Do Motorcycles Burn Oil? (9 Important Facts Explained!)

All motorcycles using an internal combustion engine will use up oil through burning at some stage.

It is one of two main ways in which oil levels in the motorcycle can drop, the other being leaking.

Burning oil is to be expected, and is nothing to be alarmed about unless it starts to happen in excess.

This article answers the question: “Do Motorcycles Burn Oil?”…

How Much Oil Does A Motorcycle Burn?

A motorcycle might burn up to a quarter of its 3-4 quarts of oil over the course of 3,000 miles. If it’s synthetic oil, it might be over a longer period, but if there is a burning issue, it can burn up that much oil in between changes. A little burn between changes isn’t a big problem.

As soon as the oil burn starts to affect motorcycle on-road performance, it is an issue and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Why Does My Motorcycle Burn Oil?

In an ideal world, your oil level would remain exactly the same between changes, but alas it does not.

There are two main reasons for oil burning off.

The first is the creation of leaks in the valve stem seals.

Located at the top of the combustion chamber, the valve stem seals often have oil around them as the oil is constantly pumped all around the engine area to keep key parts lubricated.

Any oil that is left up there when the bike is finally switched off will just sit there.

Once it’s there, and sitting idle, and you have a slightly worn valve stem seal, small amounts of oil will seep through into the combustion chamber.

These will burn off almost immediately upon starting the motorcycle up again.

The other common scenario is caused by the oil on the piston rings.

Once again, the oil will gather at the sides of the pistons which helps to keep it all lubricated and prevents overheating.

When this oil gets past the rings while you’re traveling at high RPMs, it also gets into the combustion chamber and will burn up.

This is how oil can be burned while you’re on the road.

So, the first method burns oil when starting up the motorcycle, and the second burns oil while you’re on the road traveling at higher speeds.

How Do You Know If Your Motorcycle Is Burning Oil?

The main sign to look for is excess fumes, especially blue exhaust smoke.

If when you start up the engine you get a burst of blue smoke from the exhaust, then you are experiencing the leaky valve stem seal problem.

If on the other hand, you are experiencing excess exhaust fumes when you turn the accelerator at high RPMs, then you are most likely experiencing the internal engine leak via the engine piston rings.

These are the best ways to know if you are burning oil.

You can also check on this problem by inspecting your oil level.

On your bike, this means inspecting it either via its dipstick or its oil sight glass.

You can inspect the levels and make sure they are where they are meant to be.

If you notice a significant drop in oil after 1,000 miles, then you might be burning oil excessively.

How To Prevent Oil Burn On A Motorcycle?

The first thing to do is inspect the system for any sign of outward leaks, as well as internal leaks that are more responsible for excessive oil burning.

The two main areas to check are the piston rings and the valve stem seals.

Unless you have a piece of strong prior knowledge and experience in motorcycle repair, this is a task that you will likely struggle to do yourself.

It’s, therefore, best to take the motorcycle to a mechanic.

Have the mechanic inspect the engine for signs of oil being burned in the combustion chamber and from where the oil may be leaking into the chamber itself.

How Do I Add Oil To My Motorcycle?

The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t overfill the engine with oil.

An engine with too much oil sloshing around can probe equally as problematic as an engine with low levels of oil in it.

The first thing you have to do is determine how much additional oil your motorcycle needs.

The best way to do this is to use the sight glass located at the side of the oil reservoir.

To do this, you may need the help of another friend to help you spot the oil level in the glass while you sit atop the bike. The bike needs to be sitting up straight to get an accurate reading.

Reading the sight glass is easy, but first, you need to confirm the location of the upper and lower notches of the sight glass.

Once you are clear on the position of the two notches, your goal will be to top up the oil so the level sits in between the two notches.

It’s important that the bike is standing up straight when you check the level and add oil.

If it is tilted to move the oil reservoir toward you, for example, then what oil there is will rush into the sight glass and fill it up.

This won’t give you an accurate reading.

This is why the assistance of another person or a camera is useful so you can inspect the sight glass when the bike is upright.

Atop the reservoir, there should be a screw cap.

Carefully remove the cap and top up the oil via the spout there.

Use a funnel if directly pouring from the oil container is awkward, which might be depending on the size of the container you are using.

Get the oil level to the ideal position according to the sight glass, and then restore the cap. Job done.

Can You Use Any Oil In A Motorcycle?

There is some consensus that in the event of an emergency to help get out of difficult situations, using just about any engine oil in the motorcycle should be okay.

If you just needed enough in the engine to ensure you could run the engine smoothly for a short journey to the auto shop for instance, then that would be alright.

The same consensus points out, however, that consistently using either non-motorcycle-specific oil or oil not intended for your particular model of motorcycle is a bad idea.

The best oil to use is a brand and type that is engineered for your motorcycle size, brand, and style.

These designations are not arbitrary.

There are genuine differences in the way the oil is formulated.

What Happens If I Put Too Much (Or Too Little) Oil In My Motorcycle?

The first thing to say is that nothing good will happen when you put too much oil in your motorcycle.

First of all, overfilling the reservoir can cause the oil to get pushed out of the breather hose.

This pushes it into the airbox, which then can result in excess oil entering the intakes and clogging the air filters.

If you have too little oil, it will also be rather calamitous.

Without proper oil flow, the engine will not be lubricated, which will cause increased friction and rapidly lead to overheating within the engine.

The lubrication and natural cooling effect are two of the main reasons for having engine oil in there in the first place. To have too little is to diminish those critical effects.

How Long Can A Motorcycle Run Without Oil?

In real and practical terms, your motorcycle engine cannot run without oil. It’s that simple.

Speaking strictly in a mechanical sense, however, it could start up and operate without oil, but it would last no more than 30 minutes.

This is because, in the absence of oil, the engine would quickly overheat from friction, not to mention the intense wear and tear that would be going on all the time.

This lethal combination of factors would cause catastrophic engine failure.

What Happens When There Is No Engine Oil In the Bike?

Having no engine oil in your motorcycle is a lot like having only a little oil, but the worst effects will come about much faster.

When there is no engine oil in the bike, there is no lubrication of the moving parts, nor is there the additional cooling effect of that lubrication that assists the engine coolant in preventing overheating.

Therefore, when there is no oil in the bike engine, the engine will quickly fail, likely within 30 minutes.

The cause of the failure will be excessive friction and overheating.

There are many brands of motorcycle-specific oil available, but the following are often regarded as the best ones:

  • Amsoil ENG & Trans Motorcycle Oil
  • Red Line 20W/50 Motorcycle Oil
  • Honda 08213-10W30 Motorcycle Oil
  • Bel-Ray EXP Synthetic Ester Blend 4T Engine Oil
  • Castrol Power

These brands are well formulated.

The Honda brand is indicative too of other brand-specific oils that many OEMs make for their bikes.

If you can use OEM oil, it’s a good choice because it’s engineered with the specific design of your motorcycle engine in mind.