Can You Store A Motorcycle Without Oil? What You May Not Know

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There’s a lot to consider when you are thinking about storing your motorcycle for a long time. You’ve probably heard a lot of the do’s and don’ts when it’s comes to motorcycle storage, and sometimes those can contradict themselves.

A frequently asked question regarding motorcycle storage is about the oil. Some people are a little hesitant about what to do with the oil because it’s such an important component to the motorcycle.

Can you store a motorcycle without oil? Storing a motorcycle without oil in it gives you a higher probability of damage than it would to just leave oil inside the engine. Lack of oil leaves room for condensation to build up and therefore rust may form inside the engine which can be difficult and/or expensive to repair.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are wanting to take good care of your motorcycle. The oil inside a motorcycle provides vital functionality whether or not it’s running. This article will explain why you shouldn’t store your motorcycle without oil and some alternatives that can help your situation.

Storing A Motorcycle Without Oil

If you’re an avid motorcycle enthusiast like me, you don’t necessarily like that time of year when you have to put your bike away for the season and wait for it to become warm enough to ride it again. But storing a motorcycle for long periods of time is completely doable and quite easy, but the proper steps need to be taken in order for your motorcycle to work right when it comes time to start it up.

You’ll hear a lot about what you should do with the tires, gas, etc. when you store a motorcycle, but one of the most controversial subjects is whether or not you need to keep oil inside the engine during long periods of time without using it. It makes sense that people questions this because if you’re not using the motorcycle, what’s the point of having lubrication?

The truth is, you can increase your chances of causing damage to the motorcycle engine not having oil inside than you would if you simply left the oil in it. It is true that used oil has developed some acidic and corroding properties and when left sitting inside a motorcycle engine, it could possibly cause some corrosion.

When people hear the words “corrosion,” especially inside an engine, they’ll do anything to avoid it. And I don’t blame them. You absolutely don’t want any sort of corrosion or breakdown inside any engine; that could be an expensive fix. So people resort to just simply removing the oil altogether so the oil doesn’t potentially cause any damage.

The problem with that, however, is when the compartments inside the engine are left open and empty, that leaves room for condensation to build up. Condensation is likely to build up in non-climate controlled areas, especially if you’re storing your motorcycle for the winter. When condensation builds up, that increases the chances for rust to form which can be an absolute headache to fix later on, not to mention expensive.

While there is nothing stopping you from removing the oil from your engine before you store your motorcycle, it is better to leave the oil inside because the damages condensation can cause is far greater than the potential damage caused by used oil. For more information about how to store your motorcycle long term, see my other article here.

Another point I’d like to make is that not everyone remembers that they removed the oil from the engine before they stored their motorcycle. Or someone else may be taking it out of storage for you and may be unaware that there’s no oil in it. Trying to start a motorcycle without the right lubrication can be detrimental to the motorcycle.

Speaking of storing your motorcycle, you might want to consider getting lay-up insurance. This type of insurance will still insure your dormant motorcycle and cover damages, but it does not cover road use. This is a much cheaper option while you’re not using your motorcycle on the road. Click here to view a list of insurance agencies and compare rates that are specific for you and your lay-up needs.

What You Should Do Instead

So if you shouldn’t leave your motorcycle oil-less during the time you store it but don’t want to have used oil sitting inside the engine, what should you do instead to ensure your motorcycle has the best future?

Before storing your motorcycle, you should always change the oil so fresh lubrication is sitting inside the engine during that time. This should be done every time you store your motorcycle. Even if you changed your oil only a few months ago, it’s best to be safe and change it again.

Unlike used oil, fresh oil that is sitting inside the motorcycle engine doesn’t have near as many acidic and corroding properties. When oil gets used, it’s constantly heated up and mixed which slightly changes the chemistry of it altogether. That’s what causes it to have those acidic properties.

Fresh oil won’t have that so you can be assured that those bearings and rods are well soaked and ready to sit for months to come. But don’t feel like you have to use the expensive oil in this case. It’s permissible to use the cheaper brands of oil and let that sit in your motorcycle while you’re not using it. The reasons that make the oil cheap only apply to how it lubricates when the motorcycle is running, so it would be just as effective sitting in the engine as expensive oil would be.

After you change your oil, it’s best to let the motorcycle run for 15 minutes to let the new oil circulate throughout the engine and ensure all those parts are receiving the better lubrication. That way you know all parts will be sitting nicely during your storage months.

How Long Can Oil Sit?

If you’re going to be storing your motorcycle for a while, you may be wondering whether or not the oil you keep inside the engine has an expiration date. This is especially important to know if you’re storing your bike for longer periods of time, such as a year or more.

When motorcycle oil is sitting in it’s original bottle, it’ll last for several years if kept in the right conditions. But once it’s opened and is exposed to oxygen and other elements that it’s touching, the life and reliability of the oil goes down.

My rule of thumb is to change the oil in your motorcycle every 4,000-5,000 miles driven or every six months, whichever comes first. That’s because whether or not you’re using your oil, it will eventually break down (though not using it will break it down much slower).

With that being said, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to change the oil in your motorcycle every six months it’s in storage when you’re still not planning on using it for a while. The point is, however, to portray to you that it is very important that you change your oil as soon as you take the motorcycle out of storage and you plan on using it regularly.

It may seem pointless to have to change oil in an engine when all the oil did was sit for several months. But just know that it has broken down and doesn’t hold the same properties as it did when it was first put in the engine.

When You Have To Empty The Oil

There may be times where you are caught in a situation where you simply are left with no choice but to drain the oil out of the motorcycle engine. Such instances may include if you’re storing it in your house, shipping it across the country, or if the storage unit you’re using prohibits any fluids residing inside the bike while it is on their property.

Cases like this are understandable and sometimes that’s just how it is for some of us motorcycle owners. Luckily there are a few things you can do to still keep the insides of your motorcycle safe despite having to take out the oil.

If you must empty the oil, empty it when the motorcycle is cold. Oil that has been circulated and has become hot will likely drain more and will leave less residual oil behind. Draining the oil while it’s cold means the oil is more thick and some will stay in places that could still be beneficial for your engine while it’s sitting for a while. This way you are complying with the rules but know there’s still a little bit of oil in there doing it’s job.

You can also try negotiating with those who require you to empty all the fluids out of your motorcycle while you’re storing it. For example, if you’re using a storage unit that requires no fluids inside the vehicle, try to explain to them how it could potentially harm the motorcycle more keeping oil out than it would just leaving it in. Also try to point out that engine oil is less flammable than gasoline.

Another option, though as painful as it may be, is to simply sell your motorcycle and get a new one when you’re able to ride. Instead of leaving your motorcycle in storage and letting it depreciate while still making loan payments and/or insurance payments, you could save yourself some money by reinvesting in another bike when you have the time/ability to ride again.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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