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Total Harley Davidson Starter Problems Troubleshooting Guide

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Mr. Chase Manhattan

Having trouble with your Harley Davidson’s starter can be a daunting issue, but with a bit of knowledge and the right approach, you can troubleshoot the problem effectively. Starter issues are a relatively common affliction for motorcycles, including Harley Davidsons. Knowing what signs to look for when your bike refuses to start is the first crucial step. The click of the starter button without the roar of the engine often indicates a starter problem, and understanding this can save you time and hassle.

To address starter issues on your Harley, a systematic approach is recommended. Beginning with the electrical system, a fully charged battery and a multi-meter are key tools for your diagnostic toolkit. Checking the battery’s charge and the starter’s electrical connections can often reveal the simple fixes behind some starting problems. For issues that are not immediately apparent, a deeper inspection into the mechanical components of the starter system may be necessary. But how can you do this at home, and what do you need to know? Let’s find out!

When you’re having trouble getting your Harley Davidson to start, it’s crucial to recognize the common signs of a failed starter. Diagnosing the specific cause is your first step toward an effective fix.

Symptoms of Failed Starter

Your motorcycle’s inability to start can display various symptoms that point towards starter issues. These symptoms often include a complete lack of response when you turn the ignition key or press the start button.

Hearing a Clicking Sound

A clear indication of a starter problem is when you hear a clicking sound after pressing the start button. This sound often suggests that the starter relay is engaging, but the starter motor is not cranking the engine due to issues like a weak battery or bad electrical connections.

Intermittent Starting

If your bike starts occasionally and refuses to at other times, you’re likely dealing with intermittent starting. This sporadic behavior can be due to loose or corroded electrical connections, a failing starter motor, or a defective ignition switch.

When you begin troubleshooting starter issues on your Harley Davidson, your focus should be on a systematic approach to diagnosing the problem effectively and safely.

Safety Precautions

  • Disconnect the Battery: Before you start, make sure the motorcycle’s ignition is off and disconnect the battery to prevent any electrical shocks or accidental engine cranking.
  • Wear Protective Gear: Always wear gloves and protective eyewear to guard against accidental spills or sparks.

Tools Required for Diagnosis

  • Service Manual: Have your model-specific Harley Davidson service manual at hand for reference on the starter system layout and specifications.
  • Multimeter: A must-have to test electrical components for continuity and voltage.
  • Wiring Tester: For tracing faults in the bike’s wiring and connections.

Consulting the Service Manual

  • Model Specifications: Cross-reference any findings with the service manual to ensure that they are within the specifications for your particular model.
  • Diagnosis Procedures: Follow the step-by-step diagnosis procedures outlined in the service manual as they are designed specifically for your motorcycle.

To ensure your Harley Davidson starts reliably, a thorough check of the electrical system is essential. Pay close attention to the battery condition, starter relay function, and the integrity of wiring and connections.

Battery Inspection

Begin by examining your battery. Ensure it’s fully charged, with a voltage above 12.6 volts when the bike is off; anything less indicates a charge is needed. Check for signs of corrosion on the terminals, and clean any buildup to maintain a good connection. Use a multimeter to verify that the voltage doesn’t drop below 12.2 volts under load, which could signal an electrical problem. Regularly inspect the battery cables and terminals for secure fittings and signs of wear.

Starter Relay Testing

Next, focus on the starter relay. A failing relay often reveals itself through a solitary click when you attempt to start the engine. To test the relay, locate it and use a multimeter to check for continuity; a lack of continuity indicates the need for replacement. Also, make sure the relay’s connections are tight and free from corrosion.

Wiring and Connections

Finally, check the wiring and electrical connections thoroughly. Look for damaged insulation, exposed wires, and any signs of corrosion. Use your multimeter to test the continuity of the circuits. Verify that all connections, especially those at the starter motor and battery, are tight and free from debris. Remember that loose or corroded connections can cause intermittent electrical problems that may be difficult to diagnose later on.


When troubleshooting your Harley Davidson’s starter problems, evaluating the mechanical components is crucial. You’ll specifically want to assess the starter motor itself and the solenoid along with clutch engagement.

Starter Motor Assessment

Inspect the Starter Motor: Begin by examining your starter motor. A fully charged battery is necessary, so confirm that yours is charged and functioning properly.

  • Connections: Check the electrical connections for any signs of corrosion or looseness. Tighten and clean as needed with a wire brush.
  • Operation: Try to listen for any grinding noise when starting, as this may indicate a flywheel gear that is not engaging properly or is worn out.

If tapping the starter motor gently with a hammer while the ignition key is turned helps in starting the engine, the starter motor might be the culprit.

Solenoid and Clutch Engagement

Examine the Solenoid:

  • Click Sound: A loud click when you push the start button could signify a solenoid issue.
  • Relay Function: Your starter relay is another critical component that may fail and manifest as a click sound without the engine turning over.

Assess Clutch Engagement:

  • Engagement: Ensure that the solenoid is moving the starter gear into engagement with the flywheel.
  • Grinding Noise: If you hear a grinding noise, it might mean that the clutch within the starter motor is not engaging correctly, or there might be an issue with the flywheel itself.

Regularly check these components for wear and proper operation to prevent start-up issues with your Harley Davidson.

In this section, you’ll learn how to use specialized tools to diagnose intricate issues within your Harley Davidson’s starter system. By applying these methods, you’ll be able to pinpoint electrical issues effectively.

Using Multimeter for Continuity Tests

To ensure the integrity of your motorcycle’s electrical circuitry, a continuity test with a multimeter is crucial. Continuity means that electricity can flow from one point to another without interruption:

  1. Set your multimeter to the continuity setting; it usually has an icon that resembles a sound wave.
  2. Attach the multimeter probes to both ends of the wire or connection you’re testing.
  3. A continuous circuit will produce a steady tone or beep. No sound indicates a break in the circuit.

It’s important to perform these tests on your starter system’s wiring to rule out any broken connections that could be causing problems.

Signal Path and Relay Function

The relay in your starter system acts as a gatekeeper for the electrical current; its functionality is critical:

  • Identify the relay: It’s typically a small cube-like component labeled in your service manual.
  • Testing the relay: You can use your multimeter to check the voltage at the relay while the ignition is engaged. The expected reading should align with your motorcycle’s specifications.

To test the relay:

  1. Access the starter relay’s terminals as per your service manual.
  2. Connect your multimeter to the relay’s input and output terminals.
  3. Engage the ignition and observe the reading. A functioning relay will show voltage passing through it. If there’s no voltage, the relay may be at fault.

Through these advanced diagnostic procedures, you tackle electrical issues that can impact your starter system. Remember to always consult your service manual for specific voltages and settings for your Harley Davidson model.

When it comes to troubleshooting starter problems on your Harley Davidson, addressing specifics can be the difference between a quick fix and ongoing frustrations. Each issue requires targeted steps to effectively resolve it.

Dealing with Corroded Terminals

Corrosion at the terminals can disrupt electrical connectivity, making it hard for your bike to start. First, examine your battery terminals for any signs of white or greenish build-up. If you find corrosion:

  • Disconnect the battery cables: Start with the negative cable to prevent short circuits.
  • Clean the terminals: Use a wire brush or a battery cleaning tool to remove corrosion.
  • Reconnect the cables: Securely fasten the clean terminals, ensuring a tight connection.

Addressing Weak or Dead Battery

A weak battery often reveals itself through slow cranking or just hearing a clicking sound when pressing the start button. To verify the health of your battery:

  • Check the voltage: Use a multi-meter and ensure the reading is around 12.6 volts for a fully charged battery.
  • Inspect the charge: If the battery is weak, charge it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Test the battery: A battery load test performed by a professional can tell you if it’s time for a replacement.

Fixing Loose Wiring

Loose wiring anywhere in the starting circuit could be the culprit. Make sure to:

  • Inspect all connections: Look for any loose wires, especially at the starter relay and motor.
  • Tighten connections: Any loose wire should be re-secured to ensure solid electrical contact.
  • Check for damage: Wires that are frayed or broken will need to be replaced to restore proper function.

Maintaining your Harley Davidson’s starter system is crucial to ensure smooth starts and to prevent breakdowns. By focusing on routine maintenance and ensuring reliable electrical connections, you can significantly reduce the chances of starter problems.

Routine Starter System Maintenance

Your Harley’s starter system requires regular checks to maintain its functionality. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Battery Inspection: Check your battery’s state of charge regularly. A battery tender is an excellent investment to keep your battery fully charged when your bike is not in use.
  • Charging System Check: Ensure your motorcycle’s charging system is working properly to keep the battery in optimal condition.

Follow this simple checklist to keep your starter system in good shape:

Maintenance TaskFrequencyNotes
Battery Voltage InspectionEach RideLook for a voltage of 12.6V or higher when fully charged.
Charging System TestMonthlyTo confirm it is maintaining battery charge efficiently.
Starter Operation ListenEach RideWatch for any abnormal noises during engine start-up.

Ensuring Reliable Electrical Connections

Poor electrical connections can lead to starter problems. Pay attention to these specifics:

  • Connection Inspection: Visually inspect and clean all starter system connections periodically.
  • Tighten Connections: Connections should be secure. Check and tighten any loose connections to avoid power loss.

Here’s a table you can reference for electrical maintenance:

Connection TypeMaintenance ActionDetails
Battery TerminalsClean and TightenPrevent corrosion with dielectric grease after cleaning.
Starter SolenoidCheck for Secure FitLoose solenoid wires can result in intermittent operation.
Ground ConnectionsVerify IntegrityEnsure the grounding points are free of rust and debris.

When dealing with your Harley Davidson’s starter issues, knowing what to look out for and how to approach troubleshooting can save you time and frustration. Here are some of the most common questions and their concise answers.

What are common signs that indicate a starter issue on a Harley Davidson?

If your motorcycle displays symptoms such as intermittent starting, a single click or no sound when the ignition key is turned, or if the engine turns over slowly, these could indicate a starter issue.

How can you diagnose a clicking noise when trying to start a Harley Davidson?

A clicking noise usually suggests a problem with the battery or the starter relay. You should check the battery’s charge and ensure the starter relay is functioning properly.

What steps should be taken to troubleshoot a Harley Davidson that won’t start?

Begin by inspecting the battery, ensuring it’s fully charged. Check all electrical connections for corrosion or looseness. If these are fine, investigate the starter motor, starter relay, and ignition switch.

Where can you typically find the starter relay on a Harley Davidson motorcycle?

The starter relay is generally located under the seat or near the battery. Consult your service manual for the exact location for your specific model.

How do you fix a starter clutch on a Harley Davidson bike?

Fixing a starter clutch requires disassembly and inspection of the starter motor. If the clutch is worn or damaged, it will need to be replaced.

What could be the reason a Harley Davidson won’t start after being idle for a while?

A motorcycle that’s been idle may have stale fuel, clogged fuel lines, a depleted battery, or corroded connections. Check these areas first, and consider replenishing the fuel and charging the battery.

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Hey y’all! It’s Chase Manhattan, a life-long gearhead, tinkerer, and adrenaline junky. I like to write about all things technical in the Harley Davidson and motorcycling space.