How to Get a Long-Stored Harley Running Again

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Got a Harley that’s been sitting for awhile? Before you turn that key, check out our forum members’ priceless advice!

Long-term storage is a reality facing many Harley owners, especially if you live somewhere north of the snow belt. But despite what you might think, it’s not a good idea to jump on your dusty ride and immediately try to crank it up. This is especially true of any Harley that’s been sitting for more than a few months. A few years? You’ll want to do a little preventative maintenance first.

Such was the dilemma facing H-D Forums member maxdpower recently. The sport bike enthusiast suddenly found himself the owner of a sitting Harley, and he had a pretty good grasp on what needed to be done. Still, he smartly headed to the forums to make sure his new bike was ready to roll before he turned the key.

I was just gifted a 2004 Ultra Classic that isn’t running. It has been sitting since at least 2012, and possibly longer. As far as I know, it ran fine when it was last parked. What I’d like to know is where would you begin to get it running? I know it will need a new battery, oil change, brake fluid replaced and bled, and new tires. Oh, and it was parked with fuel in it which has varnished and smells horrible. I haven’t gotten to see inside the tank yet, but I’m sure it is full of nightmares.

What else am I missing? Do the transmission and engine use separate oil in these bikes? I have been riding for a while and do most of my own maintenance, but always on bikes that use the same oil in the trans and engine (Japanese adventure/dual sport bikes). 

I want to treat this bike right and get it back on the road. Anyone got any other tips?”


Right off the bat, dafrisco chimes in with a simple but valuable recommendation.

“Pick up an H-D service manual for it and that will help you learn more about that year and model. There is a lot of good info in the manual.”

Road Star offers some tips, as well as points out the many valuable resources already available in the forums.

“I would pop a new battery in it, put in some fresh gas, check the oil levels, and crank it over. It’s gotta be fuel injected, so there’s a pretty good chance it will start right up. Lots of threads on here and the Internet on how to check and replace fluids. Engine, primary, and trans are all separate, but you can use the same HD SYN3 in all three.”

Others offer some simple advice that applies to most vehicles that have been sitting for some time.

“Has the engine been started or the crank turned since you took possession of the bike?” asks 2013 FLHTK. “Might want to remove the plugs, spray some fluid (Marvel Mystery Oil), place the bike in fourth gear, and move the rear wheel manually.”

“Ain’t that complicated,” adds Notgrownup. “Fresh fluids, tires, battery, new plugs, drain the gas tank, pour a little Sea Foam in there, fill it up with fresh gas, crank it up.”


Others, including Scrmnvtwins, go into a bit more detail.

“IMO – 1st change the oil and filter as described above. Put a new AGM battery in it, drain the old gas by removing the rubber hose on the front of the tanks tank to tank. Refill with new gas and turn the key on. Listen for the fuel pump to start and stop, turn key off, and repeat. This time crank it up and let her idle a while.

After she is warm, shut her down and look at the tires. Look for the date of manufacture, as I expect you will find they are several years old. Depending on age and rubber condition you may want to take her around the block to warm all the fluids, wash down the internal cavities, and get all the debris in the suspension in the hot oils.

Take her back home and dump everything. Your choice on the new oil filter, but refill all cavities with new oil. I have had five Harleys and used Dino oil in all with more than 70k mi on 3 of the 5. After changing all the fluids, make a decision on the tires. If they are changed, have the brake linings inspected. They most likely haven’t been since the last time the tires were changed.”


Other advice includes things like replacing the fuel filter and using conventional oil instead of synthetic to avoid seepage from old gaskets.

After a whole lot of cleaning and some new parts, the OP was able to get his Harley up and running. So a thread that turned into a mere request for advice evolved into something even better – a build thread!

“Thank you all for your support through this project. Reading your words of encouragement and support (and all of your tips, tricks and ideas) really helped keep me motivated. The knowledge that is on this site is overwhelming…but in a good way 

Obviously the story doesn’t end here, and I’ll keep this thread going as more things get done.”

Just another example of a job well done here at HD Forums. Be sure and follow along with the OP’s progress on his Harley by heading over here!

Brett Foote is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts.

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