Changing the oil in your motorcycle is an important part of owning and maintaining a bike. While some riders may choose to have a mechanic do it for them, many prefer to do this maintenance themselves. If you decide to do it yourself, you’ll need to know how to properly change your motorcycle oil.
The 5 steps to change your motorcycle oil are:
- Get prepared
- Drain the oil
- Replace the oil filter
- Add the new oil
- Check your oil level
If you’re brand new to maintenance though, there’s a bit more to it, as you might imagine. Below, I’ll go through more about why oil changes are important for your motorcycle, as well as a step by step guide for how to do it yourself.
Motorcycle engines are precision machines. They are designed to work with incredibly precisely machined parts that all need to function in the right way for the engine to run properly. Many of these parts need lubrication. Metal moving against other bits of metal creates a tremendous amount of friction if not properly lubricated.
This is why engines have oil. The oil coats the various engine components as they move around at high speeds and keeps them from deteriorating. Keeping this oil clean is essential to proper lubrication and therefore long-term engine reliability.
Wet Clutch System
For the vast majority of motorcycles, oil is also required for the clutch system. Most motorcycles have a “wet clutch” system, which is a group of many circular friction discs and metal rings that are immersed in the crankcase oil. A car uses a “dry clutch” system, where one large friction disc is used on a metal plate and pressure causes it to engage and disengage.
A wet clutch system on a motorcycle uses oil and needs somewhat clean oil to operate correctly. Dirty oil can also cause this clutch system to not operate correctly, potentially shortening the life of your clutch. Changing a motorcycle clutch is a lot more work than changing the oil, so this is another reason to change your oil regularly.
There are a few different things you will need to change your motorcycle oil. The first is pretty obvious – the oil itself. I’ll discuss a bit later which type of oil to get for your motorcycle, but make sure you have enough oil to fill your engine fully and correctly.
You’ll also need an oil filter. I’ll discuss why it’s always a good idea to change your filter with your oil a bit later on too. Make sure you have the right filter for your bike. Depending on the motorcycle, auto parts stores may or may not have the right oil and filter, so be prepared to do some online shopping.
Beyond the oil and the filter, you’ll need a few tools. The first tool you’ll need is a wrench to loosen your oil drain plug. Many bikes will have different sized drain bolts, so make sure your wrench fits. Usually, the oil pan drain bolt is a small size like an M10 or M12, but they vary.
You’ll also need the right tools to remove your oil filter. On most bikes this is again a small wrench, but on a few bikes it’s something else, and it could be anything from hex bolts to a Phillips head or JIS head (Japanese Industrial Standard) bolt.
Another simple thing that is really important to have is a rag, or preferably multiple. Whether you’re removing old oil, putting in new oil, or swapping a filter, oil has a tendency to drip on things that it shouldn’t necessarily be on, so having some rags or paper towels to wipe up any spills is very helpful.
Another useful tool is a funnel. Especially if it’s your first time, pouring oil out of a full jug and into the tiny little filler hole that most motorcycles have, without spilling it on the engine, is just about impossible. Even for those who have more experience, it’s still hard to do. Having a funnel vastly reduces the amount of clean up you may have to do on your bike.
Beyond those tools, having an oil catch can is nice, but on many bikes you can get away with a plastic tub or maybe an old bowl. Most motorcycles don’t have a ton of oil capacity, but just make sure whatever vessel you use to catch the old oil is big enough.
Another useful tool is a torque wrench. A torque wrench allows you to measure how tightly you’re tightening a bolt or nut. I don’t really think these are necessary, but they’re nice to have, and if you’re a “by the book” type of person you’ll probably want to have one.
Last but certainly not least is some basic safety gear. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had oil in your eyes before, but I sure have, and trust me when I say that it isn’t a nice thing to have in your eyes, especially when it’s hot. A good pair of safety glasses massively reduces the chance of getting something in your eyes that isn’t supposed to be there.
I also recommend a good set of gloves. These aren’t absolutely necessary, but whenever I’m working on things that involve hard metals, heat, and oil, having a pair of gloves seems like a good idea. If you end up handling hot or sharp parts, gloves can save you a lot of pain and injury.
First off, do your research beforehand. For quite a few motorcycles you’ll be able to find a blog post or video on how to do an oil change for your bike specifically. The same basic method really applies to all bikes, but if it’s your first time, sometimes it can help to see what things look like on your specific bike.
Gather your tools and materials. Make sure you have the new oil and filter close by and ready to go. Make sure you have the proper wrenches, funnels, rags, and whatever else you need to do this job ready to go too.
Motorcycle oil should be changed with the bike at a neutral upright position (i.e. not leaning on anything). The easiest way to do this is if you have a center stand on your bike. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, as you can put a block under the kickstand and get a friend to hold the bike, or even use some creatively placed ratchet straps if you’re feeling brave.
Make sure the bike is warm but not too hot. I find the best way is to start the bike from cold and let it run for just a few minutes. Hot oil can be a safety hazard, but cold oil will take forever to drain, so somewhere in the middle is the optimal balance.
Place the oil containment vessel underneath the bike. Whether it’s a nice oil pan or an old yogurt jug, make sure it’s ready to catch that oil, because it will come out quickly. Double check that the bike is secure.You’re about to start yanking on bolts and such, so you don’t want a loose bike that could fall over.
You’re ready to start draining oil. Use the wrench to loosen the oil pan bolt. You may have to muscle it a little bit for it to start loosening. Don’t be afraid to give the wrench a little smack with your hand or a light hammer. Sometimes drain bolts can take some force to come loose.
They shouldn’t take too much force though, so take care and make sure that you’re not stripping anything. If a bolt is seized enough, you may round off the head before you’re able to loosen it. This is more uncommon, but it does happen, especially on older bikes that haven’t been maintained very well.
If your bolt starts to come loose, go ahead and skip the next section. If it doesn’t though (which sometimes happens), read on.
If any of your bolts (oil pan or oil filter bolts) are seized and they start to strip, you may want to seek professional help, especially if it’s your first time trying to change your oil. If you have some more experience though, or just want to do it yourself, there are a few things you can try.
The first method is to use an impact wrench. Impact wrenches are awesome. An impact wrench is basically half wrench half power hammer, and they’re stellar for loosening stuck bolts. This method only works if your bolt isn’t fully stripped though, so it won’t always help.
The second method is to cut a slit through your bolt. Use a cutting disc or a hacksaw, carefully cut a slit right through the head of your bolt. Try to be as precise as possible. This makes your stripped bolt a flathead, and allows you to stick a screwdriver in there and try to get it off that way.
If this doesn’t get your bolt out, you’ll probably have to drill it out, which is a real pain and should be avoided if at all possible.
So, you’ve gotten your drain bolt loose. Keep turning it with the wrench, and as soon as it feels like you’re able to, start turning it with your hand. You should feel the bolt come to the end of the threads, and as it does, prepare to grab the bolt and let the oil drain.
Once the bolt comes out, oil should shoot out from the hole and hopefully right into the oil catching vessel you placed down earlier. If you spill a little, don’t fret, it happens, especially when you’re learning. You can remove the oil filler hole cap, as this allows the oil to drain more freely.
Give the bike a few minutes to drain fully. Once there are only occasional drips coming out of the drain hole, you can put the drain bolt back on, and tighten it to the manufacturer’s recommended torque specification. Or you can just tighten it until it feels pretty tight.
Be careful not to overtighten though, as many oil pans are aluminum, which is a softer metal than steel. This means it can be easy to strip the threads of an oil pan, which is not something you want to do.
I recommend that first timers use torque wrenches because they will be very accurate. That said, developing a sense of how tight bolts need to be just by feel is a useful skill. Most of the time bolt tightness will correspond directly to the size of the bolts. Judging if they’re tightened correctly or not becomes much easier the more you do it.
The other issue with using manufacturer specifications is that sometimes they’re a little optimistic and overkill. Manufacturer specs sometimes assume that all components being adjusted have no weaknesses, but especially on older bikes, metals become weaker with time and use.
Sometimes people will tighten bolts to manufacturer specifications only to find that they’ve overtightened the bolt and stripped the threads or even broken the bolt. This is usually not the case, but it’s just another reason it’s good to develop a sense of tightness beyond just going with what the torque wrench says.
Now that you’ve replaced your oil drain plug, it’s time to change the oil filter. Most motorcycles use canister filters, so that means there will be a canister or cover to remove. Oil filters are in different places on different bikes, so make sure you look up your bike specifically.
Start loosening the bolt or bolts on your oil filter canister/cover. Be prepared for a little oil to drain out and have your catch can ready to catch drips. Remove the cover, note the position of the old oil filter, and swap the new one in the same place.
Spread some new oil on the surfaces of the oil filter that form a seal with the canister (usually the ends). This ensures a proper oil filter seal is achieved from the very beginning.
Many new oil filters will also come with a new rubber O-ring for the canister cover as well, so make sure to replace that if you have a new one. Sometimes you can just yank them off, sometimes you may need to stick a little screwdriver in there to pry it out gently.
Take care with this process though, as most canisters are made out of softer metals so they can get dented and damaged easily. Once your filter is replaced and your new seal is installed, replace the canister cover and tighten whatever bolts are required.
Once your oil filter is replaced, it’s time to add the new oil. Double check that your drain bolt is installed and tight. Place your funnel (if you have one) in the oil filler hole and start to pour. Make sure that you’re filling your bike with the proper amount of oil. Better to underfill at first and add more later than to overfill.
Go slowly and give your bike time to accept the new oil and disperse it within the crankcase. Fill your oil until the level seems correct. You can put a specific amount in, or you can check the amount with whatever the bike uses to check oil. Some bikes have a dipstick, while others have a sight glass.
Once the new oil is added, it’s time to run the bike and check your oil again. First off, ensure there is no oil leaking from your motorcycle and all of your bolts are tight. Then, start and run the motorcycle for maybe 30 seconds. Again, check for leaks.
Turn off your motorcycle and give it a few minutes for the oil to settle. Now, check the oil again and see if you need to add any. The oil has now been pumped and dispersed through the bike, so the reading should be more accurate. Add any oil necessary to get the bike within the proper range of fullness. Wipe off any drips with a rag or paper towel.
You should change your motorcycle oil filter when you change your oil, but it’s not required. Putting clean oil through a dirty oil filter will not be as effective. A combination of high-revving engines and low oil capacity usually leads to quickly dirty oil and therefore a dirty filter.
Given this, changing your oil consistently is important to long-term engine health, and you might as well change your filter while you’re at it. First off, it isn’t that much additional effort. You’re already in that area for the rest of your oil change so it doesn’t take that much more time or energy to do the filter as well.
The other reason to do it at the same time is that, most of the time, motorcycle oil filters really aren’t that expensive. Given that they’re usually the cartridge kind and not the twist on/twist off type like cars have, they’re usually pretty cheap to buy, especially if you buy a few at a time.
It’s generally pretty easy to change your motorcycle oil. That can be subjective of course, if you’ve never picked up a wrench in your life, the learning curve can be steep. But if you’ve done any mechanical maintenance at all, it will probably come quite naturally.
Even if you’ve never done anything mechanical at all, there’s no time like the present to start learning, and changing the oil on a motorcycle is a great, relatively simple job to cut your proverbial teeth on.
Firstly, you should be using motorcycle-specific oil, not car oil. Most oil made for cars is not exactly pure oil. Car oil is made with friction modifiers and cleaning detergents. These added substances can be very useful for car engines, but they can be potentially damaging for motorcycles.
Earlier, I discussed the wet clutch system that most motorcycles use. For motorcycles with wet clutches (which is the vast majority of them), oils that have friction modifiers will greatly reduce the effectiveness and life of the clutch. Oil made specifically for motorcycles does not have these modifiers and will not damage your clutch.
Car oil can cause other issues within your motorcycle, but I won’t go into too much depth on them, because for the clutch alone, it really is worth it to use oil meant for motorcycles. So, beyond motorcycle-specific oil, what should you look for?
You should use whatever oil the manufacturer recommends. This is an area in which I doubt anyone really knows better than the people who produced the motorcycle. Different engines are built to run with different oil weights, so using the one that your bike was designed for will probably yield the best results.
This isn’t always going to be the case though. Different riders live in different climates, and factors such as ambient temperature can really change the optimal oil for your motorcycle. Do some research on what the manufacturer says and what others have put in the same bike.
Often, manufacturers may provide several different oil weight options for any given bike, based on temperature and sometimes other factors. If they do, feel free to try different types of oil in your motorcycle and see what feels the best to you.
Because the oil on a motorcycle does not only lubricate the engine but also lubricates the clutch and transmission, different brands and weights of oil can really affect the way the bike feels to ride. There’s nothing wrong with trying a few different kinds as long as they’re safe for your bike.
You should change your motorcycle oil every 2,500-3,000 miles, or once a year if you don’t ride that often. This is just a guide, and how often you should change your motorcycle oil will really depend on how often you use it, the type of bike you have, and which oil you use.
Again for this one, my first recommendation is to check your manual. If your bike didn’t come with a manual, there are a lot of guides online and sometimes manuals for sale for not too much money.
If you stick to the manufacturer-recommended intervals for changing your oil, you’re unlikely to ever have a problem in that area. A good general rule of thumb is every 2,500-3,000 miles or at least once a year, if you don’t ride too much. This interval will increase if you’re using synthetic or semi-synthetic oils instead of the dinosaur stuff.
Oil changes are a long-term maintenance item. If you miss a change by 1,000 miles or so, it isn’t the end of the world, and your engine probably isn’t going to blow up. It’s more just something to try and be consistent about overall during your ownership of a bike.
You can change your motorcycle oil without a stand, but it will be a bit harder. The easiest situation will be if your bike came with a center stand. Not all bikes have these, especially nowadays, but a surprising number of bikes do, and they’re really useful.
If you don’t have a center stand, another option is an independent motorcycle stand. Many race bikes use these, and you can often find them for not too much money. Again, helpful, but not necessary.
If you only have a kickstand, you can still change your oil with that. Put a block under the kickstand so the bike is in an upright position and isn’t leaning over to one side or the other. You can also have a friend hold the bike while you do your oil change, so it doesn’t fall on you.
Another method I’ve heard of riders using is to strap your bike to a tree or a pole in an upright position and change your oil with it secured that way. Some folks also use jack stands and threaded rods. The truth is there are really a lot of ways to do it, and as long as the bike isn’t going to fall on you and is in an upright position, it really doesn’t matter which method you use.
Changing the oil on your motorcycle is an important piece of long-term maintenance. It should be done on a semi-regular basis, and it isn’t that hard to do it yourself. Not everyone may want to take on this job themselves, but I think anyone can do it with a basic understanding of how to do it.