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Probe into Harley-Davidson ABS failure

2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide ABS failure mandatory
Harley's optical ABS

The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 43 complaints of ABS failure on models built from 2008 to 2011 after owners failed to regularly replace their brake fluid.

The NHTSA report follows three crashes and two injuries from an ABS-related failure.

It says Harley-Davidson advises owners to replace the brake fluid every two years, but notes that some owners were either not aware of or ignored the advice.

Harley is cooperating with the NHTSA investigation into the ABS failure which could lead to a safety recall in the US, possibly followed by worldwide recalls of up to 430,000 motorcycles. 

Harley-Davidson Australia is usually very quick on following US recalls. However, just because there is a recall in the US, it doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to models produced for the export market.

If we hear of a safety recall in Australia, it will be published immediately.

Meanwhile, if you own a 2008-2011 Harley with ABS, it might be a good idea to check when the brake fluid was last replaced.

Harley was late with the introduction of an Anti-lock Braking System as they waited until they had an answer to the ugly ABS cog on the disc. The first models with ABS were their Touring range in 2008 featuring the special Harley “invisible” optical ABS system.


Recall notices are issued by the manufacturer through a voluntary industry code under the ACCC.

Despite hundreds of recalls by various automotive manufacturers, none has ever been mandatory.  All have been issued by the manufacturer.

While any recall is not good news for the manufacturer, it shows that they are largely diligent in fixing problems.

If you believe there is an endemic problem with your bike that should be recalled, contact the ACCC on 1300 302 502.

To check whether your motorcycle has been recalled, click on these sites:

• Australia


• UK

• New Zealand

• Canada

  1. Lately there have also been a lot of ABS failures on BMWs over 8 years old. It costs $3500+ to repair them. BMW also claims that it is caused by failing to correctly change the brake fluid. But this claim from H-D and BMW could just be a cover up to put the blame (therefore the cost) on owners or mechanics. BMWs require a special procedure to correctly replace the brake fluid. Owners who service their own bikes and non-BMW trained mechanics may not know how to do it correctly.

    1. A safety component that requires experts or special tools or procedures for normal maintenance is no safety component and therefore a design flaw. Brake fluid attracts water and water in a braking system is a big No No so brake fluid should be replaced every two years on even non ABS bikes ensure yous the proper rated fluid such as DOT4 in ABS systems and DO Not use a bottle that has been opened and left on a shelf for more than a few weeks even if re closed you can not trust that water has not gotten in. A sealed (never opened ) bottle should be good for years but check for use by dates etc. I usually use opened old bottles to flush clean the system followed by metho and new fluid.

  2. There is no need for anything else but a voluntary
    recall code. You can always trust big business to do
    the right thing

  3. I have a 2008 Ultra Classic. When the ABS fails it disables your braking!! I could not squeeze the brake lever, it just froze! No warning! I was riding with my wife. We were 30 miles into a 60 mile ride when it happened. Thankfully it happened at a non critical moment. My complaint is that when the ABS fails it should not leave you without brakes! It shouldn’t matter wether you changed your brake fluid, which I did! The repair was $760. I contacted Harley. They were not in the least sympathetic and just kept repeating that the brake fluid must be changed every 2 years. I’m trading my Harley in for an Indian.

  4. 2010 streetglide brake failure unable to pull lever on front brake it was frozen almost dropped bike rolling back out of parking spot. Bike has only 10000 miles not happy. Harley blamed it on fluid not been changed in 2 years

    1. that’s what they are telling everybody- same thing happened t me – 1,200 DOLLARS TO REPLACE ABS MODULATOR, since i boght bike used – they say might not their fault.

  5. Just had an ABS failure on my 2012 Ultra Classic Limited. Fluid changed 14 months ago. Front and rear failed together. Harley did not acknowledge it being a problem. Front brake lever would not move, rear brake pedal would not move. I was moving the bike out of my garage, went into the side of my Toyota pick-up.

  6. Had a failure on my 2009 night rod special.rear pedal went rock hard.put it into the local dealership $900 and a week later i got it back.apparently they could not get the abs module to release.

  7. my bike 2012 street glide flhx have that problem with the rear pedal very hard to push after 3 month park from maria hurricane impact P.R. still looking for the problem

  8. from a mechanic in the field. Harley corporate is not your friend. How many of you know of the stability problems caused by rubber mounting the drive train without enough stabilizer links to prevent the rear tire from steering the motorcycle. The unfortunate trade off in high speed stability caused by the reversal of front end geometry. The inexcusable lack of quality control affecting 2005 and later pinion shaft runout that harley thought would be covered up by the cam chains and their lack of precision. The replacement of the cam position sensor with input from the variable speed sensor taking its signal from the transmission mainshaft……not even sure what to call that lunacy. Harley corporation’s quest to reduce manufacturing cost is always to their benefit, and the detriment of the consumer. There are aftermarket fixes for most of these issues. It’s my opinion that the consumer should not have to spend money just to make their new motorcycle road worthy

    1. I was a Harley dealer in 1973. Harley always has a brake problem from 1973. When is the last time you changed your car or truck brake fluid? By the way I am a phd tech.

  9. If the brakes are a close system, how is moisture getting in. I call bullshit! mine failed yesterday 3-10-18. My fluid has been changed numerous times. 2010 flhx. I have upgrade cables.

    1. Have a 2010 Streetglide………same problem. Did Harley give you any money help on the module?
      thanks rlj

      1. I have cussed them out 3 times. I am told the the repair in austin Tx could be up to $1200. They offered no help. I am looking at options to omit the ABS. I am thinking harley is not sophisticated enough to have computer controlled braking. I am also thinking about a fishing boat.

  10. One of the reasons dot 5 is so much better. Don’t know why it can’t be used in abs systems

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