Honda VT500 refers to any three Honda bikes that shared the VT500 inline V-twin motor; all manufactured between 1983 and 1988.
The three contemporary versions of the VT500 were the VT500FT Ascot, a naked cafe racer, the VT500C Shadow, a lower mid-sized version of the classic cruiser, and the VT500E Euro, a vintage street bike.
To be clear., the VT500 was a rock-solid engine for its day, as Honda reliable as they come. That said, since they haven’t been available since the mid to late eighties, the VT500’s you’ll find available are vintage bikes that may have been sitting for a long time — we thought we’d explore some of the common problems on all renditions of the Honda VT500.
1. Corrosion in the Fuel Tank
One of the most common problems users in the Shadow forums reported is finding rust or corrosion of the tank of the used VT500 they just bought and rode home.
Regardless of which model, rust or corrosion in your VT500’s fuel tank is a critical issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
If the rust or corrosion in your tank runs through the fuel lines and into your engine, it’s only a matter of time before it deteriorates other parts in your VT500 motor.
It’s also possible for flakes of rust to contaminate your fuel system, eventually clogging the fuel lines and the carburetor.
Peek into your VT500’s fuel tank for a quick investigation. Use a flashlight to pay special attention to the sides of the tank, looking for rust or any other corrosive discoloration.
- If your VT500’s tank is rusty, deal with it immediately before running the bike, and you might be able to save yourself the trouble of rebuilding your entire fuel system.
- There are various commercial products you can use to rid the inside of your tank of corrosion; be sure the product you use is Honda-approved for use on your VT500.
- You’ll have to use something abrasive to scrub out the rust, even if you use a special product.
- Be sure you minimize any flaking metal shavings into your fuel lines while scrubbing and clean, flush, and dry your tank before running it.
- If the rust has contaminated your tank past the point of managing a good cleaning, there are multiple options available in the aftermarket that will fit your VT500—better to replace the tank and be safe than sorry.
The previous owner kept your VT500 appropriately stored if you are lucky, and the tank is rust-free. If that’s the case, be mindful about keeping your bike’s fuel level at total capacity to prevent moisture from entering the tank and causing rust down the road.
2. Leaks in the Vacuum System
If the previous owner of your Honda VT500 didn’t keep its motor tuned correctly, they may have maladjusted the carb’s air-fuel ratio and ran the bike lean.
If your VT500 ran lean for an extended period, either before it got to you or since you took ownership, you could cause a vacuum leak.
- A vacuum leak on a Honda VT500 often first manifests itself as an issue with the rubber boots—you’ll notice the rubber degrading.
- Check your throttle shaft seals next. This is a tricky task that might mean seeking the guidance of a vintage Honda guru; replacing leaking throttle shaft seals is complicated.
Performance-based symptoms can clue you into an offset air-fuel ratio before a leak develops. Keep a feel for a dip in engine performance or throttle response.
The only proper solution for a leaky vacuum system is to isolate the faulty component and replace it before it leans your fuel, even more, resulting in more leaks.
3. Problems with Carburetor
Possibly the most common problem on a vintage cruiser/cafe like the Honda VT500 series is related to the carb.
The chances are good that the carburetor of a vintage Honda VT500 will need to be rebuilt or at the very least cleaned.
Be sure to ask the previous owner how recently the carb had been rebuilt on a VT500 before you buy it. If it hasn’t, it isn’t the end of the world; it’s easy enough to do yourself. That said, it’s not a step you can skip, so try to get a few bucks off for the hassle.
Carb cleaning is a must when it comes to maintaining the performance of your VT500.
Despite the VT500’s legendary reliability, the small fuel passages get clogged over time, which damages Honda carburetors just like anything else, despite their reliability. This would be especially prudent if the VT500 sat unused for quite a while before it got to you.
To diagnose a lousy carb on a VT500:
- First, pay close attention to the engine performance.
- If your VT500 runs either fully or partially on with the choke, you might have a bad carb.
- Look out for any fuel leaks underneath your scoot or fuel in the airbox—both are signs of a bad carb.
- So, what do you do if oil leaks from your Carbon a Honda VT500?
If you think your carburetor is a problem, the quickest solution is to have it removed from the bike. Disassemble the sucker, and inspect each component, cleaning as you go.
There are some excellent DIY instructions out there. Still, there’s no shame in taking it to a Honda-literate technician for a quick, clean rebuild followed by a vacuum synchronization procedure.
4. Leaking Fork Oil
Fork oil leaks aren’t necessarily on a Honda VT500 compared to things like carb problems, but when a fork does leak, it’s a big deal, so it felt it necessary to include it.
If left unchecked, the oil could leak down all the way to the brake pads and interfere with your braking process, increasing the risk of injury and collision.
In severe cases, a VT500 with a fork leaking oil can cause damage to the front suspension and turn your bike’s damping capabilities to mush. This is yet another potential hazard for the rider.
If your VT500 is leaking fork oil, the accessible solutions are:
- Replacing the fork bushings
- Replacing the fork oil seal.
- Replace the fork oil with fresh fluid
5. Oil Leaks
Nothing ruins a rip on the vintage Honda VT500 you just bought quicker than noticing its leaking oil while you are riding, spitting hot slick fluids on the same pavement your tires are rolling on.
Not only is this a considerable crash/safety hazard, but a VT400 motor with an oil leak is also thirsty.
An oil-starved VT500 motor not only dips in engine performance, but there’s also an increase in friction between various critical engine components.
If there’s an upside, an oil leak is as easy to spot as it is severe, pretty much literally.
Some of the first places you should check for oil leaks on a vintage VT500 motorcycle are:
- Oil Pan Seal
- Cylinder Head Gasket
- Oil Filter
An easy fix to an oil leak is to disassemble all oil system components, clean them all out, use a scraper to peel off any old gaskets, and replace them.
6. Corroded Electrical System/Worn Electrical Components
The electrical system can also be problematic on a VT500 that may have been sitting unused in the elements before, requiring you to put your hands on it.
- Test the electrical system using a multimeter against the values outlined in the owner’s manual for your specific Honda VT500 year model. This is available online through Honda and via various third-party sources.
- Attach the multimeter to the battery with the engine off and look at the reading.
- Next, crank on the engine and record the voltage reading.
- Then rev the throttle—record the voltage reading.
- Measure these recorded readings against the specs in the manual to see the ideal voltage.
If the discrepancy between the Honda specs and your recorded readings is more than a few volts/ohms, you have an issue somewhere in your electrical system. If you’re lucky, it’s just an old battery.
The electrical components that most frequently need to be replaced on a Honda VT500 are:
- Regulator Rectifier
Tinkering with electrical components is a precise science; if you’re not confident in your electrical skill set, having a pro replace your ailing components might be the safer bet.
7. Worn and Torn Brake System
While you’d think that brake condition is an obvious thing you expect a used bike buyer to inspect, the brake pad or fluid conditions tend to get overlooked.
One of the most common problems on an old VT500, especially one that’s been sitting for a while, is a worn and torn braking system.
Test the brakes on a used VT500 before you buy it. And if it is not as strong as it should be, have the previous owner perform the necessary maintenance; a bike with bad brakes isn’t road-worthy.
Brake fluids need to be replaced at least once every two or three years. Be sure to ask the VT500’s previous owner when was the last time the brake fluids were changed, and be sure to keep up with your fluid from then on.
If you took home your VT500 without inspecting the fluids, no worries; it’s either a light amber color or clear when the brake fluid is new.
If your VT500’s brake fluid’s dark, it probably needs to be replaced before it causes damage to other brake system components.
Also, inspect the rubber brake lines for any visible damage, along with the master cylinder seal.
General Pros and Cons of Honda VT500
Here are pros and cons of the Honda VT500:
- Classic/historical vintage bike
- All three renditions were wickedly stylish.
- Once you get them tuned up and running, the VT500 engine will run forever
- Fun to ride
- Easy to wrench on
- Parts are readily available.
- Corrosion in the Fuel Tank
- Leaks in the Vacuum System
- Problems with Carburetor
- Leaking Fork Oil
- Oil Leaks
- Corroded Electrical System/Worn Electrical Components
- Worn and Torn Brake System
What Do the Reviews Say?
For the companion VT500C Shadow, someone came up with the idea for a 52-degree twin, with the crankpin offset 76 degrees to make the motor think it was one of those 90-degree builds, reducing much of the vibration. And since all that work had gone into developing the 491cc engine, why not use it in another model—a very different, sporty sort of machine, the VT500FT Ascot.
The oversquare VT500 engine had a bore of 71mm, a stroke of 62mm, and chain-driven overhead camshafts operating the valve train. Curiously, the heads had three valves apiece, two intake, one large exhaust, a design that engineers claimed increased torque. A pair of 34mm downdraft Mikunis fed the fuel into combustion chambers where the squish factor was 10.5:1. The whole affair was liquid-cooled, like the CX500, but more important on the Ascot as the rear cylinders on transverse V-twins tend to get a little more heat than is healthy.https://ridermagazine.com/2006/09/22/retrospective-honda-vt500ft-ascot-1983-1984/
The Ascot’s engine spun to a 9,500-rpm redline, getting a little buzzy between 5,000 and 7,000, but quite acceptable. I can’t find any dyno testing of the VT500, but it could run the quarter-mile in under 14 seconds at close to 100 mph. Not bad for a 30-incher.
What’s the Resale Value on a Honda VT500?