Motorcycle TroubleShooting Starting

Top 10 Things To Check When Your Motorcycle Won’t Start

  • Engine Cutoff Switch

Some riders almost never use their kill switch to shut down the engine but use the ignition key instead. However, the engine cutoff switch can be turned off by bumping it in the right way or maybe having a kid walk by and play with it. Either way, many riders have suffered the embarrassment of making their riding buddies wait while they struggle to figure out why their bike won’t start – all the while with the answer right under their nose.

  • Dead/Weak Battery

We’ll get the most obvious one out of the way first. The usual signs of a dead battery are extremely dim running lights that dim even more or go out completely when you thumb the starter. A battery that will no longer hold a charge is characterized by an inability to crank the starter for more than an instant. If your bike starts, lucky you. If not, well there’s always jumper cables. The other sign of a dead battery is the Click of Death. There’s just enough energy left in the cells to trigger the starter solenoid to send out a distress signal: dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot.

  • Clogged Petcock Or In The Wrong Position

Yes, your petcock* should have a screen on its fuel intakes to keep it from clogging, but rust particles from your tank’s innards aren’t the only thing that can clog the petcock’s internal passageways. Corrosion within the valve itself can bung up the works. Try tapping the petcock with a screwdriver (or a small rock if you’re stranded in a parking lot) a few times to see if you can jostle the gunk loose. Hopefully, you’ve got a filter inline before the carbs themselves are clogged. Also, the vacuum line from the engine to vacuum controlled petcocks can dry rot, crack, and leak, keeping the engine’s suction from opening the valve. A little electrical tape over the crack might get you home in a pinch.

*Get your mind out of the gutter and back into the fuel system where it belongs. A petcock is a fuel control valve that turns the flow of gas off, on, and to the reserve position.

  • Clutch Switch

Some bikes require that you pull in the clutch lever, even if the bike is in neutral, in order to get the starter motor to spin. If the starter won’t crank – not even click – at all and the instrument lights are on (indicating that you’ve got at least some power), try squeezing and releasing the clutch lever a few times to see if you can make the switch happy. Also, make sure you’re pulling the lever all the way to the grip. If that still doesn’t work, you can go all MacGyver on it by bypassing the clutch switch and  jumping the leads with a staple, fooling the bike into thinking the clutch is pulled in.

  • Transmission in Gear

Furthering the clutch lever switch issue, make sure your transmission is in neutral. You may be pulling the clutch in, but a faulty switch may be telling the starter motor that you’re not. Bikes that don’t require that the lever always be pulled in may be made to start with the transmission in neutral.

  •  Kickstand Down

You’d be surprised how many times riders find – after double-checking their preflight list – the non-starting problem was caused by having the kickstand down. Go ahead. Fold it up. Since the bike won’t start, it certainly won’t hurt anything. Sometimes what happens is that even when the kickstand is all the way up, the little plunger switch that tells the ignition it is, is stuck. Time to get on your hands and knees with a toothbrush and some WD-40.

  • Something Blocking Intake or Muffler Exit

In the tall tales of stored motorcycles, there exists a whole category of stories about owners who try to start their motorcycles only to discover that someone – usually of the rodent variety – has taken up residence in their airbox or muffler. These squatters usually decide to do a little remodeling or move in a bunch of furniture to their home, thereby restricting the airflow.

  • No Fuel

File this one under, Duh. Just like when an object can often not be where your are certain you left it, check to see if there is fuel in the tank. Shake your bike back-and-forth while listening for the telltale slosh. Although it was always funny when Wile E. Coyote checked the tank with a match, use your smart phone’s flashlight instead. Once you’ve made sure you have fuel, check to see if the fuel pump is running on bikes that have them. Also, on carbureted bikes, open the float bowl drain to see if any of the gasoline from the tank is making it to the carburetors.

  • Fuel Filter

Sometimes the cause of no fuel to the engine could be a clogged fuel filter or if it is not starting after replacing the fuel filter it could be on backwards.​

  • Loose Spark Plug Wire

So, your engine is cranking and cranking but not starting. You’ve checked for fuel. What else can you try? The problem with electrical issues is that they’re hard to see as you troubleshoot. So, unplugging and replugging connectors becomes necessary. So, if you can reach the plugs on your non-starting motorcycle, why not check to make sure they’re properly seated by…well, you know.

  • Bad Spark Plug

Same thing as the loose spark plug wire, your engine as cranking out not wanting to start and you have already checked the plug wire you could have a bad spark plug, but no worry every auto parts start should have your plug in stock and they are usually only a couple dollars. Just look at the number on the original. It is always a safe bet just to take the original with you and it is always recommended to keep a spare just in case.

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