harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems

7 Common Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems You Need to Know About

Harley Davidsons are known for being powerful and having an iconic design and unique sound. Regardless, some riders have reported Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems, the primary chain tensioner is responsible for keeping the chain in the primary drive at the correct tension. The automatic primary chain tensioner is a relatively new feature that was introduced in Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the early 2000s. 

While some riders have reported no Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems, others have experienced problems such as premature wear of the primary chain, excessive noise, and even catastrophic engine failure. The conflicting information and opinions on the subject have led to confusion among riders and enthusiasts.

This article aims to provide an in-depth look at the Harley automatic primary chain tensioner, its potential problems, and possible solutions. We will analyze the different viewpoints and opinions on the subject, provide expert insights, and offer practical advice for Harley riders who are experiencing issues with their automatic primary chain tensioner.

What is a Primary Chain Tensioner?

A primary chain tensioner is a device that helps maintain the proper tension of the primary chain in a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The primary chain is an essential component of the engine’s power transmission system, and it connects the crankshaft to the transmission. The primary chain tensioner ensures that the chain remains tight and in place, preventing it from slipping or coming off the sprockets.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles come with two types of primary chain tensioners: manual and automatic. The manual tensioner requires periodic adjustment, while the automatic tensioner adjusts itself automatically based on the chain’s tension. The automatic tensioner is designed to provide more consistent tension, reducing the need for frequent adjustments and improving the chain’s longevity.

The primary chain tensioner is a crucial component of the engine’s power transmission system. If the tensioner fails, the chain may become loose, leading to power loss, engine damage, or even a catastrophic failure. It is crucial to ensure that the primary chain tensioner is in good working condition and to address any issues promptly.

Symptoms of Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Harley Davidson’s automatic primary chain tensioner is designed to keep the primary chain tensioned properly, but as miles accumulate, this part can start to cause problems. Here are some common symptoms of Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems:

  • A loud knocking or rattling noise coming from the primary drive
  • Excessive vibration from the engine
  • Difficulty shifting gears
  • Poor acceleration or loss of power
  • Increased engine heat
  • Engine stalling or misfiring

If your bike has any of these symptoms, it is important to get your bike checked out by a professional mechanic. Ignoring these issues at hand can cause some serious engine damage which will cost quite a bit to fix.

One of the main Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems is that it can become over-tensioned, causing excessive wear on the primary chain and bearings. This can lead to premature failure of these parts, resulting in costly repairs.

Another issue is that the automatic primary chain tensioner can become stuck in the fully extended position, causing the primary chain to become loose and increasing the risk of damage to the engine. This can also lead to difficulty shifting gears and poor acceleration.

If you suspect that you are experiencing Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems, go to a mechanic. They will save you time and diagnose the issue, as well as recommend the best course of action to get your bike running smoothly again.

Causes of Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Harley automatic primary chain tensioners problems exist for some riders. Below I’ve listed out some of the common causes:

  • Over-tightening: The automatic primary chain tensioner can over-tighten the primary chain, which can lead to damage to the chain, sprockets, and bearings. This can also cause the engine to run poorly or even fail.
  • Wear and tear: Over time, the automatic primary chain tensioner can wear out, which can cause it to fail. When this happens, the tensioner may no longer keep the chain tensioned properly, which can lead to problems.
  • Design flaws: Some aftermarket automatic primary chain tensioners have design flaws that can cause problems. For example, some tensioners may not be able to handle the stress of high-performance engines, which can cause them to fail.

If you are experiencing Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems, it is important to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic. They can figure out the cause of the problem and provide you with the best course of action to fix it.

Some riders choose to replace their automatic primary chain tensioner with a manual one. Manual tensioners can be more reliable and provide better control over the tension of the primary chain. However, it is important to note that installing a manual tensioner requires some mechanical knowledge and skill. If you are not comfortable working on your motorcycle, it is best to have a professional install the tensioner for you.

Effects of Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Harley-Davidson’s automatic primary chain tensioners have been known to cause several issues, and these problems can have a serious impact on the bike’s performance. Here are some of the effects of automatic primary chain tensioner problems:

  • Engine noise: One of the most common effects of primary chain tensioner problems is engine noise. If the tensioner is too loose, the chain can rattle against the sprockets, causing a loud, annoying noise. On the other hand, if the tensioner is too tight, it can cause the chain to bind, which can also result in noise.
  • Poor performance: If the primary chain tensioner is not working correctly, it can affect the performance of your bike. A loose chain can cause a loss of power, while a tight chain can cause the engine to run hot and reduce fuel efficiency.
  • Chain wear: If the primary chain tensioner is not adjusted correctly, it can cause excessive wear on the chain and sprockets. This can lead to premature failure of these components, which can be expensive to replace.
  • Engine damage: In extreme cases, primary chain tensioner problems can cause engine damage. If the chain’s loose, it can jump off the sprockets and cause serious damage to the engine. If the chain’s tight, it can put excessive strain on the engine, leading to premature wear and tear.

You’ve got to keep your eye on the primary chain tensioner and make sure it’s adjusted correctly to avoid these problems. If you suspect that your tensioner is not working correctly, it’s best to take your bike to a qualified mechanic for inspection and repair.

How to Fix Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Replacing the Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner

If you are experiencing Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems, the best solution is to replace it. Here are the steps you can follow: 

1. First, drain the primary oil from the bike. 

2. Remove the outer primary cover to access the primary chain tensioner. 

3. Remove the bolts that secure the tensioner to the primary cover and remove the tensioner. 

4. Install the new automatic primary chain tensioner and secure it with the bolts. 

5. Replace the outer primary cover and refill the primary oil. 

But let me tell you from experience the installation process may vary depending on the model of your Harley. Consult your owner’s manual or seek the advice of a professional mechanic if you are unsure. In addition to replacing the automatic primary chain tensioner, it is also important to regularly inspect and adjust the tensioner to ensure proper operation.

Refer to your owner’s manual for recommended maintenance intervals and procedures. By following these steps, you can fix automatic primary chain tensioner problems and ensure the smooth operation of your Harley-Davidson motorcycle. 

Preventing Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Harley Davidson’s automatic primary chain tensioners were designed to provide riders with a more convenient and hassle-free experience. However, as we’ve seen, they can be prone to problems that can cause serious damage to your engine.

Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to avoid these problems from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips:

  • Regularly inspect your primary chain tensioner to make sure it’s working properly. Look for signs of wear or damage, and replace them if necessary.
  • Keep your engine well-lubricated with a high-quality oil. This will help reduce friction and wear on your primary chain tensioner and other engine components.
  • Use only genuine Harley Davidson parts when replacing your primary chain tensioner or other engine components. Aftermarket parts may not be designed to the same standards and could cause further problems down the road.
  • Consider upgrading to a manual primary chain tensioner if you’re experiencing problems with your automatic tensioner. While this may require more maintenance on your part, it can provide greater control and reliability.

By following the tips I’ve listed, you can help prevent Harley automatic primary chain tensioner problems and keep your Harley Davidson running smoothly for years to come.

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