How to change the oil on a motorcycle in 11 easy to follow steps. Watch our in-depth video tutorial created for beginners and save $$$ on dealership costs.
- Warm Engine
- Remove Drain Plug
- Drain Oil
- Check Oil For Contaminants
- Remove Filter
- Replace Drain Plug Seal
- Install New Filter
- Reinstall Drain Plug
- Top Up Oil
- Run Engine
- Check Oil Levels
For most riders changing your motorcycle engine oil is the maintenance task second only to checking tire pressure that you’re going to perform most frequently.
Instead of spending lots and lots of money paying somebody else to do it, you can spend a little quality time with your bike, learn a little bit about it and make sure the jobs get done right. This guide is here to help you do that.
For this example I am going to be using a Harley Davison Street Glide, this is going to serve as our representative example.
We prefer to put our motorcycle on a lift when changing the oil but it can be changed just as easily on the center stand.
The Harley Street Glide is going to be a representative motorcycle but there’s a wide variety of motorcycles out there and there’s a lot of different ways to change the oil so check with your owners manual to for the correct information on where items are located.
This post is sort of a general theory and overview about getting the oil out of the bike getting fresh oil into the bike and getting your filter on and off, just keep in mind your motorcycle may not be exactly the same.
Table of Contents
The next item we’re going to talk about are the tools you’re going to need for this job. Because all bikes are different not all tools are going to be the same. However, there are some basic tools just about everybody’s going to wind up having.
Oil Filter Rench
First things first you need some method of getting your oil filter off. If you have an external spin-on filter a set of filter jaw pliers will definitely be helpful. However, if you have an internal filter you may not need that, you may just need something as simple as an Allen key.
I’m not a big clean freak, nor my a big safety guy, however, motor oil especially used motor oil is carcinogenic so protect yourself. I put plenty of carcinogens into myself, I don’t need any extra help so I use disposable latex gloves.
We have our filter, we have our oil and a funnel and a plastic bag the purpose of which I’ll explain to you just a little bit later. And of course, a drain pan because you do want to capture that used motor oil, it’s pretty harmful to the environment recycling it is not difficult at all if you’re in North America.
Factory Service Manual
I’ve done thousands of oil changes and I feel pretty confident I can get through an oil change without a manual but there’s no shame in terms of having a manual on your bench.
Oftentimes I’m doing more complex projects and I’ll have three or four separate manuals opened up and maybe even a tablet computer pulled up with a forum so I can gain additional information. Knowledge is the most important tool so don’t be afraid of using it.
Most oil changes are fairly easy on today’s motorcycles, all of you should be able to get an oil change performed and again it’s going to bring you a little closer your bike.
You can get to spend a little bit of quality time with your best friend and you’re going to possibly spot problems before they crop up.
The first step I like to do when I’m doing an oil change is to check the oil. I like to see the level of it, low oil can do a variety of things. First, the engine tends to run a little bit hotter, the oil serves as a cooling agent in most motorcycles.
What To Look For
The other thing Its responsible for is lubricating the engine. On something like a Harley, it can be damaging to the engine if you’re running low but if you’re on a metric bike the oil performs a couple more functions.
Many metric bikes use the engine oil also as a transmission lubricant and it serves a tertiary function of cooling off the stator which is an electrical component.
Some bikes are famous for having Staters go bad a little bit early because they’ve been run low on oil, so if I see a bike that’s been run low on oil I know I can keep an eye out for some other damage that may have occurred.
The other reason I like to check the oil is I like to examine the consistency of it, sometimes there are things in the oil that can tell you about bad things that are happening in your engine.
For instance, if your engine oil was to look milky that can sometimes mean the coolant is getting into your oil.
That’s not going to happen of course on an air-cooled Harley but if you do have a liquid-cooled bike and you have milky oil that can be indicative of coolant mixing with the oil which is not a good situation.
The other thing you can sometimes see are metallic flakes. The oil will look sparkly when you’re looking at it, sparkling oil can also be a sign that maybe there is some metal on metal friction that shouldn’t be happening in there.
While these are bad things to see if you catch them early enough you can sometimes save yourself from having to purchase a replacement engine.
I know I’ve definitely replaced cases on Harley’s before and sometimes those problems could have been caught earlier had somebody been paid a little attention to the fluid and the obvious signs of damage.
Even though your factory service manual may not tell you to check the level and condition of your oil as part of an oil change I think there are some benefits.
To check the oil level locate the dipstick. Remember not every single motorcycle, yours included will have a dipstick necessarily. Some bikes have sight glasses in which case you’ll have to check the level by peering into a glass on the side of the engine.
Remember the position of the bike is important as far as determining the correct oil level because the oil flows to the bottom of its tank. You may or may not have to check the bike upright or on its side stand, your manuals going to tell you how to do it.
You should know how to check your oil, it’s something every motorcyclist should be doing regularly. If you don’t see any signs of contamination of your oil (metallic flakes or milkiness) that’s a good sign.
At this point what I like to do with the dipstick if your bike has one is leave it just sort of hanging out of the engine, this is a sign most mechanics will use to let other mechanics know not to start a motorcycle because it’s being operated on.
The very first thing you should do before draining the engine oil is warm up your bike, I tend to put my bike on the main stand and let it run for about five minutes to warm up the oil.
When the engine oil gets warm it gets thinner and when you drain it the old will drain quicker and more thoroughly.
You want to get the engine warm not hot, remember you will be touching some engine parts and they can get hot so you don’t want to get them too hot so you cannot work on the bike.
Drain Engine Oil
It’s now time to get the old motor oil out of this bike. The first thing you need to do is to get the drain plug out of the bike so we can get the oil out before we get to that let’s discuss a couple tips and tricks that might make your life just a little bit easier.
First things first make sure the plug you’re about to remove is indeed the oil drain plug. Some bikes have a number of plugs underneath, the Street Glide has a transmission oil drain plug, there’s also off to the side a primary oil plug.
If you don’t pull the correct drain plug the oil drain plug you may wind up doing just a bit more than an oil change.
The next tip I have for you too is using an oil drain pan. I also like to have a sacrificial rag placed in the pan.
This rag is going to get dirty and disgusting but what the rag does is for the initial deluge of oil that winds up pouring into the pan – it sort of helps dampen that so the oil doesn’t go into the pan and jump right back out.
This will keep things clean, it will keep our work area clean and minimize some of the cleanups you will wind up doing at the end of the oil change.
Remove Drain Plug
The first thing you’re going to do is break the drain plug free. Nearly every pull on a drain plug is kind of difficult the first time, after that, it should unthread pretty easily. Once you have loosened you can smoothly spin the drain plug to remove it.
You may even be able to use your fingers to get the drain plug finally loose and get to the end of the thread, when when the plug breaks free the plug might pop into the pan which isn’t the biggest deal in the world so just make sure if it does end up in the pan that you remember to go back and get it before you dump your oil.
When you reach the end of the thread the plug will feel very loose, there is probably a whole bunch of oil about to shoot out of here so make sure you have the drain pan underneath the plughole to catch the sudden surge of oil. While the oil is draining you can move onto removing the oil filter.
Removing Oil Filter
Removing the old filter is going to differ from bike to bike as we had talked about earlier. Some of you are going to have an internal filter if you do when you’re removing the access plate be careful when you’re getting the last of the bolts undone because those things are under spring pressure.
It’s not enough to be dangerous but it is enough to throw some parts out into your lap, you don’t want that because you want to see exactly how the order those parts came out in. Just be mindful of the fact that there are some little parts in there so make sure you’re taking everything out and returning it in the proper order.
For those of you who are working on a bike with an external filter, you’re going to need to spin the filter off, sometimes that can be pretty difficult as we had mentioned earlier.
There are a variety of tools around to help get the filter off, some tools are helpful in certain situations and some tools are not. You may need one or two different cracks at it with different tools like the filter jaw pliers I mentioned previously.
Just like the drain plug, the filter will feel a little tight at first but once it has cracked it should come off pretty easy. Once it has cracked continue to use the tool to loosen until you feel it can be finished by hand.
Remember before we talked about that plastic bag? Now’s the time and you would be using it. One of the things you can do to help keep your mess to a minimum is to take your plastic bag and slide it over the filter or up if you have a low hanging filter.
You can envelop the filter with the bag. You should be able to loosen the filter in the bag to help keep the mess down.
Just a little shot of oil so make sure you have a pan underneath handy or some rags if you’re not going to use the plastic bag trick.
It can seem like it takes quite a while for your motorcycle to rid itself of all its oil but that’s actually okay, it gives you a little bit of time to perform some necessary housekeeping.
Drain Plug Seal
First things first your drain plug has some way of sealing against the oil pan, some of you may have crushed washers or perhaps like a fiber washer sealing your plug and your pan. In the case of our Harley, you may have a sealing o-ring.
Renewing the plug seal will help keep leaks at bay when you consider how inexpensive these o-rings are it really would be a shame to wind up smoking a motor because you had a leaky one and you lost all your oil.
Next up is your filter
If you’ve cleaned your motorcycle off correctly you’ll notice that there’s very little oil on the part of the engine, the motorcycle filter seals too.
Rubber being kind of catchy can have a tendency to grab and tear so what I like to do is grab a finger full of my new motor oil, dab a little on the filter o-ring and then just sort of work it around. This will help the o-ring slip and slide between the filter and the engine block itself, it will stop it from tearing.
One of the other things you can do too is if you have a canister style filter that faces upward, you can actually fill this thing up with oil. What that does is minimizes the amount of time your engine is running dry without oil going through it, you can save a little bit of wear and tear.
Fit New Filter
Now have our new oil filter prepped and it’s now time to install on the bike. A couple of items of note before we get to that.
First things first you want to check the motorcycles filter sealing surface, that’s important because the o-ring from the old filter may not have come off completely when you removed the old filter.
If you install a new filter on top of that old oring you’re guaranteed to have some leaks so make sure all of the old oring has been removed from the engine block before installing the new filter.
The other thing you want to think about is as far as installation is concerned is what tool you should use. Even though you may see on some filters they do have a method to get a tool on there, that’s only for removal, you should be able to install a canister style filter on your motorcycle by hand.
What you should do is screw it on by hand until you feel the sealing surface touch the motorcycle and from that point, you should tighten somewhere between three quarters in one more turn beyond it.
That will get the filter snug enough so that it’s not going to come off while you’re riding your bike.
One of the things I did was mark the filter so I can see how far I have to turn to get that three quarters to one turn and that little bit there should be all we need.
Top Up Oil
Our oil is down to a very very slow drip so it’s now time to reinstall our drain plug. We’ve got a fresh o-ring on the plug before we begin there are a couple of things you want to think about.
On our representative example bike Harly specs a torque of 84 to 108-inch pounds to crank down the oil drain plug bolt, again check with your bike to see what requirements are.
Another thing you want to consider is when you’re installing the plug install using your fingers first. The reason being if you have cross threaded the plug your fingers will feel the difference and not damage anything if you apply a tool to this immediately and start cranking down there’s a real possibility you could destroy some threads somewhere.
Once the threads catch you can finger tighten the thread without any risk of damage to any of the parts, once the plug is in as far as you can using your fingers it’s time to get a tool out in order to tighten it fully.
Our new filter has been installed, our drain plug has been tightened and all we have left to do is fill the bike up with fresh oil. I’d like to take this moment to remind you that this is not the end of the oil change, this should end exactly as it began with a check of the oil even though 4 quarts is about the right amount for the Harly we want to visually confirm that.
What Type Of Oil To Use
There are many types of oil you can use for engine, we have written an in-depth article that explains what we consider to be the best oils to use for motorcycle engines. Check out our article “Mineral Oil vs Synthetic For Motorcycles” which goes into this in much more detail.
Once you have filled up with new oil according to your owner’s manual you can start your bike. This allows the oil to circulate throughout the engine and fill in some of the air gaps we’ve created and then recheck.
Theoretically, things should be spot-on and that should get us exactly where we need to be to get this bike ready to ride.
That’s the way we change our motorcycle oil, hopefully, those of you who are rookies learned a little something and you feel confident attacking this job and maybe your old hands happen to learn a trick or two that might make your next oil change a little bit easier.