Which Harley Shovelhead Years to Avoid?

When it comes to the iconic Harley-Davidson Shovelhead, motorcycle enthusiasts are often captivated by the engine’s raw power, distinctive design, and rich history.

However, as with any legendary machine, there are certain years that are best avoided when considering a purchase. Due to various factors such as electrical issues, engine oiling, fuel consumption, the starter, or even the chassis, some Shovelhead models are more prone to problems than others. 

That’s what we’re going to cover throughout the article, so that you can make informed decisions.

Harley Shovelhead Years to Avoid (List of Years)

Harley-Davidson’s Shovelhead is an elite series of motorcycles that is renowned for its enhanced power and reliability worldwide. Moreover, the larger engine makes it smoother and more comfortable to ride a longer distance safely. 

But certain Harley Shovelhead model years had some massive disappointments that caused a negative reputation for the brand. The issues came with the electrical parts, oiling, and the starter, too. 

However, according to many online motorcycle forums, enthusiasts, and riders, here are the 5 worst years of Harley shovelhead to avoid: 

Years Models Name
1967 Electra Glide Super Sport
1971Dyna Super Glide
1978Shovelhead Harley Davidson Low Rider
1981Sturgis Belt
1983FXR Sport, FXR Touring

Read Also: Which Harley Twin Cam Years To Avoid & Why?(Explained)

What Makes Harley Shovelhead Years Worth Avoiding?

There are particular reasons to make Harley Shovelhead years worth avoiding.  The reasons usually vary by the models and years of the Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine. 

So, the facts that make it worth ignoring the above years of Shovelhead are going to be described below: 

1967 Harley Shovelhead Problems

1967 Harley Shovelhead
1967 Harley Shovelhead

So if we’re talking about the 1967 Harley Shovelhead, there are a few reasons why you might want to think twice before getting one. First off , it has lower gas mileage and is equipped with aristocrat bumpers and spotlights. 

Also, the clutch might need some tweaking to work smoothly, and that could be a hassle. So, unless you’re really into working on classic bikes or have a great mechanic you trust, it might be better to look for something more modern and easy to maintain.

1971 Harley Shovelhead Problems

1971 Harley Shovelhead
1971 Harley Shovelhead

The 1971 Harley came with an excellent Shovelhead engine and a balanced design. It has the larger frame of the FL Series and the front forks of the XL Sportster. But unfortunately, these models still have some technical issues like oil leaks, engine sitting, and hard starting. 

Here, hard starting might be the worst problem that the 1971 Shovelhead owners face. Several 71 Shovelhead riders reported that their Super Glide motor fails to turn over many times. 

Another reason to avoid a 1971 Harley Shovelhead is oil leakage. The oil pan gasket in 1971 Shovelhead prones wear and teat and cause oil to leak.

Read Also: Which Harley Street Glide Years to Avoid? (Why Explained)

1978 Harley Shovelhead problems

1978 Harley Shovelhead
1978 Harley Shovelhead

It is one of the worst years for Harley-Davidson with Shovelhead. Riders of this year’s Shovelhead are seen to complain about starter issues, oil leaks and oil refilling problems. 

Harley’s 1978 Shovelhead engine has a poor wiring harness that can often cause problems with the starter. Sometimes, the starter fails to crank the motor, or sometimes, the rider hears the starter but it won’t start the bike. 

Oil leaks are another common problem for many Shovelhead motorcycle riders. There are a lot of 1978 Shovelhead riders on HD forums who have asked about this problem. 

While researching 78’s Shovelhead, we also found many complaints related to oil refilling. Even a number of 1978 Harley Shovelhead owners faced problems like smoke coming from the exhaust, low oil pressure, loss of spark, etc.

So, when you go to buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Shovelhead, it’s better to skip this year and head to another year to choose from. 

1981 Harley Shovelhead

1981 Harley Shovelhead
1981 Harley Shovelhead

The 1981 Harley-Davidson was produced with a 1340 cc Shovelhead engine. This powerful engine improved its efficiency and longevity. Still, you can find starter and electrical issues with this year’s Shovelhead. 

The starter problem is a very common problem that comes with many 1981 Harley Shovelhead motorcycles. 

Along with starter issues, certain reports have been written about electrical problems, which is also a reason to avoid this year. The most common electrical issues with this year’s Shovelhead include headlights or taillights that stopped working.

This type of problem usually comes from bad fuses, faulty grounds, or breaks in the wiring. So, be aware about these issues before you decide to choose a model of this year. 

1983 Harley Shovelhead Problems

The 1983 Harley Shovelhead had a fancy design and a lot of variations in its features. But still it’s a good idea to avoid this year if you really want to enjoy a safe and sound ride. It’s because there are some issues with the 1983 Shovelhead that bother the users most often.

Smoke or oil leaking from the rear cylinder head is a major problem that people encounter in their 83’s Shovels and report on the HD Forum. This might be an impression of a cracked cylinder head or worn out seals. 

Another common problem for Harley Shovelhead motorcycles includes starter issues.  Most of the time, when you push the starting switch, it will click the starter solenoid but the starting motor won’t spin.

Which Year Harley with Shovelhead is worth buying?

1984’s Harley-Davidson Shovelhead is worth money. Though it was the last year of Harley with Shovelhead, Harley-Davidson tried better to bring their image back. 

Harley Shovelhead bikes in 1984 featured a twin-cylinder 1300 cc Shovelhead engine. The 4-speed transmission also makes it more powerful and reliable. 

The 1966, a year before AMF ownership, is also a great model for Harley’s Shovelhead motorcycles. It was equipped with a V-twin Shovelhead engine with a 4-speed transmission.

Read Also: Which Harley Electra Glide Years to Avoid?

Tips for Buying a Used Harley with a Shovelhead engine?

Buying a used Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a Shovelhead engine can be a great way to save money and secure a bargain. But for the first-time-buyer, it might be an overwhelming experience. 

There are many things to consider when buying a used Harley Shovelhead. The primary points to check are documents, overall appearance, part’s condition, mechanical, mileage, and price. Below, we’ll discuss these things more thoroughly: 

Check the documents 

Start by checking all the necessary documents for the Harley Shovelhead you’re going to buy. Check the title and VIN of the bike. 

First, make sure that the VIN number is not re-stamped and matches the engine’s number. Also, check the title and make sure that it is current. 

Examine overall appearance 

The first impression of the Harley with a shovelhead will tell you if it was truly pampered by an enthusiast or not. So, check the body parts of the bike very carefully and look for any signs of leakage, sketches, cracks, dents, mismatched bolts, or paint. 

Check all the necessary parts of the bike 

Before buying a Harley Shovelhead, don’t forget to check some important parts of the motorcycle. Check the fuel tank to see if it is filled with the right fuel or if it needs to be flushed. Also, examine the fuel pump with the ignition on. 

Then, check the brake, pedal, and horn to see if they’re working. Also, test all the lights, including headlights, taillights, signal lights, etc. 

Go ahead and check the tires if they are rusted or if there are any cracks. When you’re done with it, it’s better to go check the clutch. Squeeze the clutch and see if it is smooth or too hard to play. 

Now, the most important thing to do is turn the ignition on and leave it for a few seconds. Make sure that the engine is cranking before starting up. Also, listen to the shovelhead if there is any clicking or vibration. 

At the same time, you should also check the mileage and exhaust for leakage and smoke. Also, look at the dashboard and check the warning lights. 

Do a mechanical check 

If you’re not a professional mechanic or bike enthusiast, it’s better to do a mechanical check before buying a Harley Shovelhead. This process will let you know if the wiring harness or hoses are bad in the engine bay. 

Examine the battery 

Use a multimeter or ohmmeter to check the battery to see if it’s properly functioning. Also, visually inspect the battery to see if it is clean and there is no sign of leakage. 

Once you’re fully satisfied with the condition of the used Harley Shovelhead bike, negotiate the price and do the paperwork. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When choosing a used Harley Shovelhead to buy, there might be many questions that come with it. Answers to some of the most common questions found on the internet related to the  Harley Shovelhead are the following: 

Is The Harley Shovelhead Engine Reliable?

Yes, the Harley Shovelhead engines are reliable, though some of them may have plenty of troubles. But a good mechanical approach and proper maintenance can make it more reliable and last longer. 

What Is The Average Life Of A Harley Shovelhead?

The average life of a shovelhead is 80,000 miles. In some cases, it can also run over 100,000 miles if there are no major problems. 

How Often Does A Harley Shovelhead Need An Oil Change?

A Harley Shovelhead needs an oil change every 2,500 to 5,000 miles. In other ways, when the oil level is low or problems like vibrations while idling, or warning lights appear, you should change the oil. 

How Much Does It Cost To Maintain A Harley Shovelhead?

The average cost to maintain a Harley Shovelhead after 5,000 miles is around $400. But if you do it annually, it may cost over $1,500.  

Final words

In this article, we have discussed these six orgs Harley Shovelhead ears to avoid. These years are specified because of several problems with the models of Shovelhead from these years. 

So, if you want to buy a used Harley-Davidson with a Shovelhead engine, it’s better to skip these years. But when thinking about other Shovelhead years, you should also consider the engine’s condition and owner’s number before purchasing one.

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