Changing the oil on a motorcycle may seem like a simple task, and for the most part it is. But there are a few things to think about while you’re prepping to do it, and one of those things is whether or not you need to warm up your motorcycle before changing the oil.
Should I warm up my motorcycle before changing the oil? It is ideal to warm up your motorcycle before changing the oil. This allows the oil to become thinner and therefore flow out of the engine quicker and more completely. In addition, a warmed up motorcycle allows the oil to suspend debris and expel it with the oil.
I’ve changed the oil in a lot of engines, and I can honestly say that I prefer cold engines, since cold oil doesn’t burn my hands. However, what is best for the engine? The best and fastest oil change will come from a hot engine.
Benefits Of Warming Up Your Motorcycle Engine Before Changing The Oil
Changing the oil in a warm motorcycle engine offers two main benefits. First, the oil will be thinner and be able to flow out of the engine quicker and more completely. Hot motor oil is thinner than cold motor oil by design. Motor oil is manufactured to have two viscosities. These viscosities are indicated on the front of the bottle and they dictate whether or not it is the correct oil for the engine.
For example, 5W-30 is an oil that’s maximum thickness is 5 in the winter or at low temperatures. 5W-30’s minimum thickness or maximum thickness is rated at 30; this is the viscosity that the oil will reach at operating temperature. This higher viscosity allows the oil to coat the internal parts of the engine better, providing better lubrication and protection from wear and tear. The higher viscosity also makes the oil thinner which results in a faster flow rate when draining the oil.
Manufacturers generally recommend an oil such as 5W-30, 0W-20, or 15W-40. The oil chosen by the manufacturer is designed to provide the lubrication, cooling, and cleaning that the engine needs, while not breaking down within the temperatures and loads that the engine will apply to it. If you need to know which oil is right for your motorcycle, you can check the owner’s manual or google the make, model, and year to find the recommended oil.
Some manufacturers will also recommend the brand of oil that they believe works best in their engines such as Valvoline, Pennzoil, or Amsoil. This could have something to do with the additive blend that is added to their oil or it could be the oil that the engine was built and tested with due to business deals. Regardless, I usually recommend sticking with the manufacturer-recommended brand just in case that oil actually does have helpful additives.
Secondly, the hot engine oil will be full of any debris or contaminants that are in the engine. This would not be the case if the oil sat overnight as the debris would have had an opportunity to separate from the oil. If the engine was running just before you began the process of changing the oil, the debris will still be suspended in the oil which will allow it to be swept out of the engine block when you drain the oil. Therefore, a hot oil change allows for a cleaner and faster oil change.
How Long Should You Warm Up Your Motorcycle Before Changing The Oil?
Since a hot engine provides a better oil change, you will want to start and run the motorcycle before you get wrenching. You shouldn’t need to run the bike for too long in order to get it to operating temperature. It is generally recommended that you warm up your bike for at least 5 minutes to get the oil really pumping around before you ride.
This amount of time should suffice when warming the bike up for an oil change as well. You will want the engine to be between 150-230 degrees Fahrenheit as that is the operational range for motorcycles. Most engines will generally sit between 210 and 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
The amount of time that it will actually take for your motorcycle to warm up will depend upon several variables such as: ambient air temperature, coolant system type, and oil level.
Ambient Air Temperature
The engine will heat up faster if it is hot outside because the engine will be at a higher temperature, to begin with, and it will not have as much of a temperature differential with the air it is using for combustion. However, if it is cold outside, the bike will take quite a bit longer to reach operating temperature due to your base starting temperature and air intake being so much further from our operating temperature of 150-230 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coolant System Type
Depending on your motorcycle you will have either an air-cooled engine or a liquid-cooled engine. A liquid coolant system works better at cooling so it will probably take a few minutes more to warm up than an air-cooled engine would. This would mean that while an air-cooled motorcycle might take 3-5 minutes to warm up, a liquid-cooled engine might need 5-8 minutes to reach operating temperature.
If you are worried that your engine is not warm enough, you can check the temperature with a digital thermometer or a thermal imaging gun.
What If You Can’t Get Your Motorcycle Started Before Changing The Oil?
If you can’t get your motorcycle to start, but you went out to change the oil, then you might want to call up a shop and see when they could take a look at your bike. I would recommend this route because you can always have them do the oil change while they are working on getting your bike running.
This route might save you a bit of money depending on what was wrong with the motorcycle. Many shops will only charge money for parts on jobs that require extensive deconstruction and reconstruction because the initial job comes with a charge, and replacing old parts that you have already removed with new parts doesn’t require extra work. Depending on the issue your motorcycle is having, this could apply.
If the motorcycle is just having an issue with its battery or starter then you will probably be paying for the oil change. On the upside, your motorcycle will be up and running, which means you can finally go for a ride.
If you can’t start your motorcycle before changing the oil due to a low oil level, then you should be fine to go ahead with changing the oil. You just need to remember to service it again as close to the recommended oil change mileage or date as possible. Clean oil is better than dirty oil. Changing the oil while it is hot maximizes the amount of grime you will get out of the engine, which allows the oil to stay cleaner longer. However, changing the oil cold is definitely better than not changing the oil at all.
Precautions To Take While Changing Hot Motorcycle Oil
When changing hot motor oil in a motorcycle, it is important to be cautious so that you don’t burn yourself. I recommend wearing a pair of nitrile gloves and being very careful around the exhaust pipes as those get very hot. I recommend the nitrile gloves because they are disposable and if or when you get hot oil on your hands they are very easily shucked off which saves you from hot oily burns. Once the drain plug and the oil filter is loose it’ll start leaking pretty quickly, so it’s best to get everything ready to go beforehand.
What I generally do is put the drain pan next to me and start loosening the drain plug. Once the plug is broken free and you can turn it by hand, slide the pan underneath and start using just your fingertips to turn the plug. This minimizes contact with the oil so that you can avoid burning your hand. Then you can quickly pull the plug out and away from the oil.
If the plug is on super tight you need to be careful to not tip the bike over; if you have another person around, you could ask them to straddle the bike and hold it still while you work on loosening the plug. This can also free up a little space so you can turn the wrench better. If there is no one around that you trust to hold the motorcycle, you can put it on some center stands if you have those, or just be very careful when applying force to the oil filter.
If the plug is too hot to touch you can keep using the wrench or socket that you started with but be careful because some motorcycles arrange things very tightly and your socket wrench could get stuck in between the drain plug and the exhaust pipe or frame, whichever is most adjacent on your bike.
Finally, make sure that you have a new washer for the drain plug if your motorcycle requires that, and make sure to replace the oil filter with the recommended replacement. When installing the new oil filter I always take a bit of the new oil and run it around the rubber gasket on the filter as this allows it to create a good seal without getting ripped apart.