It’s the blood of your motorcycle or scooter, and you need to change it every now and then.

But if you’re about to do your first oil change, you might have more questions about it.

For example:

“What does the oil actually do?”

“Why do I need to change the oil at all?”

“What do the ratings ‘10W-40’ on the oil can mean?”

In this blog post, we’ll answer some FAQs related to engine oil and oil filters – including the ones above, but also:

  • The 4 primary purposes of engine oil
  • What “viscocity” means
  • How to check engine oil – no matter if your bike has a dipstick or a sight glass on it

“What Does the Engine Oil Do?”

The primary purpose of the engine oil is to lubricate the internal components of your bike’s engine. This will ensure they don’t grind against each other and wear down too soon.

Is that all, though? No – aside from that, engine oil has more purposes:

  1. Form a kind of protective coating to prevent rust
  2. Absorb any excess heat from the engine pistons
  3. Remove any contaminants from the engine, such as small metallic flakes that fall off during operation

So, in essence, you’re getting not just a 2-for-1 deal with engine oil – you’re getting a 4-for-1 deal.

“Why Do I Need to Change the Engine Oil?”

Remember what we went through in the previous question? The part about how engine oil is supposed to lubricate the interior engine components?

While the oil does an excellent job overall, things like excessive heat and friction will cause the engine oil to lose that lubrication ability over time.

This means that even if there’s enough of it in your oil pan, it will not coat and protect the internal parts as well as it should.

So whatever type of bike you ride, one thing’s for certain – regularly changing your oil is not only good, it’s essential.

“When Should I Change the Oil?”

If you’re unsure, check your owner’s manual – there’s usually a section in there that gives you advice about when you should change the oil.

The usual time to change the oil is either after you’ve ridden 5000-8000 kilometers or after 3-6 months have passed since the last oil change.

Although, if you like in a dusty environment, you might have to change your oil more often to get rid of all of the dust particles.

Finally, if your bike has been sitting for a while, such as if it’s been winterized, it’s also a good idea to change the oil before you take it out again.

“What Happens If the Oil Level is Too Low?”

If the oil level drops below the minimum, you’re about to be in a world of hurt – and that’s certainly the case for your bike…

To lubricate the internal engine parts, enough oil must be in your oil sump.

If there’s not enough of it, it means that those internal parts will not be coated and lubricated properly.

Remember to check oil levels regularly and only ride with oil between the minimum and maximum lines on the dipstick.

Which, fittingly, leads us into the next common oil changing FAQ:

“How Do I Check That My Bike Has Enough Oil In It?”

Depending on the bike, you’ll either have what’s known as a “dipstick” (yes, that’s really what it’s called) or a “sight glass.”

Checking engine oil levels with a sight glass

The sight glass is often found on the left side of the bike on the engine casing. And if you’ve got one, you only need one tool to check it:

Your own eyes.

It’s all a matter of looking through the sight glass and verifying that the oil level is in between the lines marked “MIN” and “MAX.”

NOTE: Make sure that the bike is NOT leaning over (such as when the kickstand is down) when you check the oil levels – if it is, you might get a false reading.

Checking engine oil levels with a dipstick

NOTE: Do these checks when the bike hasn’t been run for about 30 minutes – otherwise, you might burn yourself.

  1. Pull the dipstick out and wipe it off using a rag or a paper towel
  2. Stick it back where you got it from
  3. Pull out the dipstick a second time and take a look at the end of the stick

If there’s enough oil in your bike, the amount on the stick should be between the “Min” and “Max” levels.

If it isn’t – it’s time to top it up!

“What Kind of Oil Does My Motorcycle Take? What Do the Oil Ratings On the Oil Can Mean?”

image of engine oil can
Original Image by Michael Kauer from Pixabay

I hope you’ve got your owner’s manual ready – it’s time to bring it out again.

Seriously, that’s the quickest (not to mention the fastest) way to find out what kind of oil your motorcycle needs.

Motorcycle oils often have a special number and letter sequence written on them that look something like this – 10W-40.

  1. The “10” indicates the oil’s viscosity at low temperatures
  2. The “W-40” indicates the oil’s viscosity at operating temperatures (i.e., once the engine is warmed up and running)

“What does ‘viscocity’ mean?”

It might sound complex, but it’s just a rather overly complicated term that describes how thick a fluid is.

For example, blood is thicker than water, and engine oil is thicker, for that matter.

And the thicker the fluid is, the higher its viscosity and viscosity rating will be.

“Where is the Engine Oil Kept?”

All the engine oil is kept in a place at the bottom of the engine called the “oil sump” or “oil pan.” If you look underneath your bike, you might see a black plastic cover with a bolt head in it.

That is where the oil is kept – and the bolt is there so you can drain the oil from the oil sump – such as when you’re doing an oil change, for example.

However, for 2-stroke engines…

2-stroke engines have NO oil pan. That’s because the oil is directly mixed in with your gasoline or petrol for many of them.

During the intake phase, the oil enters the combustion chamber with the fuel itself.

As the mixture of air, fuel, and oil is compressed during the combustion stroke, the special 2-stroke oil will coat the internal parts for lubrication.

“Is There a Difference Between an ‘Oil Sump’ and an ‘Oil Pan?'”

Apart from the different words, no – they’re exactly the same.

“I’ve Finished An Oil Change – What Do I Do With the Old Oil?”

Four words – DISPOSE OF IT PROPERLY.

By definition, engine oil is classified as hazardous waste – i.e., not something you should throw away anywhere you please.

Instead, take it to a place in your local area authorized to deal with hazardous waste – such as a recycling station.

Some auto parts stores also typically accept used oil at no charge if contained securely in a clean container.

“What Color Should Motorcycle Engine Oil Be?”

Usually, engine oil will have a golden or amber-like color when it is new. Over time, though, the color will darken as the oil attracts contaminants.

Generally speaking, the darker the color is, the worse quality it will be.

“What is the Oil Filter For?”

image of oil filter

Image by dearcompany from Pixabay

Remember that the oil pan/oil sump is for the oil and ONLY the oil.

Unfortunately, some other things that aren’t supposed to be there might get into the oil, like dirt and metal particles.

If these things get into the oil sump, they’ll contaminate the quality of the oil, which causes damage to the engine’s internal components.

So, to avoid contaminating the oil, we need to have a filter in place. Let’s call it the “oil filter” – mostly because that’s what it’s called.

Made from either cylindrical paper or special foam cases, with an oil filter in place, it prevents anything that might contaminate the oil from entering the oil sump.

“Where Can I Find the Oil Filter?”

Usually, you’ll find it near the bottom of the engine. The oil filter itself will have a round-like shape that will poke out of the oil sump.

Then again, it depends on the design of your bike – check your owner’s manual for more exact information about this.