Are Harley Davidsons Reliable? Yes and No (Here’s Why)

Last Updated on September 26, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

harley davidson reliability infographic

The answer is both yes and no. The reliability of a Harley Davidson motorcycle depends greatly on how it’s maintained, the era in which it was produced, and the specifics of the particular model. So how does that effect you?

Keep reading to find out!

Chase Manhattan

Are Harleys Reliable? A Detailed Overview

To fully understand the reliability of Harley Davidson motorcycles, it’s essential to delve into their history, tracing back to their early days. In the initial phase of motorcycles, much of the maintenance was performed by the owners themselves. The simplicity of the bikes made it easy for anyone with basic mechanical skills to handle the upkeep.

However, as time progressed and technology evolved, the bikes became more complex, requiring specialized skills for their maintenance. This was particularly the case in the 1960s era when many Harley owners started customizing their bikes for more speed, unique designs, and enhanced functionality.

Fast forward to the 1980s, the Harley-Davidson brand underwent a major transformation with a complete overhaul of its design, technology, and service protocols. This was a turning point in the reliability narrative of Harleys.

Related article: Harley Davidson Drive Belt Replacement Cost

I’ll go further into my own perspective on a Harley’s reliability, but here’s a video overview of another riders’ opinions:

What Does The Community Say? (Split Opinions)

The question of Harley-Davidson’s reliability often sparks a heated debate among motorcycle enthusiasts. Some swear by the brand’s longevity and durability, while others cite instances of frequent breakdowns and expensive maintenance.

Despite such divided opinions, one thing remains clear: Harley-Davidsons can be extremely reliable if properly maintained. Regular servicing, adherence to the recommended service schedule, and proper storage can significantly enhance the lifespan of these motorcycles.

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Common Problems Faced in Harley Davidsons

No brand is without its share of problems, and Harley-Davidson is no exception. Over the years, several common issues have been reported by Harley owners, which have contributed to the brand’s mixed reliability reputation.

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Electrical Problems

Electrical issues are among the common problems reported by Harley owners. These can range from minor glitches in the motorcycle’s lighting system to more serious problems with the bike’s ignition system.

Here are some electrical problems found in Harley Davidsons:

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Fuel Problems

Fuel-related problems are another area where Harley-Davidsons have sometimes faltered. These can include issues with the fuel injection system, which can lead to poor fuel economy and reduced performance.

Here are some fuel problems found in Harley Davidson motorcycles:

Mechanical Problems

While mechanical problems found in Harley Davidsons can also fall into the fueling and electrical categories, I thought it best to separate this entirely as (in my head) it’s a separate issue entirely.

Reference article: Harley Davidson Engine Rebuild Cost

Here are some mechanical problems that can be found in Harley Davidsons:

  • Transmission and Clutch: Some riders have reported transmission gear shifting problems, such as difficulty shifting between gears or gear slippage. Clutch issues, like slipping or grabbing, have also been reported in certain models.
  • Cam Chain Tensioners: In some older Harley Davidson models, the cam chain tensioners wear out over time, leading to potential engine damage if not addressed promptly.
  • Engine Oil Leaks: Oil leaks around the engine or primary cover gasket can occur, requiring proper maintenance to prevent potential issues.
  • Wheel Bearing Problems: Excessive wear or lack of lubrication can lead to wheel bearing failures, resulting in unstable handling or abnormal noise during riding.

Got an itch for some gnarly Harley performance? Read this: Harley Stage Kits Explained

Quality Control Problems

Quality control has also been a point of contention for some Harley-Davidson owners. Instances have been reported of bikes having misaligned parts, inconsistent paint jobs, and other manufacturing flaws.

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Related Questions

Has Harley Reliability Improved Over The Years?

Harley-Davidson has come a long way since its early days. The major transformation in the 1980s, spearheaded by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson, led to a significant improvement in the reliability of these motorcycles.

The introduction of modern design, rubber-mounted engines, five-speed transmissions, and detailed service protocols has substantially increased the lifespan of Harley Davidsons, with many models lasting over 100,000 miles with proper maintenance.

What Led To Their Reliability Issues In The Past?

The reliability issues that plagued Harley-Davidsons in the past can be traced back to several factors. One major factor was the lack of proper maintenance in the early days of motorcycles.

Another significant contributor was the acquisition of Harley-Davidson by the American Machine Foundry Corporation (AMF) in the 1970s. AMF’s lack of interest in the brand led to a decline in the quality of the motorcycles produced during this period.

Will A Harley Davidson Leave Me Stranded?

With proper maintenance and care, a Harley-Davidson is unlikely to leave you stranded. However, like any mechanical device, it is not immune to breakdowns.

To minimize the chances of a breakdown, it’s important to adhere to the recommended service schedule, promptly address any issues that arise, and use only high-quality parts and accessories.

Related article: Harley Davidson Engine Rebuild Cost (Revealed)


So, are Harley-Davidsons reliable? The answer is a resounding yes, provided they are well-maintained. While they had their share of reliability issues in the past, modern Harleys are robust machines built to last. Ultimately, the longevity and reliability of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle depend largely on the care it receives from its owner.

Remember, a Harley-Davidson isn’t just a motorcycle; it’s a piece of American history. Treat it with the respect it deserves, and it will reward you with miles of memorable rides

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