Dear MOby,

I just saw your answer regards oil change. My manual says that I need to change oil every 3000 miles. But I only ride about 1000 miles per year (very short commute). By the book, I need to perform oil change every three years. Do I really need to change oil every year? Is it okay to change oil every three years, just because I don’t ride that much?

Thank you
Jay

PS: Just to make myself comfortable, I do oil change once a year.


Dearest Jay,

You’re doing the right thing to change it every year. Every owner’s manual I’ve ever seen says X amount of miles (8,000 miles for the Honda CB300F manual I’m looking at now) or once a year between changes. And even the makers of super-zoot synthetic oils like Mobil 1 say it can go for 15,000 miles or one year.

What goes on, theoretically, is that if your oil never gets nice and hot – which it won’t do if you’re only riding short hops – the moisture from condensation and other combustion byproducts that wind up in your oil never get a chance to burn off and/or evaporate back out of the oil. And that’s not good. Then again, some experts say condensation isn’t a problem at all. Our man Evans says, why not make everybody happy, including yourself, and just take the long way home every couple of weeks?

Then again, nobody ever went broke mistrusting giant oil companies. SAE Paper 98144, available here if you have $27, “documents the development and testing of new synthetic engine oil technology under extended service intervals of up to 25,000 miles or three years. Exceptional performance has been demonstrated in industry standard North American (API) and European (ACEA) engine tests, as well as non-standard tests such as extended length engine tests, vehicle fuel economy retention tests, high mileage chassis rolls tests, and extended oil drain over-the-road vehicle tests under a wide range of driving conditions.”

This paper also contains the so-called “Aunt Minnie test”, in which a 3.1-liter automobile engine was run for 7,000 miles over a period of six years, two very short hops per day, on the same synthetic oil which never got up to optimum temperature. At the end of the six years, the engine was in fine shape and so was the synthetic oil, according to various online synopses.

But that’s a car, not a motorcycle, and your bike’s engine, in addition to working harder and spinning faster, probably has a wet clutch which also helps contaminate and wear out its oil.

Our most responsible advice would be to change your oil at least once a year, perhaps saving some money by using less-expensive dinosaur oil which meets your bike manual’s specification (probably SJ MA). If you despise performing the oil-change ritual, consider pouring in more expensive synthetic stuff (also with the correct ratings) every two years and be sure to check oil level every now and then of course. Good luck and let us know if your engine blows up.

Here, free of charge for your enjoyment, is an Evans Brasfield story complete with video, of how to change your oil the right way.

Previously in AskMOAnything:

When will my Battery Die?
Why Do OEMs Use Ball Bearings In Steering Heads?
What’s Up With The Ducati Sixty2?
Why Do OEMs Use Ball Bearings In Steering Heads?


Send your questions to AskMoAnything@motorcycle.com; send your complaints to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, D.C. If we choose to answer your question and get it wrong, consider it a valuable life lesson that’s absolutely free of charge.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Oh man

    You just opened a can of worms

    OIL THREAD!!!

    • Joe Blow

      We all got to go there sometime in our life. 😄

  • DickRuble
  • JMDGT

    Changing the oil is a small price to pay in the great art of motorcycle maintenance. So is adding an ethanol treatment to the fuel system. Know it learn it love it.

    • Joe Blow

      I bought some blue colored stuff at AutoZone last year but didn’t notice any diff. Should I or is it just affecting the engine wear and tear?

      • JMDGT

        Ethanol is moisture laden and is caustic to many parts within the fuel system. Lucas Oil makes a good additive. I see it as a better safe than sorry type thing. It is also inexpensive.

        • Joe Blow

          Thanks.

          • DickRuble

            A little planning goes a long way. Before you store the bike, try to run the bike on a low tank, then empty the tank before storing the bike or let it run until it burns all the gasoline. At the minimum, turn the petcock and drain the carburetor (if you have one). Ethanol gasoline degrades within 28 days. Ethanol free gasoline lasts up to three months. This works way better than any additive.

          • Joe Blow

            Since I don’t have to store Buddy, my 1985 250 Rebel for more than a week of weather cycles I will save your info for whenever I might.

          • DickRuble

            If it doesn’t sit more than a week you don’t need any additives. They do more harm than good in your situation. Turn the petcock to off and let the bike run until it empties the carburetor (or drain the carb). Buddy will be much happier next time it sees you.

          • Joe Blow

            Thanks.

          • JMDGT

            Dick, everything I have read about ethanol as a fuel additive points to it being caustic to engines regardless of any continual use.

          • DickRuble

            It is mildly corrosive to some plastics and rubbers but not to all. Some bikes have more issues than others. It is more damaging through what it does to carburetors through water absorption and separation from gasoline.

          • JMDGT

            It looks like the OEMs are learning as they go. Some coatings on metal parts have proven susceptible. Ducati had some component problems early on but it looks like they are implementing certain changes. So are some other manufacturers. Ethanol has no place in our fuel other than being something to subsidize. It adds no value.

          • DickRuble

            I certainly don’t disagree with your conclusion.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Not a problem here in CA. Ride 365 days a year.

          • DickRuble

            It’s like having cake every day.. you’ll end up with a solid case of diabetes.

          • Old MOron

            Ha ha, no, it isn’t. But you can get spoiled.

            “Hmm, the weather isn’t absolutely perfect today. Guess I’ll ride tomorrow.

  • Old MOron

    I like Evans’s course the best. Take the long way home.

  • Tim Sawatzky

    I don’t know what’s the “right” way, but I change my oil every spring and then I change it in fall right before it goes to bed for the winter (if it’s a good summer with lots of riding, I’ll do one in the middle too). I heard it wasn’t good for the seals if you leave dirty oil in there over winter, so that’s just what I do. All I know is that in the Spring, with basically un-used oil that sat there over the winter, it always comes out black. I’m always a little surprised how dirty it looks even though it’s been sitting over the winter. For my car, it says oil is good for X Km (Canada), or 6 months. But maybe that’s for our stupid weather.

    • DickRuble

      I say you do an experiment. Drain the oil at the end of season, refill with some cheap oil, run the engine for 15 minutes, drain again, then refill. Check back in the Spring. Exxon and Mobil will probably hand you the oil for free since you’re probably their biggest customer in Canada.

  • Joe Blow

    Oil is so cheap compared to a new engine. Change it every X miles according to your condition…regular long/short rides, long hot seasons, etc. I have a magnetic dip stick that yes, does work as I find little stuff on its tip whenever I check my oil.

    I put 4000 miles on Buddy ladt year and had two oil changes, one when I bought him and another at about 2000 miles.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      It will be sad day when you have to put Buddy to sleep.

      • Joe Blow

        Ouch! You do mean storage not demise don’t you? 😧

  • RevD

    I guess someone has to say it and it might as well be me: why not just follow the owners manual?

  • not-a-fanboi-honest

    Isn’t all the oil “dinosaur oil”? Even “fully synthetic”?

    • DickRuble

      Fully synthetic oil is made from natural gas. Mobil 1 used to make it that way. Then other manufacturers argued that the public shouldn’t care how it’s made. So if the customer thinks that it works as good as fully synthetic, then it’s fully synthetic. And the judges agreed.

      • Jay F

        That is total BS. Full synthetic is made from the rarest of silk. Found only in a certain venomous spider deep in the Amazons.
        It is dangerously extracted by hand and taken to a lab where it is then mixed with the egg yolk from the finest of golden eggs. The golden eggs are obviously dangerous to get, but that is where it gets it’s smooth milkiness color while the silk gives it the ever so smooth lubricating qualities.
        It is for this reason that I do not waste my oil. And generally speaking oil changes are almost a religious/ceremonial type procedure.

  • tristan50

    I have scientific proof that you can go longer then a year. I changed my Mercedes SLK230 Supercharged car at 3 1/2 years and 5500 miles. Sent oil sample it in for an oil analyst Blackstone Labs. http://www.blackstone-labs.com/ Results were great! One of the best reports they had tested. Used Mobil1 0/40
    I believe in getting the machine up to temperature for a while and giving her a good run to burn off and moisture, ect. before parking.
    As for my last new bike(Ninja 1000) I changed oil at 75 miles to get any filings out, then 1000, now every 4000 miles. I don’t worry about the time now that it not under warranty anymore.

    • BDan75

      Yeah, I’ve wondered if the one-year thing assumes you’re never getting up to temp. If you’re riding 50-75 miles at a shot, but just not doing that many total miles, seems like that’s a much better situation for oil life…

    • TonyCarlos

      Not sure how “scientific” your study is.
      First, it can be applied only to vehicles operated as yours is: continually brought up to full temperature. That is rare for most low mileage vehicles.
      Secondly, what did your oil analysts look for? Many simply look at the quality of the oil itself, not what else is in it. The problem with short trips is water contamination. Did your analysts look for that?

      • tristan50

        Go to the site. It tests for water, fuel, silicon(usually from air filter leaks ect.) , lead (rod bearings) aluminum (pistons), iron(cylinders, cams ect.) chrome, plus it checks for a dozen other things.

  • BDan75

    Eh…it’s a good excuse to perform a quick, easy maintenance task. You know: drag your ass off the floor several times as you mis-remember the drain plug size but refuse to admit defeat by just grabbing the whole socket set; fumble around and drop the drain plug in the oil; discover that your rubber glove is split as you fish around for the plug in the hot oil; struggle to remove the filter and then lose your grip as it suddenly comes loose and spews oil everywhere; ponder appropriate recycling strategies for piles of oil-soaked rags; refill new oil to capacity; just then, remember that the drain plug crush washer is still at the bottom of the oil pan. Debate running without washer, versus least-messy options for swapping plug. Finally, feel vaguely disappointed that the bike runs pretty much exactly the way it did before the oil change.

    And yet I keep coming back for more…

    • DickRuble

      I thought I was the only one who had the process flow figured out.

    • Jason M.

      That’s not maintenance, that’s an adventure.

    • Ken Altman II

      Wow, I am not the only one that sprays my shop floor with oil with every change….

  • Vrooom

    I’ve never really had the issue with not going far enough to change the oil in a year, BUT, I was thinking about my riding mower. I’ve probably gone a year many times without changing the oil, and it still runs great. The assumption that he never got the engine fully warmed up may not be valid, a 1000 miles could be 10 100 mile trips.

  • GodWhomIsMike

    I feel like I am wasting oil, money, time changing it. I ran my bike into December and pulled it out again in February. I put about 1500 miles on last season. I feel like I should run it for another 1000 before changing it. Most rides were 30+ miles on a Honda Rebel.

    • Jay F

      There is a company located in Indiana that’s called Blackstone. Go on their website and they will mail you a kit with everything you will need. When doing your next oil change pour the designated amount into the kit and send it to them. It’s like $20 or $25 bucks and they will diagnose the sample in their lab.

  • Paragon Lost

    It’s cheap, just play it on the safe side and replace it once a year regardless of not hitting the 3000 miles. I’m often amused on a similar topic about synthetic oil versus conventional oil. Guys grumbling about paying extra when they’re dealing with air cooled bikes down in the south or any other place with high heats.

    Why are you bemoaning and trying to be cheap when your bike costs 10k to 30k over a few bucks extra? Take care of the damn thing, it’s only got two wheels between you and the pavement. Hell for that matter, go to Harley’s website and pull up their outdoor bike covers.

    You’ll see guys bitching about paying 150.00 bucks for a cover, a cover for their 20k to 30k bike. Really guys? You can’t see the value in a cover for a cheap amount of money for your costly bike? People amuse and sadden me.

  • TomJeffNSons

    I just changed the oil today on my ’08 DL650. Back in the game!!! 2017!

  • wolzybk

    I end up changing it 2 or 3 times a year, depending on how much I ride that year. Twice is minimum, though. By mileage, I change every 5K to 6K miles. I’m in NH, so I do have to store it for the winter, and it does get cold out in late fall and early spring. I ride a 1993 Ducati M900 Monster, typically about 11K to 12K per year. I change in the fall when it starts getting cold to full synthetic 10W/40, ride for a month or two and store it with that for the winter, ride for a month or two, then change when the weather starts to warm up to the originally recommended full synthetic 20W/50 for the main riding season. If it’s a high-mileage year (15K to 18K), I’ll do an extra change during riding season. I’ve got 260K now, on the original engine, so I’ll say this is a workable program. My wife has a 1995 Ducati M900 Monster, very similar to mine, but she rides more like 2K miles a year, and only when it’s nice and warm out, so I change her oil once a year, and keep the recommended full synthetic 20W/50 in it all the time.

  • toomanycrayons

    That settles it! I’m changing my oil after every ride, from now on, just to be sure.

    Nothing like folk-wisdom/folk-science to confirm whatever you want it to confirm.

    • TonyCarlos

      Not good enough. Severe wear is occurring WHILE you are riding. You need to master the delicate oil-change-while-riding procedure.

      • toomanycrayons

        Which reminds me of the WORST wear time: STARTING!!!

        My moved-back-in grad has a T-Shirt: “Stay Home Club.”

        https://stayhomeclub.com/products/stay-home-club-t-shirt

        What do THEY know, eh? So, if I don’t EVER ride, how often should I change the oil?

        Your post reminds me of the winter vs. all-season tire problem. As the temperature fluctuates above and below the crucial (industry-mandated) OPTIMUM performance (sales?) level should I be changing tires as I go? CAA seems reluctant to follow me around 24/7 to provide the service no charge. I assume AAA would have the same quibble.

        Perfection is the enemy of the merely good, as the saying goes. Some of us just want to achieve mediocrity at some point in life. ‘Still got a long way to go is all I can say…

  • Bubba Blue

    Every other year has never resulted in a problem on one of mine. I’m not sure what you’d expect to go wrong from not changing the oil more often than that. (assuming less than 1k mi./yr.)

  • Wurnman

    Anyone use or have used Ravenol oil for your superbike?