Safety Regulators Looking Into Brake Failure In 400K Harley Davidson Motorcycles

Image courtesy of Matt McGee

After receiving reports of three accidents resulting in two injuries, federal safety regulators have opened an investigation into possible brake failure in several Harley-Davidson motorcycle models. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe into 430,000 model year 2008 to 2011 Harley-Davidson motorcycles that contain anti-lock braking systems.

According to the investigation notice [PDF], NHTSA has received 43 complaints from owners citing sudden brake system failure occurring without warning.

Owners report having minimal braking impact when either pressing the front brake lever or the back brake pedal.

In some cases, the drivers reported that only one brake worked, while other incidents involved the loss of both front and back brakes.

“Front brake lever and rear pedal locked out,” one owner of a 2012 FLHTCU bike tells NHTSA. “No braking ability. Component failure mode leaves vehicles with no braking ability causing accident without fatality.”

“Front brake completely inoperable after starting engine,” the owner of a 2010 FLHTK reports. “Backing down a driveway in reverse, had a frozen front brake lever and could not control the motorcycle and fell over causing damage to the bike and myself.”

“While moving the bike in the garage under power, the front brake lever would not move,” the owner of a 2009 FLHRC reports. “Lifted foot to use rear brake and bike and myself fell over as the bike hit another motorcycle in the garage. The brake was frozen in the non-braking position.”

According to NHTSA, it is possible that owners experiencing issues with the bikes’ brakes may have failed to change the brake fluid per Harley-Davidson’s every two-year fluid service interval.

The service interval was created because Harley-Davidson believes that the “old” fluid can become contaminated by moisture and allegedly corrodes the ABS actuator valves.

“While it may be true that the complainants failed to adhere to Harley Davidson’s 2 year brake fluid service interval requirement, the consequent sudden and complete loss of brake(s), without warning, is a concern,” NHTSA writes in the notice.

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