5 Shovelhead Years To Avoid [Must Read Before Buying]

The Shovelhead engine was produced by Harley Davidson from the year 1966 to 1984.

During the early years, this engine was responsible for a 26% increment in sales. However, these engines had problems that were experienced by a lot of riders.

In this article, we’ll highlight Shovelhead years that you should avoid while buying.  

Worst Shovelhead Years To Avoid

You should avoid 1983, 1978, 1967, 1968, and 1979 years Shovelhead due to their major problems.

Furthermore, there were the years known for the production of the best shovelhead engines such as the years 1996, 1984, 1981, and 1982.


1. 1967  Shovelhead

The 1967 shovelhead featured a new engine, improved oil pump, and alternator system. This made it better as compared to the previous model.

A few common issues with the 1967 shovelhead include oil leaks in the primary case, clutch disengagement problems, and gear shifting problems.

Problems and Highlights:

One of the problems experienced by the rider of the 1967 shovelhead is the clutch disengagement issue as it doesn’t disengage while riding the motorcycle.

This situation can be frustrating as well as dangerous.

You’ll need to inspect the clutch assembly and check the clutch plates, springs, and other components. Inspect if there’s any wear or tear, damage, or corrosion.

The clutch drag can also occur when the clutch cable gets out of adjustment.

Moreover, make sure the clutch cable is well-lubricated with the right amount of free play. If this cable is damaged then you’ll need to replace it.

Another major problem with the 1967 shovelhead engine was the gear shifting issue. As per a rider, while shifting the gear the pin holding the shifter in place gets snapped.

2. 1968  Shovelhead 

The two major problems addressed with the 1968 engine are the backfiring issue and the starting problem.

Problems and Highlights:

Once a rider experienced the motorcycle engine clicking a few times but didn’t get started. For a lot of riders, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences when the motorcycle doesn’t get started.

One of the obvious reasons can be a dead or weak battery. You can tell if the battery’s dead or not by checking out a few signs. If there’s low voltage, then turning on the bike would feel slower and sluggish.

If the battery’s completely dead then the motorcycle won’t make a noise nor will it get started at all. Check out the carburetor, and make sure they’re cleaned properly as the dust and debris build up over time. 

This blocks the passage of fuel in the jets inside the carburetor. Moreover, faulty spark plugs, starter systems, or fuses result in difficulty starting the bike.

Another experience of a rider with the 1968 shovelhead engine includes the backfiring. The backfiring happens whenever the fuel combusts inside the exhaust leading to a louder noise. 

Using aftermarket exhaust pipes or loose exhaust pipes leads to backfiring.

Other than that, a faulty fuel pump, fuel filter, or dirty carburetor causes the motorcycle to backfire. Also, a lean or rich air-to-fuel mixture leads to backfiring.

3. 1978 Shovelhead 

The problems and issues experienced on the 1978 Harley Davidson shovelhead were clutch issues, oil refilling problems, and misfiring.

Problems and Highlights:

Some of the riders experienced issues with the clutch disengagement. This led to the rider having difficulty shifting the gears smoothly, the motorcycle would stall while shifting the gears.

This clutch disengagement often results from worn out or improper clutch plates, or cable clutch. Check out the clutch and clutch cable.

Worn-out clutch plates don’t have enough friction to disengage the clutch leading to difficulty while shifting gears.

Check out the clutch cables, to fix improper clutch cable adjustment. Inspect if there’s enough or too much slack then adjust it according to the owner’s specifications. 

You’ll find the adjuster on the clutch cable, near the clutch lever. Then loosen the lock nut, and adjust the cable until you’ve achieved the right free play.

This shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. Once you’re done, tighten the lock nut and test the clutch for a smoother engagement.

This clutch disengagement could further lead to major problems or wear and tear on the transmission. Which will cost a lot to get fixed or repaired.

The oil refilling problem is found on the 1978 and 1983 shovelheads. The process of refilling the oil on this engine is often difficult as it gets overflowed, and doesn’t get settled quickly.

The oil refilling process on this engine is more time-consuming.

Misfiring is another problem experienced with the 1978 shovelhead engine. You can identify misfiring when the motorcycle goes off the normal rhythm.

The major could lie at the spark plug. Check out the condition of the spark plugs. Look for any broken, faulty, or corrosive parts, as these cause problems with the spark plugs.

4. 1979 Shovelhead

Some of the major problems with the 1979 Harley Davidson shovelhead engine include electrical issues, starting problems, the appearance of black smoke, battery charging problems, and oil leakage.

Problems and Highlights:

According to a rider, at times the engine cranks a few times without getting started. Also, a sound appears indicating that the starter has slipped out and spins freely. 

To resolve the starting issue, you’ll need to make sure that the voltage is at least 12.7v across the terminals.

Check out the connections all around the battery and make sure these are clean and tight. 

The electrical problems addressed on the shovelhead include the lightning issue. A few times, when the bike starts the lights appear bright but after a while start to get dim. Also, the lights would start to flicker at idle.  

One of the common culprits for the dim or flickering lights can be a bad fuse. These are an important part of powering and protecting the system from any potential electrical failure.

Also, faulty connections, bad relays, or bad grounding can be the reason for the lightning issue. 

The battery charging system on this bike also becomes difficult to deal with. As per a rider’s experience, the battery showed 14.3v at idle.

After filling the gas, the voltage would jump up to about 17v then again it drops to 12.11v.

The battery charging issue occurs due to a faulty alternator and regulator, the wrong side of the battery, faulty or worn-out wiring, a charging system, or bad connections.

Choose the right type of battery according to the owner’s manual specifications. The alternator and rectifier are a major part of the battery’s charging system.

If they show signs of malfunctioning then you’ll need to replace them.

The oil leakage is one of the major problems with the shovelhead engine as it was addressed in the earlier engines as well. The reason is faulty oil filters, gaskets, and worn-out piston rings leading the oil to leak.

5. 1983  Shovelhead

Some of the problems of the 1983 shovelhead were also addressed with the previous versions. The issue and their solutions are pretty much the same that you’ll need to be aware of.

The problems with the 1983 shovelhead include oil leakage problems, difficulty in starting the motorcycle, complications with oil refilling, electrical issues, starter faults, and wear and tear with the wiring.

Problems and Highlights:

One of the frequent issues with these engines is the oil leakage problem from the pushrods, as per a rider. If the oil is leaking then you’ll need to check and replace the o rings.

Another rider experienced oil leakage from the cylinder or rocker boxes.

As mentioned earlier. The main reason for the oil leakage issue can be a worn-out or faulty gasket or seal. The oil filter protects your motorcycle’s engine oil by eliminating the contaminations.

Other components that can lead to oil leakage include faulty drain plugs or side or valve plugs. To fix the oil leakage issue, you’ll need to figure out where the leakage lies.

If there’s a leakage at the gasket, then replace it soon.

Replacing the gasket is usually easier and requires basic tools.

Check out the piston rings, these seal the combustion chamber and keep away the oil from leaking into the cylinder. Over time, the pistons become worn out causing the oil to leak.

Replacing it is complicated so you’ll need help from a professional person.

Another issue the riders complained about with the shovelhead engine is difficulty while starting the motorcycle. The starter system of the 1983 shovelhead was highly unreliable.

To fix the problem, firstly, you’ll need to check out the basics such as the gas inside the tank, the gear in neutral, and the condition of the spark plugs.

Check the battery’s voltage, which must be at least 12.7v. Also, the terminal and connections should be tight and free from dust or corrosion. Replace the battery with a charged one if it’s worn out. Moreover, check if there’s any electrical issue addressed with the engine.  

During the winter, you’ll need to connect a charger to the motorcycle’s battery to keep it healthy. Also, start the engine daily, fill the tank with fresh gas, and don’t let it sit for too long.

A few times, while refilling the oil, smoke started to appear from the exhaust. The appearance of gray smoke indicates that the engine oil might have leaked into the combustion chamber. 

Which occurs due to worn-out piston rings, or worn valve seals. The smoke from the exhaust can also appear if you’ve used the wrong engine oil. Also, the faulty oil circulation can lead to overheating.

The electrical issues with these bikes include frequent malfunctions such as the battery getting drained, wear and tear with the wirings, and short circuits.


Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine – Wikipedia

Shovelhead: The Dark Days of Harley

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