Potential Recall of Harley Davidson Motorcycles for Brake Failure

Harley Davidson MotorcycleThe National Highway Transportation Safety Commission (NHTSA) announced it is investigating complaints from Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders that their motorcycle’s anti-lock brakes failed without warning. The NHTSA inquiry covers 430,000 motorcycles with model years between 2008 and 2011.

The NHTSA says it has reports of three motorcycle crashes with two injuries attributed to the brake issue and has also received 43 complaints.

The brakes completely fail after the rider presses the front brake lever or back brake pedal, or both, after the brake fluid has absorbed moisture from the surrounding environment, according to the NHTSA. The NHTSA said it is possible some of the problems with the brakes arose because some riders did not change the brake fluid every two years as recommended by Harley-Davidson. But the safety agency still found failure of the braking system “a cause for concern.”

A spokesman at Harley Davidson said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

Harley-Davidson Recalls Are Numerous

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in an article written in late 2015 about the company ‘feeling the recall sting’ said Harley-Davidson had announced 24 separate recalls during the past three years. This information was obtained from the company’s 10K filing, an annual report which must be submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission and summarizes a company’s financial performance.

Harley-Davidson, founded in Milwaukee in 1903, is the world’s fifth largest motorcycle manufacturer. It had a 47.5% share of the bike market in the United States in 2015, by far the largest, although Polaris Industries’ successful resurrection of the Indian motorcycle has cut sharply into Harley’s market share, according to the website, Investopedia.com.

Although recalls average more than $1 million per recall ($30 million total for Harley-Davidson between 2011 and 2014), recalls are costing less than 0.8% of a brand new bike’s base price, according to McGraw-Hill financial data. Thus, Harley-Davidson still averaged a 19.5% operating profit margin from 2012 to 2014. This is four full percentage points better than its rival, Polaris, and nearly four times as high as what Honda earned, the WSJ reported. Harley-Davidson netted $2.2 billion in income during the above three years and only spent about 1.4% of that figure on recall costs. (Harley reported the recall percentage figure.)

Yet Harley-Davidson’s share of the market is getting smaller. It went from 54.9% in 2013 to 50.3% in 2014, the WSJ. The company blames the drop on discounting by rivals from Japan and Europe. Others say the baby boomer customers who ride Harleys are aging and there is tougher competition from other motorcycle companies like Polaris Industries.

From 2003-2013 Harley-Davidson recalled an average of 94,000 bikes a year, according to WSJ research. The years 2014 and 2015 show much higher numbers and 2016 may likely tally even greater recalls if the NHSTA investigation becomes a recall. In 2014, recalls numbered 210,000–10 times what they were in 2013–and, in 2015, there were almost 312,000 recalls. The 2015 figure includes a recall of 185,000 motorcycles (12 models of bikes) because saddle bag clasps could come loose and fall off, increasing the risk of a crash if the bag fell off the bike while it was being ridden.

Another not-so-positive statistic: The WSJ found new registrations of Harleys for 2014 and 2015, as well as for 2011, were below the number of recalls. (About 250,000 Harleys were recalled in 2011.)

Recent Harley recalls have also involved rear reflectors, front brake lines, clutch master cylinders, and defective fuel-pump seals. Some of the recalls have been initiated by Harley. The company reported 35 crashes or other incidents from the defects and six minor injuries up to October 2015, according to the WSJ.

A Harley-Davidson senior vice president, Michelle Kumbier, in charge of manufacturing and suppliers told the Journal the recalls are “disappointing” and “not acceptable.” She said the company is studying its manufacturing, design, testing and sourcing of supplies to see how future flaws might be avoided. The number of motorcycle owners affected in the past by recalls is smaller than numbers suggest because some motorcycles were recalled more than once, she noted.

Why Are Recalls On The Rise?

One owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership in Pittsburgh, interviewed by WSJ, attributed the frequent recall problem to “the profusion of new Harley models and features introduced in the past few years.” Starting with 2014 models, Harley introduced engine-cooling technology that uses water and a liquid coolant and put hydraulic clutches on more cycles, he explained. In October 2013, the dealer said some of the clutches were recalled with a “do-not-ride” warning which was very unusual.

Others say U.S. regulators have become more aggressive after facing Congressional criticism for failing to spot safety problems. The regulators are now trying a proactive approach to identifying potential safety issues instead of reacting to defects already discovered in vehicles.

Harley-Davidson is using more temporary workers in its factories these days, but Ms. Kumbier denies this is the cause of any recalls. She blames “a variety of glitches,” such as a design flaw in the saddle bags, and overly porous metal that caused problems with the vehicle clutches.

Although recalls can hurt perceptions of brand quality, erode consumer confidence and subtract profits from Harley-Davidson’s bottom line, customer loyalty can actually be strengthened instead of weakened by a recall, according to an investment analyst on themotleyfool.com website, particularly if the bike owner gets good service on the repair. Many recalls are things that can be fixed quickly, the Pittsburgh dealership owner said observing.

Sometimes the motorcyclist, who is often a part of a loyal following that believes a Harley is the only kind of bike to own, will look around while he waits for a recall repair and consider purchasing some merchandise. He might even drift into the showroom and start thinking about upgrading his current ride to a more expensive Harley. Thus, recalls can be turned into “loss leaders” for the company instead of a crisis in the making. After all, Harley historians will remind you Harley-Davidson was one of two major American motorcycle manufacturers to make it through The Great Depression.

Other Motorcycles Facing Recalls

Harley Davidson Brake FailureHarley-Davidson isn’t the only company facing recalls. It is common in the vehicle industry. Harley’s rival, Polaris, faced several extensive recalls of its RZR, a popular off-road, all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Honda Motor Co., one of Harley-Davidson’s rivals in the U.S. market, has also had relatively high recall totals recently with six recalls in 2013 and a recall of 143,000 in 2014. (In September 2014, 126,000 Gold Wing Honda motorcycles were recalled due to secondary master cylinder defects.) There were a total of 60,000 recalls in the first nine months of 2015 with 45,000 of those starter relay switch problems in several models. Another 22,000 Honda Shadow 750 bikes were recalled in January 2016.

A Honda spokesman told the WSJ that Honda recalls involve parts used in several popular models over a number of years and that the company had a proactive approach to identifying potential safety issues.

The website, safercar.gov, sponsored by the NHTSA, has the latest information about recalls including those on motorcycles. Riders can search for recalls using the vehicle’s VIN number which is stamped on the motorcycle’s steering head and also appears on a label on the right front down tube. Safercar.gov also features technical service bulletins, a section for filing a complaint and other safety news.

Legal Help Is Available

If your brakes fail suddenly during a motorcycle ride, they may be defective and someone may be liable for any injuries and damages caused by your failed brakes. This also applies to other parts of your bike that may malfunction unexpectedly. If the manufacturer is responsible, you may have a product liability case. If a mechanic installed the brakes or some other part incorrectly, you may have a negligence case.

If your suffered injuries or damages from brake failure or another type of malfunction of your vehicle, you need to contact an Ohio personal injury lawyer. They can help you determine who may be liable for the malfunction and assist you in filing suit against this party or parties legally accountable.

Our product liability and personal injury lawyers at Slater & Zurz LLP are very experienced in these areas of the law. We offer people free consultations to discuss all kinds of legal issues. A free consultation is just that – Free. There is no cost whatsoever and there is no obligation to hire our law firm.

To schedule a free consultation, please call 1-888-231-1570, chat with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or send us a website message.

Potential Recall of Harley Davidson Motorcycles for Brake Failure
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Potential Recall of Harley Davidson Motorcycles for Brake Failure
A National Highway Transportation Safety Commission investigation may lead to a recall of Harley Davidson motorcycles for brake failure problems.
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Slater & Zurz
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  1. Ken Medlin says:

    My front brake failed suddenly and without warning. Fortunately I was not injured. Now I have to pay HD $700 to $800 to repair their detective brakes! WTF?

  2. Brian Bordelon says:

    I have 2014 with 16,000 miles on it and my brakes went out. It is costing me about $1000.00 to fix it.

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