's not likely he's getting rich off you. Act accordingly. RevZilla photo.

A “good deal” is never measured in just dollars and cents. A dealer that has to run understaffed, undereducated, and understocked to keep churning out those low, low new bike prices might not be the dealer you actually want to shop at. You’re not just buying a bike — you’re choosing a motorcycle dealer. The one with great service, good inventory, and friendly people who hustle for you will not be the cheapest, but it probably will be the best value.

DO: Remember that the dealer is out to make money

Sure, you want to be a good customer, but don’t forget that many salesman will take as much as they can from a willing victim. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for things to be spelled out. If something doesn’t seem quite right, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for things to be broken down more simply.

If a salesman is getting pushy with a deal that has to be done now, you’re in a bit of a jam. Good deals do vanish, especially on hot models. With that said, some salespeople use that line on everybody to force rapid decision-making. Here’s a tip on how to deal with that: offer a refundable deposit. That will lock the bike up for the time you’re considering it, and both you and the salesman should be able to breathe for a second.

In writing.
Service contract? Free tank of gas? Luggage the dealer ordered? A good dealer won't mind putting it in writing for you. RevZilla photo.

Also, check to see if there are any incentives from the manufacturer; I’ve seen those vanish into thin air. (Yes, sometimes they roll them into the price of the bike. That should be listed on the bill of sale somewhere.) Get any promises of future scheduled service in writing.

I’m sure many experienced bike buyers and a few salespeople will chime in with some commentary. Remember this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably broke, getting hosed, or you’re a turd, and you probably ought to rectify that.

One parting thought: If you can’t spot the sucker...