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Oil Transfer Problem on a 2019 Harley-Davidson


Photos and text by Edge

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Recently I was on a ride from South Carolina to Sturgis (and then on to Colorado). One of the crew, my friend Biji, is one of those guys who has been a motorhead since Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets, and he’s studied M8s since they came on the scene.

We have all heard about the early M8 engines having a problem with oil transfer from the transmission to the primary case. The obvious result is not enough oil in the transmission and too much in the primary. We have also heard that Harley fixed that problem on newer models. I thought my new 2019 Glide should be good-to-go. However, Biji said that wasn’t the case and each of us needed to check our transmission oil.

I’ll start by saying this sucks to write about. I am a die-hard Harley guy. I’m not just invested in these bikes. I’m all in. I work on my own bike. I read Harley-Davidson history, hung out with great builders, built bobber, ran chopper events, rode cross country all around Harleys. Possibly, the main reasons I ride a Harley is the Chopper Culture. We like to work on our bikes. Most of us don’t work on our own cars anymore. This is one of the last bastions of man and machine. Hell, the government wants to make it against the law to work on shit.

OK, so I am on this road trip, and I go to check the transmission oil. Through the years I have assembled a very minimalist tool kit that is amazingly small and time and time again this tool kit has had everything I need. I grab it and I realize I don’t carry a 3/8” Allen wrench.

That is a big, heavy Allen wrench to need actually. It didn’t even register when I was in my shop but on the road it’s an issue. So, I am out on the road and I’m like well… I guess I will need a bigger tool bag and add that. However, in the back of my mind the first question is, why? Shouldn’t I be able to check the transmission oil level without a huge Allen wrench?

And speaking of tool kits why can’t the factory design a bike that is serviced with either metric OR SAE tools? The mix of SAE and metric is incredibly annoying. If we worked as service technicians every day at a dealership we would remember which bolts, etcetera are metric and which ones are standard but we don’t. This is our hobby, not our profession. Pick one. I’ll still believe it’s a Harley even if every nut and bolt is metric.

Hey, I just bought 12 quarts of Mobil One 20-50 at Cycle Gear for $1.50 a quart.
Hey, I just bought 12 quarts of Mobil One 20-50 at Cycle Gear for $1.50 a quart.

I check the dipstick and the oil isn’t touching the dipstick. I just serviced the bike before I left and it was touching the dipstick then. OK, so off to the dealership for 1 quart of H-D transmission oil which is over 20$.

The process of adding transmission oil on the road is really difficult. Seriously more difficult to do on a road trip than it should be. Screw the dipstick all the way out, add an ounce. Screw the dipstick all the way in. Then, screw it all the way back out and look at it. Add an ounce of oil (and by the way you probably need a funnel). Repeat it all again. Repeat. Again. I did this ELEVEN times.

I had to take off the derby cover on the primary and confirm that the oil was high. It made a mess. Guessing I spilled a couple ounces of oil, I began searching for a way to measure eight-ounces and a jar to drain the extra oil from the primary.

Should this even be a thing? A Sportster (or an Indian for that matter) has one type of oil for the engine, transmission and primary. Hmmm.

Biji was right and my bike had the problem, but I was told H-D had the fix figured out now. One that actually works. I’m told there is a recall and the dealership will take care of everything (as they should).

However, as directed from on-high by Milwaukee, the oil transfer is only a problem if a bike transfered more than 5 ounces of oil in five -thousand miles. Two times. So, running a H-D transmission four-ounces low on oil, repeatedly, forever, is never an issue?? Hmmm.

I ask the service manager, “Do the technicians measure how much oil was in the transmission when they drain the transmission to service the bikes?”

He says, “Absolutely.”

Trouble is, that isn’t true. I have been asking every service tech I know or meet. The answer is always the same. It saves time to drain all three types of oil at one time and it all goes to the same soiled tub.

So how would anyone (who has their bike serviced at a dealership) ever know their bike is, “transferring more than five ounces of oil in 5,000 miles?” In theory, a good tech will look at the primary oil level in the little opening when the derby cover is off and the technician can look through this little gap and with micrometer like vision, see if 4.9 ounces of oil transferred (no problem) or 5.1 ounces of oil transferred (and make a note for the recall). It’s ridiculous.

Bigi and George at Mt. Rushmore during the Rally.
Bigi and George at Mt. Rushmore during the Rally.

More realistically, here’s the solution. If, when the derby is removed oil pours out onto the lift, making a mess, done deal. There’s a problem. And if the primary oil doesn’t make a mess when the tech takes off the derby cover, your bike is never getting fixed.

Anyway, my bike transfered more than five ounces. Oil spilled out of the derby cover on the five-thousand-mile service—done deal. Now I know why. I asked for an appointment for my bike to be fixed under the recall.

The Colorado dealership service manager then explained the dealership will NOT fix the bike under the recall unless three conditions are met.

1) The bike must be serviced at an H-D dealership two times

2) The dealership noted that more than five ounces of oil transferred both times.

3) That you have at least three children and a wife in your family and they all own Harleys.

I explained I work on the bike myself. He (without laughing) told me to take it to the dealership for the next two services and then they will honor the recall. The service is only about $ 550 each time. Wait. What??

I explained, I ride a Harley because I like to do my own service. He said they can install the recall kit but they will charge me about $240. (Since I’m on the road). He even added at some point in the conversation that it is dangerous not to fix the problem. Now, I am just fuming mad. I stay polite but it isn’t easy. The dealership refuses to fix with the recall, because I service the bike myself. If you’re interest look up Right to Work laws.

The service manager calls Milwaukee, and then offers to change just the transmission and primary oil for me, and make a note, but I would need to pay full price for that. At least it breaks the tension and I’m starting to laugh. Wow. Thanks!

Edge on the road, with his sharp Street Glide.
Edge on the road, with his sharp Street Glide.

This, of course, isn’t legal for Harley-Davidson to do. I’m never going to sue them, obviously, but I would win if I did. It’s just not worth the money or effort to make the point.

Eventually, I am at a place where I can install the recall kit. Part #26500027. Looking at the kit, I’m guessing the few items in the kit probably cost H-D about five dollars. The dealership charged me $50 for the parts to fix the recall. Really?

Here is the thing. No one needs this kit if the motorcycle wasn’t screwed up when it came out of Milwaukee. Does Harley- Davidson really need to make a profit on a recall? Wait, that’s a stupid question.

Thirty years ago, when people asked why you ride a Harley the canned answer was, “If I have to explain you wouldn’t understand.”

If Harley-Davidson wants to know why they are losing customers all I can tell them is, “If I have to explain you wouldn’t understand.”

Anyway, I installed the recall kit. It wasn’t hard. The incredibly good H-D service manual is so well written it’s always a help. Somebody in Milwaukee really does understand the joy owners have when they service their own bikes. This is evident in the great documentation. It really is a great bike. This bike is the most smooth and powerful stock H-D I have ever owned. After an enjoyable afternoon in the garage I took a few breaths and conclude the impact on me… is just a papercut. Well, a bunch of papercuts actually. But there are so many bigger problems in the world.

None of the papercuts are so deep that the blood loss takes the orange and black tint out of my blood. It’s almost completely behind me when I take a ride on a beautiful afternoon. Almost.

However, my ride takes me past an Indian dealership and I stop, which is odd, because I have ridden right past the Indian dealership so many times before. I am back on my incredible 2019 H-D in 30 minutes and headed home but my mind wanders. Hmmm.

We checked the oil checking procedure. The transmission is checked on the side stand, the primary upright and the engine either. Edge is going to follow up this article with a description of the recall tech in the near future.--Bandit
Click for action.
Click for action.


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Reader Comments

Great article, I feel the same, kind of a love hate relationship.

I owned an '09 ultra for several years. Coming up on retirement I started thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to have warranty for a worry free retirement. Plus, those M-8 are so smooth and powerful, very little mechanical noise to make you wonder.

Well, 8000km on the new Ultra Limited and guess what, suspected oil transfer. Dealer said according to H-D I needed to ride another 1000km after service and bring it back for them to check.

Tech reported 1700 ml in primary, about 800 more than there should be, leaving less than 300ml in the trans.

Harley paid to install the kit under warranty, I paid for 2 litres of oil, apparently H-D don’t cover the fluids? So, looks like I rode 1000km very low on tranny fluid. Scary part is, what happened for the first 8000km? So much for a worry free ride.

Wayne Glabais
High River, AB, Canada
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Editor Response Keep us posted.
H D. Too many issues straight from factory. $ 50,000 plus for CVO 2020 M8. H-D wants you to spend an extra $1000 to see if you're telling the truth about oil transfer. What a bunch of crapola. Pulling wrenches for 60 plus years. I can tell when oil level isn't correct and where it came from.

Primary over fill by 8 ounces and tranny shy of 8 ounces. DUH! No wonder H-D is going down. Three different touring bikes since 2011. I'm done! Next big touring bike WILL NOT be a Harley. Customer service SUCKS at best.

Calling corporate does no good. They say we stand behind all our dealers and their decisions. OK See Ya.

Firedome 55
Cooper City, FL
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Editor Response I can't fault my 2014 Indian. Haven't done a thing to it. Wait, I put in a new battery about a month ago.
We own a ‘54 panhead, an ‘82 shovel, a rigid Evo and a twin cam. And this article confirms to me why I will never buy another Harley.
If I needed or wanted a new bike I’d definitely look at Indian, the fit and finish is flawless. Much unlike Harley with the crappy welds, ugly cheap foot pegs etc etc.

When I’m old I may even look at a Spyder, which I have ridden and is a blast. Had a Harley trike and hated it, sucked big time.

Needed a new back tire on a road trip on my rigid Evo, went in to a dealer and the parts guy asked what year what model, told him the tire size and his book would not show the model as it’s a custom built rigid. He gave me attitude and said they don’t have it. I went to a Japanese bike dealer, very helpful, didn’t have it but called every dealership of every brand in town to try and find me a tire.

So tell me why I would want to buy another Harley?

Pay to much, the spend even more to make the thing run right and produce any kind of power.
Never again.

Jack Verburg
Salmon Arm, BC, Canada
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Editor Response Wild, I know this all too well.
Is this problem only related to '19 models? I have a 17 Street Glide one of the first to hit this area. I have never had this problem. Knock on wood!

charlotte, NC
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Editor Response Great, keep us posted.

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