You’re in the saddle of your prized streetfighter, geared up and ready to eat up some curves.
Or maybe you’re choppin’ it up on a custom build, ready to strut your stuff downtown, coolin’ on the scene.
Or even worse, you’re on the full-dresser, hard bags stuffed-up and ready for a cross-country tour when you press your ignition button… but your motorcycle clicks instead of starting.
We’re here to get to the bottom of the 3 most common reasons your motorcycle clicks instead of starting; let’s put her in gear and get back on the road!
1. Your Motorcycle Battery is Dead
Motorcycles are relatively simple machines, compared to a car, for example.
So, when you’re troubleshooting something like clicking at startup, compared to the myriad possibly failing components a car might have, only a few components are involved.
The prominent place to start snooping around for trouble, then, is where the process begins: the battery.
- The motorcycle’s battery is the most likely reason your bike is just clicking when you’re trying to start it.
- Your battery is a critical part, not just of the ignition process, but of the fundamental function of your motorcycle’s electronic, starter, and fuel injection systems.
- If you’re lucky, the problem is just a low charge. Your bike won’t start unless you’ve got 12.2 volts in your battery. 12.2 is already only partially charged, as 12.6% is what they call a fully charged battery.
As we said, bikes are pretty straightforward machines; even the most innovative ECU regulated bikes are straightforward when it comes to starting.
Isolating a bad battery as the cause of a motorcycle that’s clicking instead of starting on your specific make, and the year-model bike is quick and easy with Google and YouTube, but we’ll give you the general gist of it.
- First, if your battery is low, check the charging instructions for the specific battery on your bike.
Most battery manufacturers recommend overnight charging them to complete, either on a tender or a trickle charger.
Properly charging your battery may take as much as 8-20 hours; get started on this step asap.
- Once you’ve charged your battery using the manufacturer’s instructions, it’s time to test it with a voltmeter:
- Hook up your voltmeter with the bike off (we assume you’re testing a bike that won’t start, but safety first); the battery should read at least 12.5 volts.
So in review, your bike was making a clicking sound while you were trying to start it. Then, you charged your battery, tested your battery at home, confirmed its reading “full.” Now it’s time to try to start your bike again.
If it starts, it’s safe to say that an under-charged battery was the issue.
If your battery read at 12.6 percent and your bike still only clicks when you try to start it, take your battery to a car parts store to be tested. Your battery could be reading 12.6 voltage even if it doesn’t have enough current to start the bike.
Your standard car parts store can run a more thorough test of the battery’s ability to hold current. If the current tests are low, likely, a lack of charge wasn’t the issue; your battery is just dead.
Replacing the battery should have your bike starting right up. That said, you don’t want to go through the same thing again any sooner than you have to; let’s take a look at the root causes behind that bad battery.
What Causes Motorcycle Battery Failure?
- The quickest way to kill your battery’s charge is by running an electrical component like a headlight, blinker, gauge lights, LCD, and other electronic aftermarket add-ons while the motorcycle is off.
- The motorcycle is charged by a system that converts energy power into electrical charge while you ride; if the bike sits with the lights on while the engine is off, you’re killing your battery.
- Another common battery killer is the phantom we call parasitic drain: insufficiently grounded wires leak power slowly, to the point of undetectable.
- Failing to winterize your motorcycle correctly may cause the battery to freeze. A frozen battery can lose its ability to hold current.
- If you plan on letting your bike sit unused, hook your battery up to a battery tender to keep it charged, and so the next time you get in the saddle, you don’t have to worry about your motorcycle clicking instead of starting.
2. Your Bike’s Starter is Failing
Simply put, a starter system uses three main components:
- The starter relay brings charge from the battery.
- The solenoid function has an electromagnetic generator, activating the starter motor.
- The starter motor then cranks the engine flywheel into movement, kick-starting the piston process and bringing your bike to life.
As we discussed earlier, if the battery is dead, the clicking you hear instead of starting is the solenoid trying to magnetize the motor to life.
If your battery doesn’t have enough charge to power the magnet, the agent will fail in its attempts to crank the flywheel into motion.
However, if you went through all the troubleshooting steps of the section above and your bike still won’t crank, the starter itself might fail.
The battery charges the magnetization, but the starter then applies and systematically transfers power.
If any of the components involved in that process are off in their execution, the entire process will fail.
The clicking you hear is the starter gears failing to crank the flywheel due to a failed magnetization.
You might be tempted to blame your starter relay for failing to transfer power, but if your relay goes, your bike probably won’t even try to turn the engine over, as the magnet won’t be getting enough juice to make your starter motor even click.
On the other hand, a bad starter solenoid could be the culprit. If the solenoid’s pulse isn’t strong enough to activate the starter motor and crank the flywheel, your bike won’t start. It’ll just make clicking sounds.
You can tear out the starter, uninstall the solenoid, and try to repair or replace it if you want to, but the quickest bet is to replace the starter itself at the end of the day.
That said, in some situations, you can repair your solenoid on the fly simply by cleaning off some corrosion:
- Fixing a failing starter solenoid could be as simple as rejuvenating the connectors. Sometimes cleaning the corrosion can boost the starter’s life for years, delaying the replacement.
- Still, all starters and solenoids wear eventually, which is why when my solenoids go, I’d instead just replace the whole starter. The motor could be worn if the solenoid is worn on the used starter.
- It seems like extra work, replacing your solenoid, reinstalling the old starter only to tear it all back apart when the rest wears out soon after.
Spending the money at the first sign of starter failure provides the added safeness of a brand new starter, a fix that’s much less temporary than replacing the small starter components one at a time as they start to break down.
3. Your Engine is Seized
Engine seizure is significantly less common than a failing starter or a bad battery.
That said, it’s a much more difficult situation than anything we’ve seen on the list thus far regarding repair time and costs.
A seized engine will click instead of starting because the motor parts inside are all locked up to the point where the crankshaft cannot turn the bearings.
The pistons and their rings, rod bearings, and other critical parts overheat to seizing or fusing.
The clicking you’re hearing is the flywheel failing to rotate.
- So, the battery is providing ample current,
- and the solenoid is polarizing the starter motor just fine,
- But the flywheel is failing to turn the pistons because they’re fused to the parts around them, to the point of placing immense pressure on the flywheel.
Now you understand why we had you start with the battery and the starter. You don’t want your clicking to result from a seized engine; under ordinary riding circumstances, a seized engine is extremely rare.
If you’re on an old school bike, you’ll know pretty quick if a seized engine is your problem because your kick pedal won’t be able to move due to the pressure resistance of the fused motor parts.
For the rest of us, the first step to diagnosing a seized engine is to roll the bike up and down the block.
- Put your bike in the highest gear possible.
- Roll your motorcycle forward.
- If your wheels don’t move, even if you’re pulling the clutch in, a seized engine is the reason your bike is clicking instead of starting.
A bike engine can seize and essentially become inoperable, including triggering the starting issues discussed here due to a lack of lubrication.
This is why oil changes and top-offs are essential for any bike.
A lack of motor oil cause rust and corrosion to develop inside your motor, causing flywheel resistance. Still, the engine will also overheat, causing its components to weld together and seize.
A seized motor is likely beyond repair. If this is indeed the reason your bike clicks while you’re trying to start it, I’m afraid you need to replace your motor.
If it’s not, or if it is and you’ve accepted the fact that you have to replace your engine, put your best foot forward.
The best offense is a good defense; routine maintenance per your bike’s OEM-suggested spec intervals includes frequent oil changes and inspections.
Changing your motorcycle oil is the most critical upkeep component. Failing to keep up with your oil levels and condition, or using low-grade or contaminated oil, are the main reasons a motorcycle engine seizes.
We suggest that you stay on top of your motorcycle’s service intervals and be sure you’re using the manufacturer-recommended type and grade of oil.
So, in review, why is your motorcycle clicking instead of starting?
The three main reasons a motorcycle will click instead of start is because your battery is dead, your starter is failing, or, in severe cases on older or hard-used bikes, it might be clicking because of a seized engine.