How to Avoid Worst year of Harley Road King

5 Worst Years of Harley Road Kings to Avoid and Why

For some two-wheeled enthusiasts, the only thing worth putting in between the road and their backside for miles and miles is a Harley, and the Road King model is a great example of such a Harley. 

However, not all Road Kings are created equally. If you manage to get one from one of its more problematic years, then you’re not going to be feeling like the king (or queen) of the road anytime soon.

As fans and geeks of the Road King ourselves, we’d like to help you avoid the worst years for this bike so you can safely ride off into the sunset every single time with the best one!

What are the worst years of the Harley Road King to avoid?

Some of the worst years of the Harley Road King you should avoid include 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2014. 

Road King models from these years have the most number of problems concerning the engine, transmission, fuel system, and ignition switch.

The Harley-Davidson Road King, with the code “FLHR”, has been around since 1994 as the replacement for the popular Electra Glide Sport touring model. But it is not without its own fair share of issues over the years.

Almost 3 decades later, the Harley Road King (also called Road King Classic) is still thumping to the beat of its Milwaukee-Eight engine, but certain model years between 2000 and 2014 are best avoided due to problematic motors and transmissions.

In addition, some of the model years within this time period are notorious for having all kinds of issues with their fuel system.

But to find out what exactly makes these Harley Road King model years the “bad batch” among the pack, we need to dive deeper into each of these individual years.

Do take note that the worst Harley Road King years provided herein are not arranged in order of severity, but rather simply from earliest to latest. Other than that, let’s continue!

2000 Harley Road King

2000 Harley Road King

First on this list of the worst Harley Road King model years is the 2000 model, which is actually quite more recent considering it’s 6 years after the Road King first debuted.

It’s a common belief that you should avoid the first model year of any vehicle since it may have “unproven” reliability, but this isn’t really the case for the 2000 Harley Road King which has been considered subpar than those from 1994 to 1999.

The 2000 Harley Road King has been on the receiving end of numerous reports regarding all sorts of rattling noises when cruising between 1,500 and 2,000 RPM. The even more unusual thing is that the noise actually stops the more you twist the throttle.

2000 Harley Road King models also have a known issue with their chain tensioner prematurely failing, which can be a source of a rattling noise since the chain could rattle against other parts and the engine can get noisier.

You’ll also have to look out for issues with this model year’s throttle position sensor and ECM, as they both can become faulty and fail to do their job.

In some cases regarding the ECM issue, it has led to the engine not starting at all, as the ECM fails to activate the ignition circuit despite the starter cranking the engine repeatedly. 

2003 Harley Road King

2003 Harley Road King

Harley Road Kings belonging to the 2003 model year are some of the worst off from the bunch, as models from this period were plagued with issues brought about by a bad fuel system.

Such fuel system-related issues included oil leaks that came from the rear left of the bike whenever it was up on its jiffy stand.

Some of the oil leaks were bad enough that they caused the engine itself to shut off. If you were lucky enough to still have the bike running with such leaks, you would still potentially run into engine idling problems after warming it up.

After taking a closer look at the source of the oil leaks, it was found out that a bad oil pan gasket was the culprit, as it had failed to properly seal the oil that’s stored in the pan whenever you prop up the jiffy stand and the bike was leaning towards the left.

Another notoriously problematic component of the 2003 Harley Road King was its oil pump, which could prematurely fail due to a defect in its design.

The 2003 model’s oil pump is known to be inefficient when it comes to circulating oil inside the engine, which can eventually result in the engine overheating due to not having enough oil (otherwise known as “oil starvation”).

Hence, this faulty oil pump can potentially cause a complete engine failure and an expensive repair bill, which is why you should keep a close eye out for this model year’s oil pump (or just don’t buy the bike at all).

2004 Harley Road King

2004 Harley Road King

As if the 2003 model wasn’t bad enough, in comes the 2004 Harley Road King with its own list of major problems that involved its engine, transmission, and various plastic components that left a lot to be desired in terms of build quality.

Much to the dismay of Harley enthusiasts who thought that this model year was going to be a huge improvement over the last, the 2004 Road King “Dyna Super Glide” struggled to perform up to expectations with rough gear shifts and an overall jerky ride.

Owners of 2004 Road King models also experienced their cam chain tensioner prematurely wearing out, which can result in the chain loosening and reduce the engine’s performance.

In general, the Twin Cam engine itself was described as “incompatible” or a mismatch for the 2004 Road King, as if it was either installed incorrectly or didn’t belong on the bike at all.

As for the previously mentioned plastic components, well they were simply just way too flimsy and broke easily on the 2004 model. All sorts of plastic pieces around the bike’s basic construction can suddenly break off as you’re riding.

Not only is it an embarrassing sight to think about, but random pieces falling off your 2004 Harley Road King are also a downright safety hazard to you and other motorists on the road.

2006 Harley Road King

2006 Harley Road King

Harley Road Kings made for the 2006 model year are also notably one of the worst years of the bike that you can buy due to its own plethora of shortcomings.

For starters, the 2006 Road King was actually part of a batch of models released between 2003 and 2009 that all exhibited the same set of issues, except that this particular model had it the worst among all of them.

One such issue is the infamous wobbly bolts that were used to hold various pieces of the bike together. The bolts would potentially loosen and sometimes even come off completely, resulting in one of the bike’s components falling off.

On the other hand, the 2006 Harley Road King is also known to be one of the most difficult Road King model years to wrench on since some parts can be difficult to separate and remove from the bike.

Thus, you either get wobbly bolts or bolts that refuse to let you do any sort of maintenance or repair on the bike and nothing in between.

The engine’s cylinder design for this particular model year is also a problem area, as many owners have complained of reduced engine performance and even poorer fuel economy as a result of the cylinders’ inferior quality.

As with the 2003 model we’ve already discussed, the 2006 Road King also suffers from the same faulty fuel system, with riders experiencing jerky engine performance and the bike completely stalling without warning.

2014 Harley Road King

2014 Harley Road King

Moving on to a much more recent model, the 2014 Harley Road King is proof that having more modern tech doesn’t necessarily mean being problem-free, as this year, in particular, also had bouts of engine issues and even faulty hydraulic clutches.

Some owners of 2014 Road King models experience overheating problems with the engine, which can eventually lead to reduced performance and even total failure if not resolved right away.

As for the clutches of these things, the hydraulic clutch system was actually issued a recall for the 2014 model since using it for extended periods of time can cause it to not disengage, which means you can’t shift and slow the bike down properly.

Unfortunately, there have already been a total of 19 reported accidents that are connected to this specific clutch issue, making the 2014 model year one of the worst years safety-wise.

Another safety issue with the 2014 Road King is that the saddlebag mount can suddenly come loose, or worse, fall off completely.

Again, the saddlebag issue also had its own recall that covered several 2014 and 2015 Harley models including the Road King (FLHR). The issue was traced back to the saddlebag’s retaining receptacle, which can potentially fail.

What are the most common problems of the Harley Road King?

The most common problems of the Harley Road King include engine problems and failure, transmission or shifting issues, faulty fuel system components, and an issue with the ignition switch.

Engine Problems and Failure

Engine Problems and Failure

No “common problems” list is ever complete without first talking about one of the most major components, the engine itself. And the Harley Road King is quite known for having a lot of issues in this department over the years. 

Harley Road Kings, at least those made from 1998 onwards, are known for their “Twin Cam” engines. But over the years, numerous updates to the Twin Cam didn’t exactly make it immune to any hiccups, especially on the Road King.

In particular, the Twin Cam engine’s cam chain system design for the 2004 to 2009 Road King was prone to a lot of metal-on-metal contact, which meant that friction was generated that scattered metal shavings within the engine.

All the friction and metal shavings can eventually cause damage to other internal parts, such as the cams themselves, the pistons, and the engine casings. Thus, complete engine failure is highly likely to occur if the cam chain issue isn’t resolved right away.

So if you’re eyeing for any used Road King model made between 2004 and 2009, you might want to inspect its cam chain system for any signs of wear and tear. But if you were to ask us, it would be ideal to just avoid these years entirely.

Transmission/Shifting Issues

Transmission/Shifting Issues

Issues that relate to the Road King’s transmission are also another source of concern for the Harley model’s overall reliability in the long run.

When it comes to transmission problems, both the 2004 and 2009 Road King model years really take the cake, as Harley owners have complained of having trouble shifting gears the most with these years.

To be specific, the 2004 Road King, which was given the “Dyna Super Glide” moniker, is quite known for its rough shifting transmission, resulting in a pretty jerky ride uncharacteristic of a bike that’s part-tourer and part-cruiser.

Partly to blame for this rough transmission feel is the 2004 model’s Twin Cam engine that already felt off on its own. This makes sense, as both the engine and transmission should be working in harmony to provide the best riding experience, but alas.

Moving over to the 2009 model, its most well-known issue is a faulty shift mechanism that suddenly stops working, resulting in owners not being able to shift out of first gear. This exact problem has also been observed in as early as 1996 models.

A closer inspection of the problem reveals that the fault was caused by the shifter input shaft getting disconnected from the transmission internals, which left the bike stuck in first gear.

Other common transmission-related issues for the Road King include gear slippage, difficulty shifting, and clunking noises in between shifts.

To have a better chance at preventing such problems in any Road King model, be sure to regularly get your bike serviced, which includes having its transmission fluid replaced at the correct intervals.

Faulty Fuel System

Faulty Fuel System

One of the most common kinds of problems out of any Harley Road King model year has something to do with a fault in the fuel system, which plays a crucial part in the bike’s ability to perform smoothly.

The 2002 and 2003 Road King models commonly received complaints about their fuel system not working right. Whether it was a bad fuel pump or an uneven distribution of fuel, all of this affected how the engine ran.

Some owners even report that they can hear the fuel pump making a whining sound upon startup, signifying that it does activate. But after riding for just a couple of blocks, the engine suddenly shuts off with all the lights still on.

Even if the faulty fuel system does manage to keep the engine running for a while, you’ll still experience a drop in performance and fuel economy.

Aside from this, 2002 Road King models equipped with a Twin Cam 95 crate engine (part of the Screamin’ Eagle package) also exhibited problems with their EFI pressure. 

The pressure jumps up to 60 psi when first turning the ignition on without actually starting the engine (normal), but then drops to 40 psi in just seconds.

Road Kings with the 95 crate engine also ran into issues with the gas tank hoses breaking after the 100-mile mark.

Issues with these hoses can occasionally develop pinhole leaks, which have been observed to occur on the curved part of the hose that connects the fuel pump to the filter.  

Ignition Switch Issue

Ignition Switch Issue

Issues with the Harley Road King’s ignition switch are the most prevalent in the 2006 model, though this can still occur in other model years around this time period.

Some owners of the 2006 Road King experienced the ignition switch not doing anything or having no power even when turned to either the “IGN” or the “ACC” position.

This would mean that you will not be able to turn on the bike’s engine or any of its electronics via the stop-run switch, which can pose a safety risk, especially during emergency situations.

Apart from the ignition switch itself, some ignition system issues have also led to the bike abruptly stalling during a ride, yet another concerning safety hazard.

Which Harley Road King years should you buy? ( Best Years)

The best year of the Harley Road King to buy is the 2016 model year, which also has a “Classic” version. This year has all the tech and performance while providing good reliability.  

Other notable best Road King years include 1999 and 2005 if you prefer a more vintage and classic look.

2016 Harley Road King 

2016 Harley Road King 

The 2016 model year was one of the turning points in the bike’s production run since it was able to strike a balance between modern performance and good reliability wrapped up in the same nostalgic-looking package.

For this model year, you get an adequately powerful High Output Twin Cam engine sitting under a nicely tailored leather seat draped with saddlebags on each side, making the 2016 model a comfortable tourer with some oomph when you need it.

Harley has also gone ahead and amped up the 2016 model in both the aesthetics, electronics, and safety department by including features such as dual halogen headlamps, chrome fittings, ABS, and new bolts that won’t come loose this time.

2005 Harley Road King 

2005 Harley Road King 

Traveling back 11 whole model years, and you get to the 2005 Road King that’s more suited for those looking for a more classic look while not compromising on performance and comfort while on the saddle.

The Twin Cam 88 that’s fitted on the 2005 Road King has been a favorite among Harley enthusiasts and it’ll definitely do the job if well maintained.

Just be sure to keep an eye out for its cam chain system, as a lot of Road Kings from 2004 to 2009 were prone to have metal-on-metal contact with their chains.

Other than that, if you really want to go for a Road King model from the early 2000s, then the 2005 model would be your safest bet when all things are considered.

1999 Harley Road King

1999 Harley Road King

If you really wanted the best “blast-from-the-past” Harley Road King model out of them all, then you should turn to the 1999 model year in all its glory.

Decorated with oodles of chrome, hardtop saddlebags, curves to die for, and a throaty Twin Cam engine, you can’t get any more “Harley” than with the vintage-looking 1999 Road King. 

But as the oldest “best” Road King year on this list, you still have to be a lot more keen in shopping for a good sample on the used market. It is a 24-year-old bike after all.

Frequently Asked Questions