How to Change Your Motorcycle’s Engine Oil and Filter

Changing your motorcycle’s oil on time is the most important thing you can do to keep your engine healthy, and DIY oil and filter changes are a simple way to save money as a motorcycle owner.
The entire process takes only 20 to 30 minutes and doesn’t require much in terms of tools and supplies. If you’ve assembled your TSM toolkit, you already have everything you need. Otherwise, we recommend getting an oil catch pan, nitrile gloves, a rag, a wrench to remove the drain plug, a torque wrench to reinstall it, an oil filter wrench, and any tools you might need to remove your bike’s belly if necessary. Of course, you’ll also need a new filter, the appropriate oil as listed in your manual, and a replacement sealing washer for the drain bolt.
Once your gear is ready, position your bike. Use a rag to clean dirt from the drain plug and around the oil filter, then loosen the drain plug with an appropriate combination wrench or socket from your kit. Once you’ve overcome the initial tension on the bolt, you should be able to unscrew it by hand, and you’ll know it’s about to come free when you see oil starting to drip past the threads.
Make sure the drain pan is under the bike, and ensure the pan’s vent is open so the oil doesn’t bubble and spurt while draining. Try to position your hand and forearm so you don’t get splattered with oil. Even so, always keep a rag in your free hand ready to clean oil off your forearm.
Keep an eye on the sealing washer; it usually comes off the bolt but sometimes sticks to the engine. If you’re working with the bike on the side stand and the drain plug isn’t on the downhill side of the engine, hold the bike upright for a moment to help drain out all the old oil. As the oil drains, note its color and condition, as it can indicate engine issues. It should be dark but shouldn’t smell burnt, and if you see metal flakes mixed in, it’s a sign that things aren’t going well with your engine’s moving parts. Likewise, if the oil is milky or pale, it usually means coolant is mixing into the oil, often due to a leaking head gasket.
With the old oil out, it’s time to move on to the oil filter.
Some bikes, like many KTM and Honda dual-sport models, have internal cartridge filters, while most street bikes use a spin-on automotive-style filter. If you have a cartridge, they’re easy to replace, but make sure not to install the new filter backward. In fact, go ahead and snap a photo of the old filter before removing it, just for reference.
To remove a spin-on filter, use a strap wrench, filter pliers, or filter socket. With the filter off, pour oil into it and let it drain into the catch pan. Now use a clean rag to wipe the filter mating surface and ensure the old filter’s O-ring doesn’t stick to the engine. It’s rare, but it can happen and interfere with installing the new filter.
Now, your bike’s drain plug likely uses a copper, aluminum, or fiber sealing washer, or perhaps an O-ring. It’s always advisable to replace the washer or O-ring, but I won’t lie, I’ll reuse an aluminum or copper washer if it’s not chewed up. My wife’s car has been running with a rotated washer for nearly 100,000 miles without issues. Whatever you do, make sure the washer is in place and start the plug by hand before using a tool to avoid cross-threading; it’s easy to do since the bolt is often in an awkward spot.
The typical torque spec on a drain plug is 14 to 16 foot-pounds, but don’t take my word for it—check your damn manual and please use a torque wrench. New mechanics tend to over-tighten things and damage the engine’s threads—because the steel bolt threads are stronger than the aluminum case threads—it’s the easiest way to turn a simple oil change into a minor disaster. If you strip threads on your bike, don’t worry, we have a video guiding you through repairing stripped threads, including those on the drain plug.
The next easiest way to ruin an oil change? Forgetting to put oil back in the bike. Don’t laugh, it happens! Your manual will list the type and amount of oil to add, and it will also say whether the oil level should be checked with the bike on the side stand or held upright. Either way, once the oil level is set, start the bike and let it run for a minute, then shut it off, recheck the oil level—which usually drops a bit because the new filter absorbs some volume—and check the filter and drain plug for leaks.
If needed, top off with oil, and if everything looks good, you’re done. Feels great, doesn’t it? If you want to feel even better, call your local dealer and ask them how much it would cost and how long it would take for them to handle what you just tackled in 30 minutes. I’m not knocking dealerships and shops, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t tackle your oil changes. And now you know how.


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How to Change Your Motorcycle’s Engine Oil and Filter


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