Why You Should Change the Oil on a Motorcycle? A Helpful Guide


Motorcycle oil can on a motorcycle

Rolling down the highway on your new (or not-so-new) motorcycle with a few buddies at your six is how many of us bikers would describe a perfect day. Brakes are responsive, the engine is ticking over in perfect tune, and there are no unusual rattles. Without the correct lubricant in place, however, you’d be awaiting a tow truck and facing severe expenses.

So, why should you change the oil on a motorcycle?

The oil in a motorcycle engine lubricates the moving parts, preventing unnecessary friction and excess heat as well as protecting the engine from moisture, the by-products caused by combustion, and the contaminants which accumulate from the various additives. In doing so, the oil picks up dirt and tiny particles and must be regularly changed as it becomes more abrasive and less lubricant, which will damage the engine over time.

Changing the oil removes any particles that have built up within the oil and also prevents corrosion.

Another important fact that should not be ignored is that the oil in a motorcycle should be replaced at every service as per the manufacturer’s guidelines or every 3000 miles/4800 km.

Modern-day oils and engines require different decisions regarding the regularity of an oil change, and you should always consult your motorcycle’s manual for guidance in this regard. Still, there are sometimes occasions when you must temper rigidity with reason. When in doubt – change it out!

What Are The Different Types Of Motorcycle Oil?

  1. Mineral Oil
  2. Synthetic Oil
  3. Semi-Synthetic Oil

Mineral Oil

This oil is also known as ‘conventional’ and is manufactured from refined crude oil, which is a type of Fossil fuel. Fossil fuel is formed underground by the decomposition of dead organisms. This type of oil breaks down faster than synthetic oils and as so needs replacing more often.

This oil is the cheapest oil you can buy and is an excellent lubricant, however it does contain impurities from the crude oil which is the reason it needs to be replaced more often.

Synthetic Oil

Instead of raw crude oil, these oils are manufactured from chemically modified petrochemicals that undergo complex production. This process creates the precise chemical composition required for optimal engine lubrication, whilst filtering out the various impurities the mineral oil contains at the same time.

Synthetic oils protect the engine to a higher degree and don’t break down as fast as mineral oil but this type of oil is much more expensive.

Semi-synthetic Oil

These oils are made from a mixture of mineral and synthetic oils which contain anywhere between five to thirty percent of synthetic oil.

These semi-synthetic oils offer an excellent compromise between how long the engine gets protected and the amount of protection offered when compared to fully synthetic oils and the affordability aspect as these oils are far less expensive than synthetic oils.

Does Oil Last Forever in My Engine?

Not many of us are aware that oil actually wears out. The additives within the oil have a limited shelf life, and oil that contains polar additives will only stick to surfaces until that polar additive is destroyed. Changing your oil at the recommended interval or even sooner is vital if you don’t ride your motorcycle often.

How Often Should You Change The Oil On A Motorcycle?

How often you change the oil on your motorcycle will vary depending on the type of oil being used, the number of miles you travel on the bike, and the frequency the bike is used.

You should always consult your user manual for the manufacturer’s instructions but here is a general rule for changing the oil on your motorcycle:

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is recommended to be replaced every 2,000 to 3,000 miles or at least once a year, with some experts recommending it should be replaced twice a year minimum.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oil should be replaced at least once a year or every 7,000 to 10,000 miles

Semi-synthetic Oil

Semi-synthetic oil should be replaced every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, or at least once a year.

Can You Skip an Oil Change?

Sure, you can. You can also skip your regular visit to the dentist, and in both cases, it will not matter, provided there are no issues. If there are, these issues will undoubtedly be worse when you eventually have a check-up. More significant problems always lead to more significant bills, so why take the risk?

The most common issue with dirty or insufficient oil is that the surfaces in your engine will overheat. This increase in heat may cause the engine to run inefficiently, and as time passes, it can cause the engine’s components to warp and wear out. Older bikes are known for having oil leaks, and this characteristic should be factored in by the rider when planning an oil change.

Eventually, unless the oil is changed, the entire engine could shut down and may have to be replaced. Once your engine seizes, you may just as well poke a hole in your bank account (or piggybank hidden under your bed). This repair could cost you more than a thousand dollars. Many people who have this happen ultimately sell the motorcycle to a scrap yard, and if finances allow, buy a new vehicle.

Fortunately, there is absolutely no reason to go down this road. Getting your bike’s oil changed is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs you will ever carry out and perhaps the quickest to execute. An oil change will cost you no more than the price of two or three pints of oil if you do the job yourself.

If the problem is permitted to continue to a point where you have gasket leaks, the repair will be several hundred U$ dollars, equating to an entire lifetime of timeous oil changes.

Which Oil Should I Use in My Motorcycle?

I have found that ultimately, the quality of the base oil used and the quality (and quantity) of the additives included will determine how efficiently any oil works in your engine. This quality/quantity level will control how successfully suspended particles keep them away from crucial surfaces.

This quality of ingredients will also determine how well the oil resists corrosion, how effectively internal surfaces are coated, and how long that coating lasts, etc.

Any oil will be made from around 80% base oil and 20% additives by the manufacturer. Typically, a fully synthetic lubricant might be created from two base oils and up to 20 additives. An oil might begin with only a mineral base, but it’s semi-synthetic as soon as any additives are added.

Simply put, the best oil is the one that is changed regularly and one which also meets all requirements set out by the motorcycle manufacturer (fully synthetic oil is not always the best for your bike so check the handbook or with your dealer).

It’s pointless buying oil that has a higher viscosity than is required, but the more expensive oils will generally use the best base oils and additives.

Use high-end brands if you can afford to, and ensure it’s always the correct viscosity and certified compatible with your motorcycle. Not all oils are made for all engines…

Don’t forget you should not mix different engine oils.

For more information about the subject of mixing engine oils click HERE where you can read my informative article about this subject.

My Motorcycle is Leaking Oil – But from Where?

Motorcycle engine oil leak

Depending on your motorcycle’s age, an oil leak is almost expected and provided it is not severe, it is not generally a reason for significant concern. I have owned many older motorcycles which have had some minor oil leaks, none of which caused any major problems.

On my older motorcycles, I clean your motorcycle’s engine and then check the bike after it has stood overnight. I then check the ground for any oil leaks and then look above the oil mark on the ground to the engine, and you may be able to see the source of the oil leak.

Here are some checks that I carry out if I spot a small oil leak:

  • Remove the engine oil cap and check the thread for oil. If the oil level is too high, there can be some loss of oil under the resultant pressure created when the engine heats up. If this is the guilty party, clean the O-ring and the threaded area and replace the cap.

  • Check the oil drain plug found under the bike; gravity helps with the draining process, so it is located here. Vibration might cause oil to leak from this drain if the drain-plug nut is even slightly loose. Take a spanner and tighten the nut after wiping any oil and dirt away first.
  • The cylinder-head seal and gaskets on the valve cover, oil pan, and crank-case may leak over time. A sticky black substance – old oil and dust/grime – will be visible. Unless you are an amateur mechanic or similar, I suggest you take your motorcycle to a specialist for repair if these are causing leaks.

Do Commercial Products that Promise to Stop Oil Leaks Work?

There are lazy ways to do just about everything in life, but why not use them if they work?

There are many ‘Oil Stop Leak’ products on the market, and most of them work just fine on more minor leaks, at least temporarily, and sometimes they sort out the problem permanently. Prices range from U$12.00 to U$30.00 for 16 fluid oz / 475ml.

Manufacturers recommend driving the bike for 15 to 30 minutes after pouring the Oil Stop Leak into the engine. Usually, the leak will be sealed within this time, but a second application may be required if not. If the leak is mild to moderate, bikers can run a further 10,000-50,000 miles on their motorcycles without further issues.

Many riders suggest that you try one of these Oil Stop Leak products first when you first spot a leak on the cylinder head. These riders reason that any repair would probably be to a seal or gasket, which in itself is inexpensive, but removing the head for access is a whole new ball game. The labor required for an engine head removal is where the high cost will be found.

Some feel this ‘quick fix may compromise the jets and clog the oil nozzles, so be aware that there are differing schools of thought on the subject.

If you do regular oil changes as recommended, you can keep this charge at bay for years, but it will eventually pick up problems as a bike grows older.

Should you Warm the Bike Up Brfore Changine The Oil On A Motorcycle?

Decent quality oil will have a polar base and certain additives that leave a thin coating on the engine’s internal surfaces to reduce wear at start-up. The colder the ambient temperature, the longer it’ll take for the oil to get around the engine.

Opening the throttle wide too soon will undoubtedly damage the engine at some point. If I’m riding in snow, sleet, or very low temperatures, I tend to start the bike up, make a thermos of coffee for my saddlebags, and ride off at a sensible pace after five to ten minutes which allows the engine of my motorcycle to warm up.

Letting the bike warm up under idling conditions works best for me, and it’s a good habit to get into. Sure, you like to leave home at the last second, but never letting the oil fully pump around the motor by taking off too soon will be expensive eventually. It’s imperative to give the lubricant a chance to do its job.

I have written an article about whether a motorcycle should be warmed up before changing the oil which you can read by clicking the link HERE.

Three to four minutes of warm-up when you first start your motorcycle in a temperate climate is what I recommend. Warmer temps permit less warm-up time, but friction can kill your engine, and the oil must be allowed to coat the surfaces before you leave. If in doubt, warm it up for a little longer.

You can check out the range of 5-star motorcycle oils on Amazon by clicking the link HERE

Conclusion

Whether you use an Oil Stop Leak product or not, I highly advise that you check your oil regularly and change it at least at every service specified by your motorcycle manufacturer.

If your motorcycle is stored throughout winter in a freezing climate, I suggest an oil change before and after the hibernation. This practice might seem extreme, but bikes are not cheap, as we all know, and two oil changes will not break the bank.

Happy Riding!

Robert Blake

Hi, I'm Robert and I've been riding motorcycles for nearly 2 decades. The intention of this blog is to give reliable up to date information to other motorcyclists who are looking for answers about all different aspects of motorcycling. All the information is either from my personal experience or investigational work I have carried out myself. Happy Riding!

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