Does Motorcycle Oil Go Bad?


Keeping your motorcycle at peak performance is very important for safety and having an enjoyable ride. Motorcycles have very important lubricants and oils that allow them to function under the extreme pressures of weather and the specific driving style the motorcycle was designed for. 

Understanding when these lubricants and oils go bad is important for the life span of vital components such as your engine and transmission. 

Does motorcycle oil go bad? Motorcycle oil does go bad whether it be from over usage or simply extending its expiration date. Using bad oil in a motorcycle increases the chances of powertrain issues.  Be sure to look at your oil’s expiration date before using and always perform regular oil changes on your motorcycle.

Your motorcycle engine and transmission are important and the best way to keep them going is to make sure your oil doesn’t go bad and that you aren’t using bad oil. Your motorcycle is a big investment and we want to help you protect it. 

Why Motorcycle Oil Goes Bad

Over many years in the history of the gasoline engine, there has always been the push to go faster than ever before. It is cool to think about how far we’ve come since early motorcycles had a pretty low top speed. Now some bikes can go as fast as 200MPH off the showroom floor.

The engines in these machines have pushed the limitations of their lubricants as well. Think about it for a second. The RPM gauge on your motorcycle goes to what? 6,000 rpm if you are riding a cruiser bike, maybe 15,000 or more if you are riding a sports bike. These engines need a lot of security to run at those kinds of speeds, that’s why it is important to know why motorcycle oil goes bad. 

Motorcycle oil goes bad for a few reasons, but the most common is because it is being used! While you are carving up a canyon or hitting the track you may have the capacity to see your engine coolant temperature and maybe even your engine oil temperature. Do you remember what it read last you checked? 180 degrees Fahrenheit? 200 degrees Fahrenheit? 220 Degrees Fahrenheit? These engines get hot! 

Your engine oil is formulated with different mixtures of detergents and additives to fight against wear during the operation and run time of your engine and transmission. Why do I bring up the transmission with the engine? Most motorcycles will share lubricants between the engine and also the transmission. You can learn more about that from reading our article “How Does A Motorcycle Transmission Work?

Chemically these detergents will break down over time and usage. Your motorcycle oil is also subject to becoming contaminated with tiny microscopic pieces of metal as you drive your motorcycle. 

You have probably heard of intervals to change your motorcycle oil. It is important to remember this, as well as read your owner’s manual to understand when your particular motorcycle oil goes bad. 

How Long Does It Take For Motorcycle Oil To Go Bad? 

You wipe the dust off some oil containers you had forgotten about a few seasons ago. Your Uncle Rico flips his mullet and says “Run that oil boy, ain’t nothing wrong with it, it’s brand new!” You start to think, is it though? 

Motorcycle oil doesn’t necessarily have a set time that it goes bad per-se. Some lubricant companies may say it expires every 3 months or 3,000 miles while it is in the motorcycle being used. Some may say sooner than that. Is it a marketing scam to get you to change your oil sooner than later? Maybe.

Motorcycle oils as mentioned earlier are made with different levels of different additives and detergents to help them protect your motorcycle longer. There are synthetic oils that are completely man-made and others are called conventional oils that are refined from natural sources. 

Since natural oils weren’t necessarily made for high performance, synthetic oils provide a longer life span for your motorcycle and the motorcycle oil lasts longer. Most synthetic oils will give you a 5-6,000 mile timeline versus maybe 3-4,000 miles on conventional oil.

You can take a sample of your motorcycle’s oil and send it off to an oil testing company. They can tell you the status of the detergents, additives, and contaminants in your oil. This can be a fun way to find out how your oil is holding up.

Typically, if you notice your motorcycle oil is dark in color, it is a sign that it has gone bad. Another thing to watch out for is if your motorcycle oil smells like gas. This can be caused by fuel entering the engine oil somehow. If you notice a lot of glitter in your engine oil, as pretty as it is, it needs to be changed as well. To learn more about knowing when your motorcycle needs an oil change, see our other article “Signs your Motorcycle Needs An Oil Change.”

You would want to take it to a motorcycle technician as well to verify where that glitter may be coming from inside your motorcycle. Personally, I like to stick to the safe side of things and make sure I always change my oil according to the owner’s manual. 

Just like the milk in your refrigerator expires, engine oil can expire as well. I wouldn’t drink milk one month after it expired and still call it brand new if it wasn’t opened! Motorcycle oil is no different. 

When motorcycle oil sits on a shelf, the detergents and additives begin to deteriorate. It doesn’t mean that the oil isn’t going to look brand new. It is probably gonna be just as golden as the day you bought it. 

Unlike milk that expires fairly quickly sitting in a refrigerator, your engine oil takes more time to become completely useless sitting on a shelf. According to AutoZone, conventional oils, on average, can store for about five years before it loses their lubricating properties. While this can give hope that your engine oil is still good from 3 years ago, they say “on average”. My guess is that this is in a temperature-regulated environment away from moisture and other factors that could speed up the expiration of oil.  

What Will Happen To Your Motorcycle If You Use Expired Oil?

If you happen to have some oil that has been sitting around for 5 years or more you may want to ask yourself why did I have this oil sitting that long in the first place? Expired means the chemical makeup of the oil has changed since it was produced in the factory by a number of different factors as mentioned earlier. 

Putting this kind of oil in your motorcycle won’t “kill” it, but it should not be for an extended period of time. This oil won’t be able to provide the lubrication it was designed to because it has changed chemically. It is not the same oil you bought 5 years ago. 

Using expired oil should be a last option if you really take care of your machines. You don’t want to risk a lubrication failure at any time in a ride, at the track, or on a long cruise across state lines. Sometimes just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s the best option. 

While it is important to use newer oil it won’t be the “end all be all” for your bike, I hope. There are ways to make sure your motorcycle oil lasts as long as possible.

How To Prevent Oil From Going Bad As Quickly

Let’s go over how to store your motorcycle oil to get the most life possible and how to get the most life possible out of it while it is in your motorcycle.

If possible, try not to buy too much oil to begin with so you don’t have to worry about storing it for years. If there is a good sale maybe stock up for 2-3 oil changes max depending on how much you ride. Once you have come home from fighting everyone at the store over the best deal on motorcycle oil in ages, you’ll want to put it in a temperature-controlled environment. If you aren’t constantly heating or cooling your garage this may not be the best place. Try to find a shelf inside your home that can be used if possible. 

Prolonging the oil life in your bike is going to come down to a couple of factors. Realize how much you ride and how hard you ride and make sure to use a clean, new oil filter each oil change. If you ride your bike hard in the summer with temps over 100 degrees Fahrenheit it will be harder on your oil. 

Keeping an eye on your oil level is also important in helping it last longer. If you are burning more oil than you should it can really shorten the life of your oil and potentially cause damage to your motorcycle.

Be mindful of your motorcycle oil and make sure it is changed when it goes bad. This will ensure a safe ride and will keep your motorcycle running great for a long time. 

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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