How to check your engine oil

Posted: 20 Oct 2013

How to check your engine oil

Before you start

Your engine needs oil to lubricate and cool the internal components and, to a fair extent, carry metallic and burnt debris to the filter. Not enough oil leads to engine component failure and a hefty bill for repair work. No oil at all means instant component/major engine failure and an even bigger bill to pay. The worst case scenario is you could pay with your life!

There is only one rule attached to checking your engine oil: check your engine oil frequently. There is no single method to checking a bike’s oil level because every make and model can have be different in how to check a specific bike’s oil level. The best thing to do is read the owner’s manual for your bike.

Tips to help check your engine oil

If your bike has an enclosed engine case and the oil level is measured by means of a screw-in dipstick, look in the owner’s manual to see if the bike needs to be in an upright position, with both wheels on the floor and not just on a mainstand, to get the right oil level reading. And also whether the dipstick needs to be screwed in place or resting on the top of the threaded section. Always wipe the dipstick with a lint/fluff-free material upon removal and then check the oil level. Never place the dipstick on dirty ground where it could pick up grit.

Never check engine oil level with a hot engine unless the manufacturer states this is the case. The reason being a greater amount of the engine oil will still be in key parts of the engine until it drains down back into the engine sump/reservoir/lower cases. Topping up a hot engine can lead to overfilling the engine and cause other problems; the usual is excess oil being fired out under pressure into the airbox.

Screw-in type dipsticks should not be over tightened when reinstalling. Apply a smear of oil onto the dipstick’s sealing to prevent it sticking and getting trapped before you securely hand tighten. It should screw into place easily but if it doesn’t it could mean you have cross-threaded – back it off and try again. If the dipstick won’t unscrew by hand do not hit it with something hefty because aluminium breaks! Instead, use the full inside length of a pair of bullnose pliers to add leverage and gently turn.

Some bikes have a see-through viewing window to check oil level. These usually have marks for maximum and minimum oil levels. Again consult the manual to see if the bike needs to be upright and cold to obtain the correct level reading.

Some classic and two-stroke machines have a ‘level hole’ to check oil level. This means a bolt/screw needs to be undone and, depending on the oil level, will either emit oil or not. Topping up needs to be enough so that a small amount of oil weeps from the hole and ensure the copper/fibre sealing washer isn’t missing when you replace the bolt/screw.


Always use new and the correct grade of oil when topping up. Do not ‘dump’ oil into the engine because it is easier to add oil rather than taking it out! Gradually add a small amount at a time. Cold, new oil takes a while to reach the dipstick area so be patient. Never overfill with oil under the assumption it’ll settle down or get thrown/pumped to where it should be. If a funnel or other device is required to access the oil filler hole make sure it is clean. Always wipe off spilt oil.

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