What to Do if Your Motorcycle Clicks But Won't Start

What to Do if Your Motorcycle Clicks But Won't Start

  • Updated: 2023-07-05

If you want to find out more about the possible causes of this annoying clicking sound, as well as what you can do to fix and prevent it from occurring in the future, our helpful article is here to guide you through every step.

Possible causes

There are three main possible causes that can make your motorcycle click and become unable to start. In this section of our article, we will explore each one individually to help you pinpoint which one is to blame. After that, we will present possible fixes so that you can get your bike back on the road.

Dead battery

The first and one of the most common reasons why this annoying clicking can occur is that the battery has died. The battery is an essential component in your bike, and without it, the engine won’t start.

So how can you tell if the battery is to blame? Well, for a motorcycle battery to be in good health, it needs to have at least 12.2 volts. For most batteries, 12.2 volts means that the charge is at 50%. 12.4 volts means that the charge is at around 75%, and 12.6 volts is what you’ll see when the battery is fully charged.

If the charge in the battery is lower than 50%, namely 12.2 volts, then you will begin to have problems getting the vehicle started, and you may hear a distinct motorcycle clicking noise.

The component of the motorcycle that starts the engine is the starter, and there are two parts that are very important: the starter solenoid and the starter motor. The solenoid is a small magnet, and when you turn the key in the ignition, a small gear will shoot, and the magnet will polarize it and then turn it.

If the battery is dead, the starter solenoid won’t be able to magnetize the gear, and this is where the clicking sound will come from. Without enough power in the battery, the magnet won’t be able to turn the flywheel in the engine.

Bad starter

If you’ve tested your battery and you’ve ruled it out as a possible cause, but your Harley won’t start and it just clicks, then you are likely experiencing motorcycle starter problems. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the battery gives power to the starter, but it is the starter and its other components that direct that energy. The magnet is assisted by the starter in the polarizing process.

If the magnet that’s in charge of polarizing the gear that, in turn, moves the flywheel isn’t magnetized correctly, then the flywheel won’t be able to move. In this case, you will start to hear a clicking noise. This happens when the starter has a mechanical fault. 

This is the second most common culprit, so make sure to consider this as the possible root of your problems before moving on to the third and last possible cause, which is far less common than the first two.

Seized engine

If you are certain that the battery and starter are in good shape, but the motorcycle won’t turn over and just clicks, then it is very likely that your engine has seized. When the engine seizes, the components inside, such as the pistons, rod bearings, piston rings, and the like, will get very hot and weld together.

In this case, the crankshaft will be unable to turn the bearing, and a clicking noise will be heard. The battery may give enough power to the magnet, and the magnet may be working as intended and polarize the gear as it should. However, because of the amount of pressure from the fused parts, turning the flywheel becomes impossible.

How to fix these problems

If your motorcycle won’t start and it just clicks, after identifying the likely culprit, now is the time to fix the issue. Out of the three possible causes we’ve outlined above, two of them are relatively easy to fix and can be done at home.

Even if you are a beginner, with a bit of help from video tutorials and your bike’s owner’s manual, you can try fixing your motorcycle in the comfort of your garage, especially if you can get some help from more experienced friends.

Fixing the battery

First, let’s start with the battery, which is the easiest thing to fix. If you believe that the battery is preventing your motorcycle from starting, you will need to charge it. In this case, the fix is simple, but it may take a while since, for the average battery, it can take anywhere between 8 to 20 hours to achieve a full charge.

If, after charging the battery, you are still experiencing issues, you should get the battery to an automotive store to have it tested. Even if a battery is fully charged, it is still possible for it to be unable to hold enough current to get the engine started.

If the battery has gone bad, the fix is to get a new battery, which will prove easy, especially if you’re already at an automotive store to test it.

Fixing a seized engine

Should the battery be working fine, the next thing you will want to look into is to inspect the engine and see if it is seized.

You can tell if the engine is seized by looking at the kick pedal. If the pedal doesn’t move, then this means that the parts inside the engine are all welded together. If your motorcycle doesn’t have a kick starter engine, you can also test for a seized engine by rolling the bike.

First, you will need to put the bike in the highest gear, which is usually either the 4th or the 5th gear and then roll the bike forward. If you find that the tires offer resistance and are unable to roll, it is very likely that the engine is seized. If they roll without any signs of resistance, then this means that the engine is fine.

The most common fix for a seized engine is to lubricate the pistons and the combustion chamber. This only works if just one part of the engine is seized, and it won’t be effective for situations where every piston is seized. When choosing the lubricant, you should get one that can also break down the grime that is seizing the pistons.

Once you’ve lubricated the pistons and the combustion chamber, you should give the lubricant several hours to soak in and do its job. After you’ve waited, you should put the bike in 1st gear (don’t start it yet) and rock it forward and backward just a few inches.

This should put enough force on the piston to break it free. It is highly important not to push too hard, what you want in this case is to apply a gentle upwards and downwards force.

Another method you can try to fix a seized engine is to turn the flywheel manually. To do this, you will first need to remove the crankcase cover, which is located on the side of your engine. Check the owner’s manual if needed since each bike is a bit different.

Put a pan or something similar underneath the crankcase since oil will spill out. You can also drain the oil before you begin taking off the cover if you want to avoid a mess. Once the cover is removed, you should notice a big bolt right in the middle.

With the help of a socket, you should try to rotate the bolt back and forth. Just as when rocking the bike, you don’t want to use a lot of force since the goal here is the same: to get the pistons loose.

These two methods will work for a seized engine caused by sitting for too long. If there’s significant damage inside the engine, then the bike will need a top-end engine rebuild. This is something that only a skilled mechanic can do, and it is not something that a beginner should attempt.

Fixing a bad starter

If, after testing the battery and the engine, you conclude that they are not the reason why your motorcycle clicks when starting, then you can move on to fixing the starter. It is possible to fix a motorcycle starter, but the process is laborious, and it should only be attempted by people who know what they are doing.

This is why it is better simply to get a new starter and replace the old one. If everything goes well, this should solve the problem. If the motorcycle still doesn’t start, you may have to take it to a repair shop. 

How to prevent the motorcycle clicking noise

If you want to prevent your motorcycle from making clicking noises in the future, here are a few suggestions to keep your battery, starter, and engine in good shape. For the battery, you should try not to use electrical components, such as the headlights, more than you need to when the motorcycle is off.

Furthermore, you should make a habit out of connecting the battery to a battery tender if you plan to keep the bike in the garage for a while. A battery tender is essential for long-term storage.

For the starter, there is not a lot that you can do to prevent it from going bad since most of the problems with this component occur due to aging. Even so, there is one thing that you can do to prolong its life. You should try not to crank it longer than you need to when starting the motorcycle.

Lastly, a seized engine can be costly and time-consuming to fix, which is why it is essential to give the engine on your motorcycle the care it deserves. You will need to make sure that the bike always has oil in it, and you should make an oil change every 3,500 miles or once a year, whichever comes first.

If you plan to do the oil change yourself, then make sure to study the owner’s manual to see how often and what kind of oil the manufacturer recommends that you use. If you don’t change the oil often enough, the old oil will collect grime and dirt.

Newer motorcycles can also require coolant to keep the engine temperature in check. If you have a bike that uses coolant, then you will need to make sure that you don’t forget to top it off from time to time. As a general rule, the coolant needs to be changed either every two years or every 24,000 miles. Coolant that looks brown or murky should always be replaced.

Can I push start a motorcycle with a dead battery?

Yes, and you can either do it alone or with the help of another person. First, you will need to insert the key into the ignition with the engine kill switch on. The next step is to put the bike in second gear as this will help it run more smoothly when it starts.

The next thing you need is to get the bike moving at a speed of at least 5 mph. If you have someone to help you, you need to get seated and have the other person push the bike. If you’re alone, you may need to find a hill and push the bike until you get to a decent speed.

Once your bike is going fast enough, jump on it if you’re using the solo method and quickly drop the clutch and push the starter. When the engine starts, you should pull the clutch to keep the RMPs up. That’s all it takes to start the motorcycle with a dead battery.