So, is it possible to use the next closest thing: car engine oil? While it might make for a good emergency plan, it might not be the best option for the long term.
Sometimes, the only thing that’s around to change the oil for your motorcycle is car engine oil. Whether it’s because that was what you happened to grab from the shelf at the store or that’s all you have in the garage, the circumstances come up sometimes.
The good news is that, as long as it’s temporary, you can use car engine oil in a motorcycle. Much like a car, motorcycles need oil to keep the engine lubricated. Without this lubrication, internal parts can grind against one another and wear out the engine over time.
Car engine oil isn’t a perfect fit for motorcycles, however.
The main difference between these two kinds of engine oil comes down to how the different vehicles use their oil and where it goes. The way oil works in both cars and motorcycles are similar, but not the same.
In a car, oil is held in the oil reserve. When the engine starts up, an oil pump sucks up the oil and sends it throughout the engine. There, the oil lubricates the engine and keeps moving parts from degrading as fast.
Over time, the oil returns to the reservoir. It passes through a filter first to remove any impurities or sediment before settling inside the reservoir.
In a motorcycle, oil flows similarly. But, oil goes through the transmission of the motorcycle as well as the engine. The engine and transmission are together in many motorcycle designs, so the oil that runs through a motorcycle must be compatible with the internal parts of a transmission.
So, what makes car engine oil different from motorcycle oil? The answer is their physical properties.
For cars, their engine and transmission are separate from one another. Because of this, these systems will have their oil reserves that keep those parts lubricated.
The engine oil in what’s generally swapped out on cars because the engine is more exposed to the open air than the transmission is. As such, it’s more likely to get sediment build-up thanks to exposure to the open air and the particles it carries. This is why your oil darkens over time – it builds up deposits over time.
But, because motorcycle oil will go through the transmission, the oil needs to have a higher lubrication capability than car engine oil. There are also more frictional additives in motorcycle oil so that the oil can stay in the system for longer.
Your oil works for both the engine and the transmission, so missing any parts could mean something inside could wear down or seize.
Car engine oil works in a pinch, but that’s only until you can swap out the oil for dedicated motorcycle oil. Think of it like a spare tire, where it works as long as you get a new tire sooner rather than later. Over time, the car engine oil will introduce damage to your motorcycle.
The first issue this can cause is an erosion of the transmission. Since the car engine oil isn’t designed to keep up with the high speeds that transmissions work on, car engine oil won’t lubricate a transmission well.
Over time, this means metal parts grind against one another and break down. In time, you’ll start to feel gear shift issues on the motorcycle due to this damage.
Also, as the transmission wears down, those metal parts will have small shavings and bits of metal break off. These metal bits will be carried by the oil towards the engine. These metal shavings can grind against engine components, doing damage to both the transmission and the engine.
If ignored, you’ll eventually see a complete seizure of your engine and transmission when using car engine oil. It’s not designed to keep every component of a motorcycle lubricated like dedicated motorcycle oil is.
The good news is that motorcycle oil isn’t too hard to find. Most places that carry car engine oil will also stock motorcycle oil in the same area. Oil manufacturers try to make it clear on the label which vehicle the oil is for.
However, there are different kinds of motorcycle oils, just like with car engine oil. Your owner’s manual, the oil cap, or online resources will be able to tell you what viscosity your oil should be.
There are also different materials that motorcycle oil can be made out of. Here is a quick summary of what those makes of il are:
- Mineral oil: A generic, affordable oil made out of natural mineral oils, usually from petroleum derivatives.
- Semi-synthetic (SS): A mixture of mineral and fully synthetic oil intended for motorcycles with a small engine capacity and see daily use.
- Fully synthetic (FS): The most expensive of the trio, this man-made oil is best in high-performance or racing bikes, rather than consumer bikes.
Once you have oil for your motorcycle, it’s time to swap in it and replace the old stuff. If you’ve never changed the oil in a motorcycle before, here are some steps to follow:
- Warm up the engine: Oil is easier to work with when warm, so drive the motorcycle around for a bit or change it out after driving the motorcycle.
- Clean the oil cap: After propping the bike up with a stand, clean up the area around the oil cap with a rag to keep road dust from getting into the reservoir.
- Drain oil: Place a drain pan under the oil cap and let the old oil flow into the pan.
- Change oil filter: Remove the filter from the motorcycle and pour out any oil from the filter into the drain pan.
- Install new filter: Using a little of the new oil as lube, set the new filter into its place by turning the filter until you feel resistance.
- Replace removed parts: Return the drain plug and any sealing washers and screws to where they belong on the bike.
- Add oil: Add the required amount of oil to your bike.
- Check your work: Let the motorcycle idle for a few minutes, making sure that oil levels are good and that there aren’t any leaks.
Because this is a question lots of bike owners have about their motorcycles, here are some answers to other questions that might come up:
While they are similar, motorcycle oil and car engine oil are different. Car engine oil wasn’t made to handle a motorcycle’s transmission. Over time, car engine oil can cause damage to your engine and transmission but is fine to use in an emergency.
How often you change your oil depends on what you hit first: a certain number of miles or a time limit. The specific oil you use will list on the bottle how often you should change out your oil based on the miles driven. Otherwise, changing your oil every six months will keep sediment from building up.
In general, you should try to change out the gas in your bike every month. Filling up your motorcycle dilutes bad gas naturally, so you don’t have to worry about this if you fill up your bike once a month or more.
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