3 Probable Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems 

Harley has installed a tensioner as a safety device, but it can cause issues like overheating when it is too tight or loose. Owners often experience power loss due to a poorly adjusted tensioner, and annoying sounds when it is dirty. All these problems are a threat to a smooth ride! 

In order to ensure road safety and longevity of the primary chain, there is no alternative to fixing these issues. But thankfully, there are numerous workarounds. So let us help you out with the detailed troubleshooting and fixing.

Troubleshooting and Fix for Harley Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems

Harley automatic primary chain tensioner tends to act up, especially, if it is poorly maintained. 

Its owners have, however, noted a few problems that are brought on by both internal and external factors. So, here is a list of those issues and potential solutions:

Loose or Tight Primary Chain

primary chain tensioner functions to adjust the proper distance between the chain and the crankshaft. 

But a faulty tensioner fails to do so, and the chain tightens too much. Also, the chain can hang from the crankshaft. 

Due to its tightness, the chain and its connected units will collide often. And they will get wear and tear. 

And if your chain is loose, you will have a hard time riding the bike straight and smoothly! It mainly happens because of overheating. 

So, to keep the tensioner at its moderate temperature, avoid carrying more loads than the vehicle’s load capacity mentioned in the manual.

An overheated vehicle can easily spread its excessive heat to all units, including the primary tensioner. 

So, to prevent it, we’d highly recommend using a lubricant that does not overheat. Such fluid may cost you around $44 to $70 bucks. 

Loose or Tight Primary Chain
Loose or Tight Primary Chain

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Dirty Primary Chain Tensioner

Over time, all the units of a motorcycle develop dirt and dust, and an automatic primary chain tensioner is no exception. When it gets too dirty, it tends to make clicking noises while you ride the motorcycle. 

Note that a clogged tensioner cannot adjust the placement of the Harley motorcycle chain. 

Hence, the chain hits the chain case, which causes rattling sounds. With such noise, we are afraid of whether you can keep your concentration on the road or not!

To get rid of the issue, detach the tensioner right away. Then, rub the dirt and dust with a soft bristle brush. 

If possible, clean it with mild soap to remove any oil gunk from it. A good cleanser will not cost more than $64 to $90 dollars.

Dirty Primary Chain Tensioner
Dirty Primary Chain Tensioner

Power Loss

Harley’s automatic tensioner helps the primary chain to transfer power from the engine to the wheels and transmission. 

Thereby, you get to enjoy a throttle-free ride. But if the tensioner is not in alignment with its placement, it can cause a loss of power! 

If its screws or springs are loose, the tensioner will not stay in place. As a result, it cannot provide enough tension for the chain. 

And without proper tension, the chain will fail to supply enough power for a smoother ride, especially if you are on long trips.

The initial fix is to adjust the tensioner in its place. For that, use a tensioner wrench to tighten the bolts and screws around it. For the wrench, you need to pay around $7 to $11.

If the fix does not work, you will need to replace the tensioner. In that case, prepare a budget of around $800 to $1400. Feel free to contact a mechanic who can provide you with accurate costing information.

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Tips to Prevent Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems on Harley Davidson

The key to keeping the Harley primary tensioner functioning is proper maintenance. 

In case you do not want to face issues with the tensioner anytime soon, follow these tips below. It will not only prevent the problems but also will save you repairing cost: 

  • Inspect the motorcycle and the primary chain after every ride. Make sure it is not too tight or loose from the crankshaft.
  • Lubricate the chain once a month.
  • Pay attention to rattles and clicking sounds. If you hear any, readjust the tensioner.
  • It is better to clean the tensioner and chain after each ride. It will prevent oil gunk, pebbles, and dirt from damaging the unit.
  • Ensure the chain has proper space or slack under the crankshaft. You may follow the manual for the Slack specs.

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Is It Safe to Ride A Harley With Automatic Primary Chain Tensioner Problems?

We highly discourage anyone from riding a Harley with a faulty primary tensioner. It not only damages your vehicle but also puts your life at risk. Here are the consequences –

  • tensioner cannot provide enough power, especially during overtakes. It leads to a fatal road crash.
  • If you continuously ride with a malfunctioning tensioner, it can damage the engine’s rotating components. 
  • You will need to change the primary chain if you frequently ride a motorcycle with tensioner issues.
  • The rattling noise will increase over time if you go on long trips without fixing the tensioner. After all, it is distracting.

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In order to keep your Harley motorcycle active and durable, there is no alternative to keeping the tensioner functioning. So, you may have more queries about it. Here is our attempt to answer them: 

How Often Should You Inspect Harley Automatic Chain Tensioners?

As per the Harley technicians, you should inspect your tensioner every 25000 miles. However, the unit may act up at times due to debris and other factors. So, it is better to check it after every ride.

How To Properly Install The Automatic Chain Tensioner On A Harley?

There are instructions and specifications in the owner’s manual regarding the tensioner adjustment process. So, you will need to meticulously follow the manual. However, if you do not have the necessary skills, contact a professional. 

Is It Safe To Install A Used Primary Chain Tensioner On A Harley?

It depends on the conditions of the used tensioner. If it has no wear, dents, or noticeable damage, you can install it. But if it is not compatible with the specs of your vehicle, you better avoid it. 


The problems with Harley’s automatic primary chain tensioner reduce the tensioner’s lifespan. 

If the issues are severe and have been looked over for a long time, we assume your engine’s functionality is at stake. 

The best thing you can do to prevent these technical hiccups is to go for regular maintenance at the nearest dealer’s shop. 

However, if you are tight on budget, we suggest keeping the tensioner clean. Make sure not to use any liquid that may scrape off its frame.

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