Many Vespa Club of Chicago members have spent years hunting down rusty Vespas in barns and crawl spaces throughout the Midwest, so it still seems kind of crazy that you can just walk into a nice, clean, well-lit building, hand over a few thousand dollars, and ride home on a brand new scooter — with a warranty — and not even have to stop at the DMV. That all sounds very nice, but some of us are cheapskates. Some of us like a challenge. Some of us like to ride things you can’t buy at a store.

There are many ways to track down a used scooter. Most dealers sell used bikes, and that’s a good way to go, if you know and trust the dealer. Then there’s eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Cycle Trader… Remember, some sellers are elderly/rural, so don’t limit your search to the internet (or correctly-spelled words). Word of mouth is probably the best way to track one down: get the word out to friends and family. Ask on forums if anyone’s looking to sell, that’s often better than trying to beat others to a public listing. 

Unless you know and trust the seller, don’t buy sight-unseen, it’s very risky to pay for a used scooter without seeing it in person. Even “collector” sites like auction some very sketchy scooters.

Questions to ask yourself:

Do you speak Latin?

Caveat emptor… Buyer beware! The obvious meaning of this is that it’s up to you to not get scammed. But there’s a more subtle meaning as well: when buying any used scooter, there’s no warranty and no way to know about hidden problems that even the seller’s not aware of. You have to be comfortable accepting some risk, otherwise, buy a new, warrantied scooter from a reputable dealer. 

Is it really the scooter you want?

Hundreds of manufacturers have sold thousands of scooter models over the years. Do your research to ensure the scooter you’re considering is worthwhile, and that spare parts and service manuals are available. Don’t assume that this availability is related to age, many vintage scooters are surprisingly well-supported, yet spare parts for many recent models are already impossible to find. Also note that some U.S.-market models vary from the global standards, which can be a problem.

Don’t panic-buy the first bike you come across unless it’s what you really want, at a fair price. Sure, the “perfect” bike might not come up for sale very often (or in your price range) but keep saving, and keep looking, you’ll find the right scooter before too long.

Is the listed scooter still available?

Act fast when a listing appears! There are people with alerts set up on every platform, watching all day, every day. Call/text right away and get ‘on the list,’ then go see it as soon as possible. If others are coming before you, confirm it’s still available before you head over to check it out. 

Is 50cc enough?

There’s more about displacement in our Guide to Scootering in Chicago, but remember that there’s absolutely no advantage to a 50cc scooter in Illinois other than a slightly lower cost. You’ll still need a license, title, plates, insurance, etc.

We see so many folks buy a 50cc “to get the hang of it” and immediately regret that they hadn’t spent a bit more for a faster bike. Most 150cc scooters are identical in size to their 50cc counterparts, not much more expensive, no harder to operate, and give you enough power to keep up with traffic, get out of bad situations quickly, and will generally be better-engineered for safer operation.

Do you really want/need a scooter?

We see a lot of folks who get obsessed with the idea of riding a scooter, drop a lot of money at the dealership, then decide it’s not the right fit. Is it practical for you? Will you ride it frequently? Do you have a safe, legal place to park it? Will it really change your life, or is it another “retail therapy” binge?

Do you have a license?

Please take a riding class (we recommend Ride Chicago) and get your license before you buy a scooter, you’ll be able to test ride it, and your bit of experience will allow you to make a more informed choice.

Do you need it right now?

Used scooters sell for premium prices when the sun comes out in the spring and early summer. You’ll find fewer listed, but at better prices, at the end of the riding season, or in the depths of winter.

What can the seller tell you about the scooter?

Why and where did the owner get it? How much did they use it? Was it serviced regularly? Why are they selling it? Was it ever rebuilt, restored or substantially repaired? Who did the work? Vintage scooters often have interesting backstories of European tours, first loves, and celebrity encounters, or at least a couple interesting decals.

Is it a scam, or a bodge?

There are plenty of predatory scams out there, please be careful, especially regarding personal information and money transfers.

The most common pitfall with vintage scooters is very-low-quality Vietnamese restorations. They look amazing in photos, and even from a couple feet away, but they’re absolute garbage under the paint. Please be clear this is no reflection on the fine nation or people of Vietnam, but it happens to be the home of a scooter export industry that regularly swindles Americans and Europeans. The worst part is many buyers realize they’ve been swindled, then try to pass their misfortune along to another sucker. Don’t fall for it. They’re easy to identify if you do your research. Google the (unfortunate) term “Vietbodge,” trust expert advice, and save yourself a lot of heartbreak.

Is the price right?

There may be some wiggle room on price, even if it says “firm,” especially if it’s been listed for a while. But if the asking price is ridiculously high, the seller’s probably going to see any reasonable offer as a lowball. It’s worth confirming both parties’ expectations are in the same ballpark before driving an hour out to the exurbs to haggle.

Do you have the money on hand?

If you’re going to look at a used scooter, come prepared to buy. Bring cash, or confirm the seller’s online payment preference in advance. Don’t waste a seller’s time if you don’t have the money ready, and a way to get the bike home. Be respectful.

Also consider the impact on your budget… title, taxes, registration, insurance, storage, and maintenance, plus any local taxes or tags. And your helmet, and other gear, and travel and… see our guide for a list, and cost estimates.

Can you test-ride it?

Bring your license. Most sellers will let you test ride if you have a motorcycle endorsement, stay within sight, and leave your license (and maybe the car or scooter you arrived on) as collateral. Remember to bring along your helmet, gloves, and other gear.

How do you feel about government bureaucracy?

Buying used guarantees a trip to the DMV. Without the right paperwork, a positive attitude, and an appointment, you might be in for a big hassle. Be prepared and know what you need, or how to get around it. DMV employees are surprisingly helpful — sometimes even excited — to help you solve a problem, but they can only do so much if you don’t have the documentation they need.

Inspecting a used scooter:

This is an awful lot to keep in mind, so take your time and inspect the bike carefully. If you’re not experienced with scooters or motorcycles, it’s probably best to bring along a more experienced friend. Buying a scooter involves some leaps of faith, but the more prepared you are, the better.


A scooter with a bent or damaged frame is unsafe to ride, and in most cases it’s not cost-effective (or even possible) to repair. That said, it’s difficult to visually assess the frame of most scooters, because it’s largely hidden by bodywork. Check for hairline cracks, broken welds, cracked paint, and buckles. Above all else, ride the bike, if it tracks to one side, wobbles when you loosen your grip on the bars, or doesn’t handle well on turns, it is likely to have frame damage.

Keep in mind that a Vespa body IS the frame! Small dents and scratches can be repaired, but heavy rust or structural damage can be a serious issue. For instance, a buckle in the center channel of a vintage Vespa (photo at right) is a sign it’s been in a front-end collision.


Original paint, even in rough condition, is generally preferable to a repainted bike, unless it’s very professionally done. Light corrosion on metal parts and/or dull-looking paint can usually be cleaned and polished, and often looks amazing with some elbow grease.

If someone brags about how they just had their five-year-old scooter painted a custom color, they either did it to repair damage or because they just have too much money and wanted it to match their Corvette. Paintwork is VERY expensive, but that was their expense, not yours, it doesn’t make the bike more valuable than one with factory paint.

If cowls, body panels, trim, or other bodywork parts are damaged or missing, be sure they’re reparable or replaceable, and note the cost (including paint). Check for previous repairs, welds, excessive Bondo under the paint (bring a soft magnet!). Ensure repairs are not disguising structural damage. Surface rust is generally no problem, but if body parts are heavily rusted it’s a good sign the bike’s been neglected for years and will need a lot of work. If the frame is rusted all the way through, walk away. Remember that in most cases, light damage is reparable, but disassembly/reassembly, bodywork, prep work, and a top-quality complete respray will probably cost more than the value of the scooter.


A even-slightly-bent fork is dangerous, and, like the frame, hard to assess by eye. Again, riding the scooter is the best way to make sure it handles properly.

Check the condition of the shocks and swingarm. Check any rubber shock/swingarm buffers for damage. Sit on the bike (off the stand) and bounce up and down aggressively. Minor squeaks are normal, especially on an older bike, but there should be no “thunks” or shudders. If it bottoms out, or feels super-bouncy, the springs and dampeners are not doing their job. Ride the bike and listen/feel for suspension issues.


Test the brakes before and while riding. Look for excessive wear on discs/calipers/shoes. Check each brake independently and together. Feel for slipping or grinding (and ensure the suspension works with the brakes as it should). Brakes should not squeak excessively, or stutter at all. Levers and cables should be adjusted properly so they start to activate after a slight bit of free play on the lever, and are fully activated well before the lever touches the grip. On older bikes, the rear brake should activate the brake light, any scooter made after 1973, both brakes should activate the brake light.

Wheel and steering bearings

Check both front and rear wheel bearings by getting the wheel up off the ground and wiggling it on all axes, there should be no play in any direction, and it should spin freely (though automatic scooters may have some resistance from the belt in the back wheel)

Check the steering bearings: With the front wheel off the ground, wiggle the headset in all directions, there should be no play in any direction, aside from a smooth rotation from side to side with no “notches”.


Check date code on tires, check wear marks, and look for any damage, bulges, cracking, flat spots, or dry rot. If they’re more than a few years old, or worn, you’ll want to replace them right away. Check valve stems for damage and make sure they’re seated properly.

Check the wheels for cracks, dents, and irregularities, and ensure all lug nuts are present and tight.

If the scooter carries a spare wheel, check that it’s there, and in good condition.


Check that both the speedometer and odometer work properly. Note the mileage for the title and bill of sale. “Low mileage” is good if it’s just a year or two old. but for older bikes, low mileage means it hasn’t been ridden regularly and is likely to have issues. Even if it starts right up, if it’s been sitting for years, seals could be dried out, and a rebuild may be necessary.


You legally need at least one! Are you able to adjust them properly? If they’re missing or broken, are the threads/mounts damaged?


DO NOT attempt to start a scooter without a battery. Some models with a kickstart models will start up fine with a dead battery, but if the battery is missing, kicking it over can blow up other electrical components. If it’s an older scooter that doesn’t have a battery, your life will be much easier in general, but note that if your engine dies on the side of the road at night, you’ll be invisible. If it does have a battery, assume you’ll need a new one before long. Be sure a replacement is easily available, and note the cost.


Ensure all lights work properly. On a vintage scooter without a battery, they’ll only work with the engine running, and they’ll likely be pretty dim at idle, but they should brighten up as you rev the engine. Check hi/lo beam, brake light, turn signals, speedometer, etc. Inspect wiring where visible, look for cracks and wear in insulation.


Check any hollow spaces for rodent nests, insect hives, etc. Check wiring and cables for critter damage. They’re often in spaces you can’t inspect easily, like inside the airbox, headset, exhaust, and fan housing.


Look for flaking rust (some surface rust is to be expected even on a reasonably new scooter), holes, and hairline cracks, especially at the bends and at the manifold. Listen for leaks and hold your hand near the manifold, bends, and welds to feel for (very) hot air escaping.

Fuel tank/carburetor

Check for rust and debris inside the tank. Rust is common, and any rust at all is a problem. There are various methods to clean and/or re-coat it, but it may be cheaper/easier to buy a new tank. If gas has been sitting in it for more than a year, it’s likely turned to varnish, drain it and add fresh gas and clean the carburetor. Check if gas flows freely through the fuel tap. Modern scooters have very elaborate fuel evaporation/recovery systems and a fuel pump, be sure everything’s working. If there’s a gas gauge, be sure it works.

Check that the scooter has the proper fluids (oil, 2-stroke oil, gas) before starting it!

If it’s a 2-stroke, check if it’s oil injection or pre-mix. Be sure you know the correct mix ratio.

Look for puddles of oil or gas under the scooter.


Look for leaks and fractures in the cases. The cases are unlikely to be clean, but they shouldn’t be coated in grime and oil, either. Wrench wear on case bolts indicate that the engine’s been opened up. Why? Look for screwdriver/wrench dings on other fasteners.

Ensure the engine ‘turns over’ and starts easily. If there’s a kickstarter, ensure it engages firmly and cleanly with the engine.

Vintage 2-strokes may need the choke engaged for cold starting, but once warmed up, should start without choke. Once warmed up (30 seconds or less) they should idle calmly and evenly with the choke disengaged.

While riding, the engine should rev smoothly through the full range of the throttle without any hiccups, backfiring, or racing.

The throttle should snap back to idle when released, though this is rare with vintage scooters. Old gummed-up cables create an ersatz “cruise control:” handy for long rides, but unsafe if you’re not used to it.

Both the throttle and clutch should have a bit of play before activating. If it’s a manual transmission, the clutch lever should engage firmly, but not be excessively difficult to activate. The gears should shift smoothly and surely while the bike is rolling. If not, it may just be a matter of cable adjustment, but it could be something worse.

Won’t start?

Sometimes a scooter just needs a new spark plug or a carb cleaning, other times, the internals are thoroughly destroyed and it will never start again. It’s always a bit of a crapshoot, but with experience, you can get a pretty good idea what’s going on. If it turns over, doesn’t rattle, and compression seems OK, check for spark and see if it’ll start with starting fluid. If it does, even briefly, it might need a rebuild, but there’s hope! If the piston is seized, that’s obviously a bigger problem, but it’s generally still fixable. If the price is right and you like a challenge, it might be worth it… in most cases, unless the cases are cracked/damaged, or bits are rattling around inside, it can be repaired or replaced, for a price.

Missing bodywork (notably the Lambretta “bridge” piece and rear floorboards and/or any flywheel covers/engine shrouds) probably indicates someone was working on it, years ago, gave up, and the parts were lost over time. Maybe they just didn’t know what they were doing, or maybe others have tried since with no luck. Hard to say. You wanted a project, right?

KISS: Keep it Stock, Stupid

The engineers in Italy or Japan generally knew what they were doing, and a stock bike is easier to maintain and diagnose. Safety/reliability upgrades (electronic ignition, improved lighting, improved wheels and brakes) add value, but such modifications make diagnosis and repair harder (and more expensive). Performance upgrades (cylinder kits, performance exhausts, upgraded carbs) generally make the bike faster, but far more volatile (and gas-guzzling!). Be sure you know what you’re getting into.


Accessories are nice to have, but shouldn’t affect the resale value much. Despite every retiree in the exurbs’ insistence, a matching top box, a giant windscreen, a cover, and a used half-helmet that doesn’t fit won’t knock the used value back up to MSRP.

The exception is rare vintage trim and accessories. Original ’50s and ’60s aftermarket chrome trim is valuable, but also very rare, what you’re looking at is more likely to be a modern reproduction.


Vintage scooters generally have a column lock key, a glovebox key, and maybe an ignition key. Make sure you get them all, and get copies made before you lose them. If the keys are missing, you’ll need to replace the locks, the parts aren’t terribly expensive but it’s a lot of work.

Note that on some vintage scooters, it’s best to remove the column key before riding so it doesn’t don’t fall out. On others models the key locks in place, and if you remove it key, the headset will lock when you turn left. Scary!

Modern scooter keys are more complicated. Many have electronic chips built into the key for security and the master key is needed to reprogram new keys. Replacing the lock is also generally far more expensive. Be sure you get all the keys when you buy the bike, including the master, and keep the master key with the title in a lockbox.

If there’s damage to or around the locks, or if they’re bypassed, the scooter is likely stolen, don’t even consider buying it without a title.


Check the height and design of the seat and floorboards and the general ergonomics of the bike to ensure it fits you well and is comfortable to ride. Can you put down your feet on both sides? If not, is a lower-profile seat available? Be sure you’re able to get it on and off the centerstand unassisted. Ensure that the bike is rated to carry your weight easily, with plenty of room left over if you intend to carry a passenger or cargo.

Will it fit in your parking area? Does it have the storage space you need? Helmet hooks? A phone charger? How’s the mileage? What’s the range of a tank of gas?

Vehicle Identification Number

On most scooters there are separate VIN plates on the body and the engine, and the numbers usually match. On vintage scooters, the numbers won’t conform to the modern VIN format, and are less likely to match but both should list the proper model code and the serial numbers should match the year the bike was made. If not, the engine was likely replaced. Confirm that one or the other matches the VIN number on the title!

Don’t Forget the Paperwork!


A missing title will GREATLY reduce the value of the scooter. Don’t buy a scooter without a title unless you’re absolutely sure it’s never been reported stolen, and you’re willing to jump through some hoops. It’s possible to replace a lost title, but it’s time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and if the bike was reported totalled or stolen, you’re doomed. (Note that the “Vermont loophole” vintage scooterists loved was closed in early 2023.)

Ensure there is no lien on the title. Confirm that the VIN, make, model, year, color, and odometer reading are correct.

Confirm that the name and address of the seller matches that of the title, and make sure they sign and date it and list the mileage before handing it over.

It’s possible the seller is not the title holder. “Flippers” often buy a used scooter, fix it up, maybe ride it for a while, and sell it without ever titling it. “Title jumping” is technically illegal, but it’s common and not generally an issue if everything is clear and above board. It’s critical that the title is signed by the original owner on the back, somewhat recently. (Blaming the pandemic might buy you some sympathy at the DMV.) It will make things MUCH easier if you can get a copy of the older bill of sale (when the current seller bought it from the owner listed on the title) along with your bill of sale. The DMV loves bills of sale.

Bill of sale/receipt

There’s no official format for a bill of sale, but you’ll definitely need one to title the scooter. Print out an official-looking generic form online ahead of time, or (in a pinch) it can be entirely handwritten. It must have “BILL OF SALE” at the top, with the date of sale, agreed price, Make/Model/Year, VIN, mileage, and color. It must also include both the buyer’s and Seller’s complete names, addresses, and signatures, with the date.

Also get a receipt from the seller, especially if you pay with cash or check. This could be as simple as a note on the Bill of Sale that says “PAID (cash, check no., etc)” signed and dated by the seller.

The tax on any used motorcycle in Illinois is a flat $25. Buyers and sellers used to fudge prices on the bill of sale to avoid paying taxes, but that’s no longer relevant. With this flat fee, the honest selling price is always the way to go.


The original manual and tool set are nice to have, but not a dealbreaker, most manuals are available as reprints or downloads, and most original tool sets are better replaced with higher-quality tools.

Original sales paperwork, dealer brochures, appraisals, old photos, owners’ notes, antique license plates, receipts for parts, etc. are also very nice to have, if you can talk the seller into parting with them. They might have other maintenance guides, books, posters, and such they could include in the deal.