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Motorcycle reliability survey shows what goes wrong

Consumer Reports News: March 26, 2013 09:08 AM

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Many factors can influence choosing a motorcycle, but like cars, chances are reliability will be a consideration. After all, the bike is more than a swagger statement. It is some combination of transportation and recreation, and therefore needs to be dependable. This information was previously based largely on anecdotes, but a new Consumer Reports study reveals what can go wrong and how frequently.

The motorcycle reliability survey shows that among the bikes needing repairs, accessories (21 percent), brakes (20 percent), electrical system (16 percent), and fuel system (15 percent) led all other problems by a substantial margin. Our experts suggest some fuel system problems may be due to improper winter storage preparation; brake problems can also be attributed to maintenance negligence.

Twenty-five percent of all repairs cost at least $200 out-of-pocket, according to the survey. Looked at another way, it seems that most problems are relatively low-cost to fix. Key to this is that we found that potentially expensive engine, transmission, and suspension problems were few.

The chart below details the frequency of problems cited by consumers who bought a motorcycle new from 2009 to 2012 and reported needing a repair. None of these motorcycles were covered by an extended warranty or service contract purchased at an additional cost at the time of service.

Which of the following parts on this motorcycle have been repaired? Percent
Accessories (e.g., lights, meters, switches, radio) 21
Brakes 20
Electrical system (e.g., starting, charging, ignition) 16
Fuel system (including fuel tank) 15
Clutch 7
Body panels/fairings/luggage 7
Drive system (e.g., belt, chain, shaft) 5
Wheels (not including tires) 4
Exhaust system 4
Cylinder head/valvetrain 3
Exhaust system 4
Crankcase/crankshaft/piston 3
Transmission 3
Front suspension 3
Cooling system 3
Rear suspension 2
Steering/handlebars 2
Frame/chassis 2

Factoring in accessories (such as lights, radio, and other add-ons) and body panels (such as aerodynamic fairings and luggage) may help to explain why fully dressed touring bikes were less reliable than a more basic cruiser—there is simply more to go wrong or to get damaged.

See our full report on motorcycle reliability to see how reliability breaks down by bike type and brand, in addition to owner satisfaction by brand.

The findings for this survey are based on 4,424 reader responses regarding about 4,700 motorcycles bought new from 2009 to 2012. The data was collected through the 2012 Annual Product Reliability Survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

See our motorcycle buying guide.

Jeff Bartlett

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