Summer is just around the corner and you’ve let another winter go by without building a Vespa scooter from the ground up. If you don’t own a Vespa yet and you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking about the idea of buying a used Vespa. Or you may have just fallen down an internet rabbit hole.
There are many reasons to buy a new Vespa, including safety, financing options, warranties and roadside assistance. If these are important buying criteria for you, you should schedule a visit to your local scooter store.
There are at least two good reasons to buy a good Vespa used – to save money and to have a great selection (there probably won’t be a P200 rolling off the assembly line anytime soon).
Dealers are a good place to start when looking for a used scooter. They often have a few used models on sale and can give you a good idea of what to expect from your used scooter.
Once you’ve found a scooter that’s in your price range and your area, here are a few more tips for buying a Vespa:
Does the Vespa run at all?
If the answer is no, the repair may be as simple as a carburetor cleaning or a new ignition coil. But it could also mean you need a new crankshaft. Even if it runs, these things may be necessary.
How long has the Vespa been standing still?
If it looks very dusty in the pictures, the answer is probably “very long”. Sitting is not good for a scooter, especially if it was not prepared before it was put into storage. It may need a new battery, clean carburetor, fuel flush and new tires.
Are there still parts available for the scooter?
If the answer is “no,” you may not have looked hard enough. Or you may be dealing with a Cushman. Parts are still available for most old scooters and pretty much every scooter that has come out in the last 10 years. Body parts are complicated. If the scooter you’re looking at is missing a few body panels, it was probably
a.) involved in an accident,
b.) involved in a botched “custom” project that the owner abandoned or
Is there a key?
Replacement locks are available for most scooters, but as with cars, the newer the scooter, the more complicated the ignition lock can be. For example, a Buddy 170 ignition lock will not work on a Buddy 125 and Buddys built after 2012 have a different ignition lock than the older models, while a PX150 key set will work on any PX150 and any Stella. Key blanks only work if you have at least one key or if you are really good at disassembling and arranging the tumbler pins and tiny springs.
Does it actually run? How does it sound?
Four-stroke engines have a nice, steady hum. Two-stroke engines sound like a quiet chainsaw or weed whacker. If the scooter is already equipped with a high-performance exhaust, it sounds a little different – a four-stroke usually has a throatier growl, and a two-stroke with an expansion-chamber exhaust has a “brap” sound that’s a little like something popping.
Does it smoke? If it’s a four-stroke and it smokes, you have a problem. If it’s a two-stroke and it doesn’t smoke, you have a problem.
If it rattles or makes a grinding noise, something is wrong. It could be a worn cylinder or a crankshaft bearing that is about to fall apart.
Ask the salesman to give the engine a spin. It should respond quickly and return to idle speed quickly. If it doesn’t, maybe the carburetor needs repair, the throttle cable could be stuck, the throttle body could be stuck, the throttle slide could be stuck – basically something is stuck somewhere, the engine should return to idle quickly.
What do the tires look like?
Do they hold their air? Bald tires must be replaced. Tires with dry rot (cracks in the sidewalls) need to be replaced. If it is an old Vespa and the tires look worn and are called Cheng Shin, you should replace them because they are very old.
What are the brakes like?
You can also test them without a test drive. If the levers go down (or are broken off), the Vespa has no brakes. If you hold the brakes and can still turn the wheel, it also has no brakes. If you can barely squeeze the lever, the brakes probably need to be bled/adjusted or you have a stuck cable, caliper, or shoes.
During the test ride, make sure that the braking action is immediate when the brake is applied and that the braking action is high so that the scooter comes to an immediate stop in an emergency situation. In addition, attention should be paid here to whether the scooter “runs smoothly” and whether there are any problems with the axle adjustment, as these will be noticed at the latest when driving.
Are all lights working?
A signal that doesn’t flash is usually just a light bulb that needs to be replaced, but sometimes it’s a faulty relay or some weird electrical defect.
How badly is the exhaust rusted?
Exhaust pipes are usually the first to break. The extreme temperatures and road grime make them susceptible to rust. Replacement exhaust systems are relatively easy to find. High performance aftermarket exhausts are fun. Replacing a scooter exhaust is relatively easy, but can be complicated by stuck manifolds and mounting bolts.