Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Chase Manhattan
You’re all geared up, ready to ride your Harley Davidson, but when you hit the ignition, nothing happens. It’s frustrating when you have power but your motorcycle won’t start. Don’t worry; we’ve got your back with this comprehensive troubleshooting guide to help you identify the problem and get back on the road. If your Harley has lost all it’s electrical power, we have a guide for that too.
More specifically, in this article we’ll cover diagnostic procedures for two specific systems and some other rare issues that can occur:
- the electrical system
- the fuel system
- miscellaneous/rare issues
I know it can seem like a lot when trying to determine a good starting point which is why I’ve sequentially listed each step, in terms of priority, for you to take and get closer to diagnosing the issue at hand.
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Troubleshooting Electrical Issues
Unfortunately, Harley Davidson motorcycles tend to be plagued by more electrical issues than other brands; amongst these, common ignition switch failures,starter relay problems, and faulty voltage regulators are abundant. While there are some other things that can cause electrical issues on your Harley Davidson, here is a brief summary of electrical components that are prone to failure:
- Ignition Switches
- Starter Motor
- Starter Relays
- Kill Switches
Otherwise, keep reading for the steps you can take to diagnose your issue.
Check For Loose Wires
Loose wires can disrupt the proper functioning of your Harley’s electrical system. Inspect the wiring connections, especially around the ignition switch, kill switch (engine cutoff switch), and starter solenoid. Make sure all connections are secure and free from corrosion.
Check For Blown Fuses
A blown fuse can prevent your Harley from starting. Locate your fuse box and inspect each fuse. Replace any blown fuses with the correct amperage rating. If a fuse blows again immediately after replacement, there’s likely a short circuit in the electrical system that requires further investigation. Check again for loose wires then proceed to testing the battery.
Load Test The Battery
A weak battery might have enough power to light up the dashboard but not enough to crank the engine. Perform a load test on your battery using a multimeter to ensure it has sufficient battery voltage (at least 12.5 volts) to start the bike. If the battery is too low, replace it with a fully charged battery or use jumper cables to start the bike by jump starting it with another motorcycle.
Battery Maintenance Tip
It’s always best to leave a new battery attached to a battery tender. The battery tender will work to maintain your battery’s voltage so that it will last longer. Additionally, it will restore some voltage to a bad battery. In both cases, you’ll want to make sure your battery cables are tight, which we’ll cover in the next step.
Check The Battery Cables
Inspect the battery cables for any signs of corrosion, damage, or loose connections. A bad connection will deteriorate the battery faster and potentially damage these connections. Clean and tighten the connections if required. Damaged battery cables should be replaced to ensure proper electrical conductivity.
Test Your Ignition Switch
A faulty ignition switch can prevent your Harley from starting. Test the ignition switch using a multimeter to check for continuity in various switch positions. You can start by measuring continuity of the switch in the off position, and then again when it’s turned to on.
If the ignition switch is faulty, it should be replaced.
Check Your Kill Switch
An overlooked kill switch is a common reason for a Harley not starting. Make sure the kill switch is in the “Run” position. If the kill switch is in the correct position but still causing problems, it might be faulty and require replacement. Occasionally, this can be integrated with the turn signal module which will require further investigation.
Test The Starter Relay
A faulty starter relay can prevent your Harley from starting. Test the starter relay using a multimeter, and replace it if it’s not functioning correctly.
Diagnosing No-Spark Spark Plugs
Spark plugs that are not firing are likely due to a failure of the ignition coil – the electrical component that provides voltage to the spark plugs. This will be the last electrical verification we attempt since we’ve sequentially addressed other potential electrical issues beforehand.
If everything else checks out, you can test the spark plugs by removing them from the cylinder and grounding them to the frame. Attempt to start the bike. If the bike cranks and there’s no spark to the frame, it’s likely that you have a bad ignition coil.
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[Related: Harley Charging System Diagnostics Guide]
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Troubleshooting Fuel Issues
Fortunately – and unfortunately – fuel related issues normally present themselves in the same way. There are however procedures in place for you to better diagnose your harley davidson at home – which we’ll cover momentarily – but first, let’s briefly cover the fuel-related components that are prone to failure. Here are the fuel related components that can fail on a Harley Davidson Motorcycles:
- Fuel Control Valve (or just Fuel Valve)
- Fuel Pump
- Fuel Lines
- Fuel Injectors
Amongst these, it’s relatively easy to walk through a procedure that will help you in determining the root of your issue. Keep reading for these steps exactly. More specifically, if you find that your motorcycle is stalling frequently, it’s more likely to be a fuel issue, than an electrical issue.
Check To See If There Is Fresh Gas In The Bike
Stale fuel can cause starting issues in your Harley Davidson. If your bike has been sitting for an extended period, drain the old fuel and replace it with fresh gasoline. Check for rust or floating debris while the tank is empty.
Check Every Fuel Line
Inspect all fuel lines for any signs of damage, kinks, or leaks. Replace any damaged fuel lines to ensure proper fuel flow to the engine.
Testing The Fuel Injectors
Clogged or faulty fuel injectors can result in a no-start condition or sputtering when accelerating. Test the fuel injectors using a multimeter or a fuel injector tester. Clean or replace any faulty injectors as needed.
Testing The Fuel Pump
A malfunctioning fuel pump can prevent your Harley from starting. Test the fuel pump by measuring the fuel pressure at the fuel rail. If the fuel pressure is lower than the specified range, the fuel pump may need to be replaced.
Listen For The Fuel Pump (Alternative Testing Method)
When you turn on the ignition, you should hear the fuel pump coming on. If you don’t hear the fuel pump, it may be faulty or not receiving power. Check the fuel pump fuse and relay, and replace them if necessary. If the problem persists, the fuel pump itself may need to be replaced. If you don’t hear the pump coming on, it’s worth checking inside the (empty) tank, with a flashlight, to check for any loose wires that connect to the fuel pump.
Check The Fuel Petcock (aka Fuel Control Valve)
If your Harley Davidson has a carbureted engine, make sure the fuel petcock is set to the “On” position. A clogged petcock can restrict fuel flow to the carburetor, preventing the engine from starting.
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Related Potential Problems and Fixes
Resetting The Bank Angle Sensor on A Harley Davidson Motorcycle
Some Harley Davidson motorcycles have a bank angle sensor that cuts off the engine if the bike tips over. If your bike has tipped over and won’t start, try resetting the bank angle sensor by turning the ignition off and then back on.
Resetting The Security System on A Harley Davidson Motorcycle
A malfunctioning security system can prevent your Harley from starting. Try resetting the security system by turning the ignition off, waiting for 30 seconds, and then turning the ignition back on. If the problem persists, consult your Harley Davidson dealer for assistance.
Replacing Your Harley Davidson Key Fob Battery
A weak or dead key fob battery can cause starting issues in some modern Harley Davidson motorcycles with keyless ignition systems. Replace the key fob battery and ensure it’s installed with the correct polarity.
Diagnosing The Clutch Safety Switch
A faulty clutch safety switch can prevent your Harley Davidson from starting. Check the clutch lever’s operation and the switch’s wiring for any signs of damage or wear. Replace the clutch safety switch if necessary.
FAQs and Related Questions
Why Won’t My Harley Turn Over After Winter?
If your Harley won’t start after being stored for the winter, the most common causes are a weak or dead battery, stale fuel, or clogged fuel lines and injectors. Check and address these issues before attempting to start your bike.
Why Is My Bike Cranking But Not Starting?
A bike that cranks but doesn’t start could be due to a lack of fuel, weak or no spark, or a mechanical issue such as low compression or a seized engine. Check the fuel system, ignition system, and engine components to diagnose the issue.
Why Does My Motorcycle Have Power But Won’t Start?
A motorcycle with power but won’t start could be due to a faulty starter motor, a bad starter relay, a malfunctioning kill switch, or a problem with the fuel system, such as a clogged fuel injector or a faulty fuel pump.
Can You Push Start A Harley With A Dead Battery?
Push starting a Harley Davidson with a dead battery is possible, but not recommended. It can cause damage to the bike’s electrical system and components. Instead, use a battery charger, jump start the bike, or replace the battery.
How Do I Know If My Motorcycle Starter Relay Is Bad?
A bad starter relay may cause intermittent starting issues, a clicking sound when trying to start, or a complete failure to start. Use a multimeter to test the starter relay for proper operation.
How Do I Know If My Ignition Switch is Bad?
A bad ignition switch may cause intermittent starting issues, loss of electrical power, or a complete failure to start. Use a multimeter to test the ignition switch for continuity in various switch positions.
As you can see, a Harley Davidson motorcycle that has power but won’t start can be caused by numerous factors. By following this troubleshooting guide and addressing the possible issues, you can get back on the road and enjoy the thrills of riding your Harley. Remember to always consult your owner’s manual and seek professional help at your earliest convenience if you’re unsure about any of the steps outlined in this guide.