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Slick operation! How to change your motorbike oil and filters

Published: 08 August 2019

Updated: 08 August 2019

The oil in your motorbike’s engine plays an incredibly important role. It acts as a cushion between moving parts, such as between camshaft and head, reducing friction and wear.

Furthermore, it plays a part in the transfer of excess heat away from the motor via an oil cooler, increasing efficiency and performance.

To ensure it remains within its tolerances and as effective as it needs to be, regular attention needs paying to both your oil and its filter. You should always adhere to oil change schedules as advertised in your bike’s manual – bike builders have spent thousands of hours working out when a motorcycle engine oil is going to break down.

While you're at it, you may as well change the air filter in your airbox too. This is the part that collects debris from the air as it enters your motor, and after a while will need a good clean or even replacement.

Before you follow the step-by-step guide to changing your motorcycle oil outlined below, ensure you’ve purchased the correct oil, filter and tools to work on your bike. You’ll need your manual to confirm the viscosity required (how thick the oil is) and the size of filters. Also consider the type of oil suggested - usually high quality synthetic oil, particularly for high performance bikes. 

The below shows a typical oil and filters change on a 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R, but should be relatively representative of the vast majority of motorcycles.

Step-by-step: How to change your motorcycle’s oil and filters

1. Changing your bike’s oil and filters doesn’t have to be hard work

Changing your bike’s oil and filters doesn’t have to be hard work

A basic oil swap and filter change is part of routine servicing and should happen in regular intervals as detailed in the owner’s manual. Once your bike is out of warranty, it’s a task you can add to your own at-home maintenance regime. It’s fairly straightforward but check with a manual and ensure that you’re confident and understand the steps.

2. Get familiar with your filters and where they live

Get familiar with your filters and where they live

The air and oil filters are usually located under the petrol tank and at the bottom of the engine respectively. The first step is to remove all the necessary bodywork and the petrol tank. This 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R has a typical layout with the air intake, containing the motorcycle air filter, under the fuel tank and the oil filter located behind the exhaust downpipes.

3. Lifting the lid on the airbox

Lifting the lid on the airbox

Remove the fastening screws from the airbox lid and gently lift the lid off. The air filter will be housed underneath. Carefully remove the filter, making a note of which way up it is facing. Be sure to keep it level as often there are small stones or debris on top of the filter which could fall into the open airbox and through into the inlet tracts.

4. Wipe and check motorbike air filter

Wipe and check motorbike air filter

Before installing the new air intake filter, check that both the airbox and lid are clean and free from debris. Wipe the inside of the lid with a clean rag to remove all traces of dirt and dust, and apply filter cleaner as per the instructions on the bottle. At this point it’s also important to compare the new filter against the old to check that you have the correct part. They should be identical in shape and size.

5. Check filter fitment within airbox

Check filter fitment within airbox

Install the air filter into the airbox. There is usually a lip for it to locate into all the way around the perimeter. A snug fit is necessary in order to force air through the filter and not around it. The importance of correct fitment is vital and is one of the many reasons to use genuine parts.

6. Remove the sump plug

Remove the sump plug

Now: oil filter. If the bike is cold, run the engine briefly to warm the oil so it flows out faster. Locate the sump plug, partially undo it using a spanner then spin it out by hand and allow the oil to flow into a tray. Clean and inspect the sump plug, remove the old washer seal and replace with a new one.

7. Free the oil filter

Free the oil filter

Reposition the drain tray so it can catch any oil from the filter as it is removed but is also still under the sump in order to catch the last drops. Undo the filter using a filter wrench or suitable tool; often they can be quite tight, so make sure you have a good purchase on it. Once it has been undone a turn or two you can remove it by hand.

8. Install the new oil filter

Install the new oil filter

Wipe away all traces of oil and grime from beneath the area where the oil filter was sitting, taking special care of the flat surface where the filter O-ring seats. Lightly oil or grease the O-ring on the new filter then install. Tighten the filter by hand and then torque it up to spec. Be careful not to overtighten as this will make subsequent removal difficult. 

9. Clean up and retorque sump plug

Clean up and retorque sump plug

Before re-installing the sump plug, give the area where the bolt seats a clean with some paper towel and wipe away any residual oil, road dirt or debris. Screw the sump plug in then tighten it up firmly. Check in the manual if the plug requires torqueing up: this 2004 ZX-10R needs to be tightened to 20Nm.

10. Refill with fresh engine oil

Refill with fresh engine oil

Refer to your bike’s manual for the type and amount of oil your machine needs. Measure it out precisely then pour in through the filler. When you’ve poured in the correct amount, replace the filler cap and run the engine for a few minutes. Wait a short while and check the oil level. Make a visual check for any leaks around sump and filter, then replace the panels. 

Useful tools for a motorcycle oil and filter service

Filter wrench

Filter wrench

No, don’t just stab a screwdriver into the filter and twist it off. Treat yourself to a proper filter wrench. You can pick one up from as little as £5 and it’ll help you make a cleaner, easier job.

T-bar Allen keys

T-bar Allen keys

Great for spinning off non-critical fasteners like bodywork bolts, T-bars bring a bit of speed to undoing bolts and also help to ensure that you don’t overtighten when doing them up.

Torque wrench

Torque wrench

Absolutely essential for ensuring those critical, oil-retaining bolts are nipped-up correctly. A perfect biking torque wrench should have a 3/8 drive and tighten to values of between 5 and 60Nm. To keep your wrench in spec, always undo the lock nut after every use and be sure not to drop it.

JIS crosshead screwdriver

JIS crosshead screwdriver

If your bike’s Japanese, invest in JIS (Japanese Industry Standard) screwdrivers to get the best fit for your far-eastern bike’s bolts and prevent unsightly rounding-off.

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