When it comes to machines, especially vehicles, most people know that they require certain fluids in order to function properly. One of the main fluids all vehicles use is oil.
If you own a motorcycle, you’ve probably changed the oil a few times throughout your ownership. I often wondered during my first few years of riding if a motorcycle could use car engine oil.
So, can a motorcycle use car engine oil? If you are left with no other option or if you accidentally used it instead of motorcycle oil, it is okay to temporarily use car engine oil in a motorcycle. It should not be used frequently. If car engine oil has been put in your motorcycle, your motorcycle oil should be changed sooner than the regular oil change intervals.
Through my research and my background in engineering and mechanics, I’ve gained a good understanding of the chemistry behind the practice of interchanging oil. If you’ve used car engine oil in your motorcycle or are planning on using it, there are several things you should know.
Why Car Engine Oil Is Okay To Use Temporarily
There have been several instances I’ve heard from family and friends where they’ve accidentally grabbed the wrong bottles of oil either from their garage shelf or the shelf in the store and put it in their motorcycle without realizing what they had done.
Some people find themselves in instances that require them to put car engine oil in their motorcycle because they’re left with no choice either because they’re stranded or placed in an emergency situation that called for it. Some type of oil is certainly better than not enough or no oil at at all.
Surprisingly, it’s actually quite alright if you’ve put car engine oil in your motorcycle. There is a difference between car engine oil and motorcycle oil (which we will get in to later), but there are enough similarities that will get your motorcycle lubed up just fine temporarily.
The primary function of engine oil is to protect everything that’s inside. When car engine oil is put in a car and the car is turned on, it is sucked up from the oil reservoir from the oil pump which then delivers the oil through an oil filter to clean the oil. The oil is then delivered through various circuits of oil passageways to critical engine parts such as the bearings, pistons, and the valve train.
Because most of these parts are moving so fast, it vital that the oil provides lubrication to them or else the parts risk heating up and causing so much friction that they ultimately weld together and/or break.
A motorcycle engine works similarly to how a car engine works. Motorcycles consist of an oil reserve where the oil goes through an oil filter and oil is then delivered to the vital parts of the motorcycle. With motorcycle engines, the oil also flows through the transmission since the two are essentially one combined unit.
Because of the similarities in their function, using car engine oil in a motorcycle isn’t detrimental to it. However, if it is used too long or used too much, those differences between the two oils can start to take a toll on the motorcycle engine which can eventually lead to bigger problems.
The Difference Between Car Engine And Motorcycle Oil
Though it is okay to temporarily use car engine oil in a motorcycle, it’s not okay to consistently use it. As I mentioned before, there are some differences between the two oils and due to those differences, a motorcycle will start lacking some vital components it needs from the oil and will start breaking down.
Though a car engine and it’s transmission are connected, they each are their own separate entity and require their separate kinds of oils to lubricate the insides. The engine oil cannot be used in the transmission and vice versa.
As mentioned earlier, a motorcycle engine and transmission are also connected but are open to each other, meaning they share the same oil to lubricate the insides. Essentially, motorcycle oil lubricates both the engine and the transmission.
Motorcycle oil has more lubrication properties and other frictional type of additives that the transmission needs to function properly. The biggest difference between car engine oil and motorcycle oil is that car engine oil does not have the extra friction additive and lubrication properties that motorcycle oil has to carry out the functionality the motorcycle transmission needs.
What Happens If You Use Car Engine Oil Too Much In Your Motorcycle
Though car engine oil used in a motorcycle is an okay patch up, it should never be used consistently or for long periods of time. There are a lot of risks involved by doing so.
The greatest risk you run is the transmission not getting enough lubrication. The gears in your transmission could ultimately wear down faster from the lack of higher lubrication which can cause major transmission issues down the road.
That means you can also have some engine issues as well. When the transmission starts going out and breaks apart due to lack of lubrication, small metal shavings can be created.
Because the transmission and engine are connected in a motorcycle, that same oil also travels through the engine so the engine receives those metal shavings. That in itself can cause catastrophic damage. Because the engine and transmission are one unit on a motorcycle, when one goes out that means the other one is close behind and you may simply need to replace the whole unit.
If you have used car engine oil in your motorcycle, you will need to change your oil and replace it with oil meant for motorcycles as soon as you get a chance. Don’t plan on using car oil for a long period of time in your motorcycle.
The Right Oil To Use In A Motorcycle
Manufacturers usually make it pretty easy for the rest of us to know what oil is supposed to be used for which vehicle. Most motorcycle oils will specifically say on the bottle that it’s meant for a motorcycle so we don’t mistake what kind of oil we’re purchasing.
With that being said, you can’t simply walk into the auto store and grab any oil bottle that has a picture of a motorcycle on it. Each motorcycle requires a certain viscosity of oil that you need to use. You can tell which type of oil your motorcycle needs by either reading the oil cap, reading the owner’s manual, or looking it up online.
Aside from the type of viscosity your motorcycle requires, you should also know the type of oil you need with certain types of additives and materials inside of it; There are three main types.
The first type of motorcycle oil is mineral oil or MO. This is the most basic type of oil and is recommended for smaller capacity motorcycles or motorcycles that don’t have large engines. This is usually the more affordable type of oil and considered more generic
The second type of oil is semi-synthetic oil or SS. This is a mixture between mineral oil and full synthetic oil. This oil is usually used with motorcycles that are still on the smaller capacity scale but are used daily such as your daily commute to work.
The third type of oil is fully synthetic oil or FS. This is a type of oil that is best used for high performance motorcycles with engines that are put under a lot of stress. This may include super bikes or race machines. This is considered the most expensive and highest quality of oil.
Some of these oils are interchangeable with the motorcycle you have, but you’ll need to be careful with how you do that. Using synthetic oil on a smaller capacity motorcycle hardly holds any bad outcomes while using mineral oil in a high performance motorcycle may cause issues.
How long does it take for gas to go bad in a motorcycle? Unstabilized gas in a motorcycle can start going bad in about 30 days. The exposure to oxygen eventually changes the chemistry of gas which can lead to gum and varnish deposits. Gas should not be used if it has been sitting for longer than 6 months. Stabilized gas should not be used after 6-12 months. Click here to see the article I wrote in further detail about this.
Can you use motorcycle oil in a car? Similar to using car engine oil in a motorcycle, it is possible to use motorcycle oil in a car engine. This should only be used as a temporary fix until you can get the right oil in there because long term use could mean eventual engine break down.