Change Your Motorcycle’s oil

Why not just pay a shop?

If you’re even a little bit handy, changing the oil on your own bike can save time and money. Best of all, you know that it was done right because you did it yourself. And while you’re at it, you can take the opportunity to check and clean other parts of the bike, so you might find little issues before they become big problems.

Changing your bike’s oil can be a very satisfying experience or it can be an exercise in frustration. To make sure that you enjoy the work, have the right tools and supplies within easy reach, take your time and double-check your work.

Expect to spend about an hour the first time you do this, though you might eventually get down to half that time – and half the mess!

What do I need?

One of the great things about this job is that you don’t need specialized tools, though this can be an opportunity to invest in some of the basics. A few of the items on this list are optional, but most will be required to do the job right. If you have questions about specifics (quantity and weight of oil, socket sizes, etc.), refer to your owner’s manual.

How do I do this?

Warning/Disclaimer/Fine Print/Legalese:
It’s your bike. The following is a general guide, but every motorcycle is different, so we can’t guarantee that this is the best way for you to change the oil on your bike. After all, you’re the one holding the tools and doing the work, so you need to be comfortable with the results. If you’re not okay with that, stop now and go pay a shop. If you like the concept of personal responsibility mixed with the idea of spinning your own wrenches, read on…

  1. Start in a clean, well-lit, windproof area (like a garage) where you’ll be able to spend a bit of quality time with your pride and joy. Make sure you have your tools and supplies (perhaps including a tasty beverage) within easy reach.
  2. Warm up the bike first. It doesn’t take long and doing this thins the oil so that it flows more easily. After a couple of minutes – when the engine is just warm to the touch – shut it off and get to work.
  3. If your motorcycle has a center stand, use it. Otherwise, use a rear stand (though you can do this with the bike on its side stand if that’s your only option). Then remove any bodywork that will get in the way of easy access to the drain plug, filter and filler cap.
  4. Spread some old newspaper on the ground to keep the area clean. You need an area about 3′ x 3′, centered under the oil drain pan, which should be centered under the drain plug. If the drain plug is angled, judge where the stream of oil will land and put the drain pan there. You might even use a funnel to guide the old oil into the pan.
  5. Using the appropriate socket/wrench, unscrew and remove the drain plug. You’ll want to use your hand for the last few turns so that the plug doesn’t just fall into the drain pan, but be careful of the initial gush of warm (or hot) oil from your machine. Remove and toss the old crush washer, clean the plug with a rag, inspect it for damage, and set it aside. Consider removing the filler cap to help the oil flow better, but protect the opening so that dirt, tools or stray cats won’t fall in.
  6. Once the flow of oil slows down, clean the area where the drain plug goes back in so that you get a good seal. Put a new crush washer on the oil drain plug and, using your hand, screw it back into the bike (don’t cross-thread it!) without over-tightening it. You can snug it up with a socket or wrench, but just enough to crush the crush washer.
  7. Move the drain pan under the filter area so that you can unscrew and remove the old oil filter, taking care that it doesn’t spill. There’s oil in it, so set it down with the “mouth” up or set it on the oil pan if there’s an area that will let the filter drain (without the filter falling in).
  8. Clean the area where the filter makes contact with the engine so that you’ll get a good seal with the new one. Wipe some new oil onto the rubber O-ring gasket of the new oil filter – oiling this gasket ensures that the filter keeps its seal as the engine heats up. Some filters, such as K&N Oil Filters, have pre-oiled gaskets, but it never hurts to be sure. Carefully screw on the filter with your hand (don’t cross-thread it!) and tighten it about a quarter-turn to a half-turn past snug.
  9. Take a moment to wipe down any other excess oil, grime and dirt on the underside of the bike – there’s no need to smoke up your area when you re-start. While you’re at it, have a sip of your tasty beverage.
  10. If you haven’t done so already (during Step 5), unscrew the oil filler cap on the engine and make sure the area is clean. Using a funnel, carefully pour in half a quart less than the exact amount of oil specified in your manual. Wait a couple of minutes for the oil to move around the engine parts and get to the area where you can see it in the sight glass, then check the oil level (with the bike straight up and down, not on the side stand). Add oil as necessary so that the oil is halfway between the “Low” and “Full” lines (or the equivalent on your bike).
  11. Put the filler cap back on. Lots of riders have forgotten this step and, well, let’s just say that an oil fountain creates quite a sight. Start the bike and let it run for a minute. This lets you check for leaks from the drain plug or the filter, and it “charges” the filter with oil. Turn the bike off, let it sit for a couple of minutes to allow the oil to drain, then check the level and top up the oil until it’s just below the “Full” line.
  12. Put your tools away, clean up, finish your tasty beverage and congratulate yourself for saving some money while bonding with your motorcycle. Good work!

What else should I know?

  • Warm oil flows much better, but it can scald you if it’s too hot, and it comes out fast at first. Gloves can protect your hands from the dirty aspects of this job, but not from the heat.
  • You have to get rid of the old oil – it’s a flammable carcinogen. Many auto-parts stores accept used oil and filters at no charge and some city dumps will take it if you’re a resident (though sometimes only on certain days). Never dump oil in the garbage, in gutters or storm drains, or down the sink. You certainly shouldn’t use it to “water” your neighbor’s lawn, even if his dog piddles on your tires at every opportunity.
  • You don’t want contamination from your tools (or anything else) getting into your engine, so clean your tools before and after the job and keep your workspace clean.
  • Cleaning the areas around the oil drain plug and the filter will make it easy to spot a leak. If you do see a leak, you may not have tightened the drain plug enough – or you may have over-tightened it. Oil also attracts dirt, so keeping the area clean will keep the area clean. Yogi would be proud…
  • Keep the oil off of exhaust pipes. Use clean rags to protect them so you don’t get smoked out on your next ride.
  • Check your oil level between oil changes to make sure that your bike isn’t leaking (or eating) oil.
  • Don’t smoke while you’re doing any of this. Did we mention that oil is a flammable carcinogen?
  • Your “tasty beverage” should be non-alcoholic. Drunk wrenching doesn’t work

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