Bringing her back to life

Ok, so you'd like to revive a scooter that has been sitting around for the past 5 or 10 years? I have done this quite a few times. I think it's fun to do, and very rewarding when you get it running. I've been able to acquire and restore maybe 30 scooters that were gathering dust. There is a standard inspection/tune-up regime that I follow with them:

Inspect the scooter

This mostly applies to a scooter you are thinking of buying, but it can also be useful for a scooter you already own that has been sitting a long while. Inspect the scooter for broken/frayed wiring, loose connections, missing parts, and damage from crashes. Sometimes crash damage is obvious.

When a scooter or motorcycle falls over, you'll usually find damage/scrapes on the mirrors and on the sides of the plastic panels. You will also usually see damage to the rubber handgrips. A crash at speed will result in a scrape that is spread over at least a few inches. A tip-over at 0 mph will result in a scrapes and cracks in a more concentrated area. Scooters seem to get into frequent crashes where the front end is damaged, so check out the front end from top to bottom.

The one-sided fork of the Yamaha Riva 180 seems to suffer more than the standard two-sided fork because it's not quite as strong. This safety check is important. A while ago, I bought a Helix and rode it without inspecting it. The front end felt a little funny. After an inspection, I found a broken shock! This could have been very dangerous if the broken piece of the shock had given way and landed in the wheel.

Quite a few Japanese scooter parts (especially Honda parts) are still available from the dealer, which is great. But things like plastic panels are expensive. Try to see if there have been any modifications of the exhaust pipe, carb, or air cleaner. Unless the previous owner knew what he/she was doing, the scooter will likely run poorly if any of these components are changed.

Check out all the hoses you can reach. Squeeze them - they should be somewhat supple. They will need to be replaced if they are hard and cracked. Especially check all hose connection points and all wiring connection points. In my experience, this is where about 90% of the failures occur. How are the tires? Any tread left? Carefully look at the sides of the tires. Do you see any cracking? Have a friend bounce the scooter a bit to flex the sidewalls. Do you see any cracking now? If the cracks are bad you will need new tires. How does the tire pressure look? Properly inflated tires indicate that the scooter was well cared for.

Take off the gas cap and check the inside of the tank for rust. If you're up to it, take a whiff of the gas. Does it smell new or old? Old gas has a different odor than fresh gas. Check operation of throttle, front brake, and rear brake. These cables tend to stop working properly over time. Lube as necessary. The brake cables (especially the front) and the speedometer cable pick up a lot of water/junk from the road at the wheel. This is where most of them rust and fail. It's certainly possible they have gotten grimy over the years, so they may bind or otherwise not work smoothly. Check the tires for cracks and other damage. They may have to be replaced. Make sure the wheels spin smoothly. Note the mileage on the speedometer. This may or may not be accurate. In some cases, I have purchased scooters that had a broken speedometer cable, so it was difficult to know how accurate the mileage was.

Check condition of fluids and spark plug

Pull out the spark plug and check its condition. It is somewhat brownish? Light brown, that's good. If it is black the scooter is probably running rich (getting too much gasoline and not enough air). Check the condition of the air cleaner element. Check the condition of the engine oil (on four strokes). All of these things (and the overall condition of the scooter) will tell you how well it was maintained.

Engine oil condition is important. If it's really black that is a sign of poor maintenance. If it is low on oil, that's also bad. At this point, I change the engine oil (and oil filter in the Yamaha Riva) and clean the air filter. If the air filter element is paper (most Hondas), replace it if it is really dirty. For the water cooled Hondas (Elite 125, 150, 250, Helix, Reflex, Silverwing), check and change the radiator coolant. You can run a compression test at this point, but I usually don't. It will give you an indication of the health of the engine. I usually just do a quick valve adjustment check and try to get the scooter running.

Get her to crank and run

It's a lot more enjoyable to work on a scooter that is not dirty and grimy. It is also easier to find potential problems. See the tips page for detailed instructions. If the scooter is not running, be wary! It may just start right up once you get it home, but it may have serious mechanical problems. Take this into account in the selling price. If a scooter is worth $500 in running condition and it's not running, I wouldn't pay over $100 - 200.

It's best to try and bring a battery because you never know if the current battery is any good. Then turn on the key (assuming the seller has a key) and see if the lights work. If so, try to turn the engine over. If it turns over, great. At this point it would be a very good idea to check compression. If the engine doesn't have at least about 90 psi compression, you could have big problems.

Get her running for a brief period

If you're able to get the engine running, run it for maybe 30 seconds. Check for leaking coolant and oil. It may start smelling funny and/or smoke a little as it warms up if it has not run for a while. This is normal - don't worry too much unless you see something wrong. Do the valves need adjusting? You can do this before you try to start it or afterwards. Just make sure the engine is fairly cool or your adjustments will be off (due to the expansion/contraction of the metal).

Go for a test ride

Time for a test ride. But first be sure the scooter is in a safe condition to ride! Proper tire pressure is important. If the scooter had been sitting for a long period of time, it's very likely that the tires are low on air. Riding with low air pressure is dangerous - it slows down the steering and will make the scooter difficult to control. It also over-flexes the sidewalls wearing them prematurely and overheating them (given a long ride).

I usually go for a very short and easy checkout ride (no more than a mile). Test the throttle and brake function. Test the handling. Test the blinkers, headlight, tail light, brake light and horn. After a short ride, I come back to fix any problems and check the scooter over once again. Check for oil or antifreeze leaks. If all is well, I'll go for a 3 - 5 mile ride. As soon as the scooter warms up, I run it a little harder to see how well it goes. Once back home, make any adjustments and check all exposed nuts/bolts to be sure they are still tight.

© Copyright 2002-2014 by Jack Stanley.  All Rights Reserved.