Slick Advice | MC Garage

There Really Are Ways to Screw Up an Oil Change

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Brian MacLean

Odds are you've changed your own oil. It's one of the easi-est jobs to do on most motorcycles, and it rewards you with a happy engine and a feeling of accomplishment. Plus, if you don't break anything, you might save a buck. Here are a few things we keep in mind when doing an oil change.

• Start clean, stay clean, end clean. Have rags or paper towels on hand before you start the job. Clean up the area around the bike so if there's a spill it doesn't end up on your riding boots, a set of new tires in the corner, or the dog. Wear latex or nitrile gloves to keep the used oil from getting on your skin and so you can quickly strip them off to answer the phone or nature's call without having to wash your hands first.

• Have everything you need on hand before you start. That includes the correct oil filter, filter wrench, enough oil, and the proper tools for bodywork removal, if necessary.

• Buy the proper oil filter. It's hard to go wrong with origi-nal-equipment filters, though there are excellent aftermarket options available as well. We're partial to the K&N spin-on filters because of the handy hex nut that eases removal. Be wary of using a filter intended for another bike. It might actu-ally fit but could have a different relief-valve spec, drainback valve setup, or other variances from the intended part. If you intend to use OE-style filters, buy the proper end-cap wrench; it's much better than a huge pair of pliers.

• Get a drain tank. Pouring used oil from an open drain pan into a container for transport to a recycling center is messy. Instead of a pan use a flat drain tank. It's the same size as a drain pan, but it has a shallow, bowl-shaped top, a hole in the middle with a screw cap, and a capped spout on one end for easy pouring. (Check out our Gear section this month for one suggestion.) Clean the pan before you begin so it's easier to spot any debris.

• Take your time with the bodywork. Today's plastic-clad bikes often need their bodywork to be removed for full access to the drain plug and oil filter. Read your service manual, and take care the first time you do it. Keep track of how the tabs fit together, and be careful not to lose any of those infernal plastic retaining clips or pins.

• Assess the engine to see if you have any existing leaks. Then, start the bike and make sure it's thoroughly warm be-fore draining the used oil. This is to ensure the contaminants are in suspension and not snoozing in the bottom of the oil pan.

• Be on the lookout for previously botched work. When you remove the oil-drain plug, it should be hard to get started but turn freely and smoothly the rest of the way. If it doesn't, the threads on the plug or in the cases could be damaged. Look at the old crush washer (gasket), and carefully inspect any plug with an integrated magnet. Slivers of ferrous metal larg-er than a pencil tip should be cause for further investigation.

• Watch the oil come out. Black oil isn't a problem—it gets dark by trapping contaminants, so that means it's work-ing—but milky, lumpy, or otherwise odd-looking or odd-smelling oil could indicate other problems.

• Use a torque wrench. The drain plug is a prime candidate for over- and under-torquing. Too loose and you'll invite leaks. Too tight and you run the chance of stripping the threads. You can bet the case will give way before the plug too.

• Use new gaskets, washers, and O-rings. A typical drain-plug gasket costs 50 cents. If you've somehow forgot-ten to get one (ahem), at least flip the old one over—assuming it's a symmetrical gasket, and not all are—and inspect it carefully before reusing. A crush washer is cheap.

• Be keenly aware of how much oil your bike really needs. The notation on the side case by the oil window is for a dry engine. For wet-sump engines, fill to the middle of the oil window or dipstick then run it for two to three minutes to fill the filter and check for leaks. Let the engine sit for a few minutes and check the level again. Add until it's at the upper limit but not above. Dry-sump engines—those with a sepa-rate oil reservoir—should have the recommended procedure followed exactly, unless you really like chasing oil levels or risking over-filling.

• Reinstall the bodywork and take a moment as you clean up to double-check your work. Use a flashlight to look around the engine for leaks or other trouble. It's worth the little extra time this takes.

Quick Facts

Before you even start changing your oil, find a place to re-cycle the old oil and the used filter when you're finished with the job. Most automotive repair shops, big chain-store auto-motive centers, and community recycling centers take used oil. Find out what kind of container they want it in—glass is a no-go; plastic containers with secure screw-on caps are pre-ferred—and don't forget to bring the used filter in a sealed zip-lock bag.

By Jerry Smith
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