Engine Won’t Crank/Start 1986-2003 Sportster XL/XLH 883 1200

Harley Sportster Won't Start Crank XL XLH 883 1100 1200

A Harley Davidson Sportster XL/XLH 883, 1100, 1200 internal combustion engine needs three basic elements to turn the crankshaft and start the engine: proper air/fuel mixture, spark and compression. If one of these elements is missing the motor will not begin to work.

This document covers troubleshooting procedures for a Sportster motorcycle that will not turn on or crank over. Troubleshooting helps to trace and correct faults in the machine’s electronic or mechanical system using a systematic and logical approach. Use this guide to fix a Sportster that won’t start or crank.

Engine Fails To Start

Diagnosing a Sportster engine that will not start begins with a spark test. Use this guide to determine if the ignition system is functioning correctly.

  1. Detach the spark plug wire.
  2. Insert a screwdriver into the spark plug wire hole.
  3. Position the screwdriver’s shaft 1/4 in. from the engine’s head.
  4. Turn the ignition switch ON and then crank the engine.
  5. Good spark will appear a crips blue.
  6. Weak spark will appear yellow or orange in color.
How to Test Spark on Harley Sportster XL 883 XL 1200.
Example of spark test using a screwdriver. A crisp blue spark is visible.

If the sportster has good spark but will not start, check fuel lines and fuel filter for obstructions, incorrect ignition timing, internal engine damage, low compression, or flooded engine. If spark is weak or has no spark, refer to engine is difficult to start.

Engine Is Difficult To Start

If the engine is needing much effort to start up because the ignition spark is weak, or because there is no spark at all, check the following components for malfunctions:

  1. Replace spark plug if porcelain insulator is broken.
  2. Replace spark plug if center electrode is worn.
  3. Bench test the starter motor.
  4. Make sure the starter motor cables are tight and corrosion free.
  5. Check the battery’s state-of-charge.
  6. Check for blockage in fuel line.
  7. Check for fuel system contamination.
  8. Check for incorrect ignition timing.
  9. Check for a faulty ignition coil or ignition module.
  10. Check for low engine compression.
  11. Ensure the enrichment valve is adjusted properly.
  12. Ensure the carburetor is tuned properly.
  13. Check the battery cable clamps for corrosion.
  14. Check for a loose ignition sensor and module connector.

Engine Will Not Crank

The Sportster engine is a machine with moving parts that coverts power into motion. And as with all internal combustion engines, the crankshaft must turn to start the engine. Check the following components for possible malfunctions if the engine will not crank.

  1. Ensure ignition switch is turned to the ON position.
  2. Ensure ignition switch is not defective.
  3. Make sure the engine run switch is not in OFF position.
  4. Ensure the engine run switch is not malfunctioning.
  5. Ensure battery cable clamps are tight and free of corrosion.
  6. Ensure the starter cables are tight and free of corrosion.
  7. Test the starter motor and solenoid.
  8. Check for a damaged starer shaft pinion gear.
  9. Ensure the position is not seized.
  10. Ensure the crankshaft bearings are not seized.
  11. Check for broken connecting rod.

In summary, always test for spark if the engine fails to fire up. If spark is weak or there is no spark at all, refer to the section “engine is difficult to start.” If the engine won’t crank at all, refer to the inspection procedures listed under “engine will not crank.”

This guide is model year specific for the following models: XLH883 1986-2003. XLH883 Custom 1999-2003. XLH 883 Deluxe 1986-1995. XLH883 Hugger 1987-2003. XL 883R 2002-2003. XLH 1100 1986-1987. XLH 1200 1988-2003. XL1200 Custom 1996-2003. XL 1200 Sport 1996-2003.
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We are a team of Advanced Engine Performance Specialist and ASE Certified Master Automotive Technicians with degrees in automotive technology. We are here to help you fix your automotive problems.

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