How to Change the Oil in Your Motorcycle
The single most important thing you can do to ensure a long engine life for your motorcycle is to perform regular oil changes. As you ride, oil not only breaks down and loses its lubricating properties, it gets contaminated with particles that can wreak havoc on your engine. Although changing your bike’s oil may sound like a daunting task, it’s really quite simple. Here’s how you do it.
- Drain the oil. Locate the drain plug, which is somewhere on the bottom of the engine on wet-sump systems (the location varies with dry sumps), and place your pan-shape container under the plug. When you remove the plug (usually a hex-head bolt), the oil will come out with some force, so take that into account when placing the pan.
- Remove the filter. Change the filter every time you change the oil. There are two basic types of modern filters:
- cartridge, which has a replaceable filter element located inside a recess in the engine case or inside a canister attached to the engine.
- spin-on, which spins on and off like an automotive oil filter.
When removing a canister-type filter, be extremely careful not to strip the fastener(s) holding the canister or cover plate on, and thoroughly clean the area around the canister or cover plate before removal. There will be a spring and perhaps also some metal washers inside the canister to hold the filter in place. Note their location for when you install the new filter, and be careful not to lose the spring or the washers.
After you remove the old filter, wipe out the inside of the canister or recess with a clean rag. When choosing a rag for this purpose, be aware that any dirt or grit living on the rag may soon be living inside your engine, where it can do serious harm.
- Clean and replace the drain plug when the engine is done draining. Some drain plugs have a magnetic tip to collect metal shavings from inside the engine. Thoroughly clean the tip before replacing the plug. Most drain plugs have an aluminum or copper crush washer to enhance the plug’s seal. Make certain that you don’t lose this washer when removing the plug. Also make certain that the surface of the engine is clean before you replace the plug/washer combo.
A spin-on oil filter is much more convenient to change than a canister-type filter.
- Replace the filter. With a spin-on filter, lightly smear a drop or two of clean oil around the rubber seal attached to the new filter before mounting it, to create an oil-tight seal between the filter and engine. Do not overtighten.
A canister-type filter will come with a rubber O-ring seal for the canister or cover. Make certain to use a new O-ring with each change. When you have the seal in place, lightly smear it with a drop or two of clean oil, making sure you don’t get any foreign material on the O-ring, before replacing the canister. Mount the new filter inside the canister or recess, making certain to assemble the spring and washers correctly.
Note: When tightening the fastener(s), be extra careful not to strip the threads. Because of the spring holding the filter in place within the canister, it is easy to get the canister slightly askew when mounting it, which could lead to thread misalignment. If you encounter the slightest resistance when replacing the fastener(s), make certain that everything is aligned before proceeding.
- Fill with fresh, clean oil, using the recommendations in your owner’s manual for the type of oil and the amount. Next, restart your engine to pump oil into the filter. Be extra careful when doing this, and don’t rev the throttle any more than is necessary because your engine will not be properly lubricated upon start-up. Let the engine idle for about a minute, then shut it off and recheck the oil level. It will have gone down because of the oil pumped into the filter, so refill to the full mark on the dipstick.
After you have changed the oil, keep a close watch on the oil level, and visually check for leaks around the drain plug and filter. An oil leak on your motorcycle is much worse than an oil leak on a car. If you’ve got an oil drip, it’ll be flung straight onto your back tire as you ride. Not surprisingly, oil does not improve a tire’s traction, so nobody with any sense lets their bike continuously leak oil.
Note: The most likely source for an oil leak is around the filter in a canister-type unit. If you get even a small particle of foreign material between the rubber seal and the engine, you might notice leakage from the canister. This will only get worse. If this happens, you need to get a new rubber seal and do the whole thing over again.
Now that you’ve changed your bike’s oil, it’s time to get back out on the road! For more motorcycle maintenance, be sure to check out our Quick Guides Bleeding the Brake Lines on Your Motorcycle and Maintaining and Adjusting the Chain on Your Motorcycle. Happy motoring!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles, Fifth Edition, by Motorcyclist magazine with John L. Stein