Here’s What Happens When Motorcycle Runs Out Of Oil

Motorcycle run out of oil - Cover

An Engine Oil performs two main functions in a motorcycle – i) Lubrication and ii) Cooling.

So, what happens when the motorcycle runs out of oil? What are the damages to the engine and other parts of the motorcycle?

When you ride the motorcycle with low engine oil, problems are bound to happen depending on the distance traveled with low oil levels.

Motorcycle engine will start heating up since there is not much oil to act as a coolant. If you still ride the motorcycle, then the consequence will be:

  • Burnt Clutch Plates
  • Damaged Piston rings
  • Piston wear and damaged Cylinder lining
  • Impaired engine valves
  • Hard shifting of Gear
  • Increased Engine vibrations
  • Low Mileage

What does an Engine Oil do? The Functions of Engine Oil

Before going into the effects caused by a low oil levels on the motorcycle parts, let us first understand, what does an engine oil do in a motorcycle.

The two main functions of Engine Oil are:

  1. Lubrication
  2. Cooling

Lubrication

The engine parts in the motorcycle convert the fuel energy into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy is transferred through different parts of the motorcycle to the wheels.

In order to function smoothly and the energy transfer to take place without much loss, the engine oil provides lubrication between these engine parts.

The oil forms a slick film between the engine parts that are in contact with each other. This film reduces the friction and mitigates the wear significantly.

As a result, the mechanical energy is transferred smoothly when two engine components come in contact with one another.

Cooling

Along with providing lubrication to the engine parts, oil also acts as a coolant in the motorcycle. The mechanical energy transferred between the components will not be a perfect energy transfer. There will always be some dissipation of energy in the form of heat.

And that is where the engine oil comes in. The continuous flow of the oil across these engine parts, carries the heat and takes away from the frictional contact surface.

Since oil flows away the dissipated heat energy, the engine parts cool down significantly despite generating large amounts of heat.

This is another reason why a high heat resistance is recommended in an engine oil. Under any circumstances, the temperature of the oil should not exceed the flash point.

What are the Effects of Low Oil Levels?

When the oil levels are low in your motorcycle, the effects are obvious.

Motorcycle Engine
  • First, due to lack of sufficient lubrication in the engine, the engine parts see wear and tear. This is because as the oil levels go lower, the slick film that forms between the engine parts, thin out. As a result, the friction between the contact surfaces increase thereby causing the wear.
  • Second, since there is no continuous flow of oil in the system, the heat dissipated from the friction remains with the engine parts. As a result, the engine parts heat up with no oil there to act as the coolant.
  • Third, with no sufficient oil flow to carry the heat and cleanse the surfaces, carbon deposits start to form on the surfaces of the engine parts.

What are the damages caused because of low oil levels?

The damages caused when the motorcycle runs out of oil include:

  1. Burnt Clutch Plates: Clutch plates or the friction plates may get burnt out due to excessive friction and heat generated and with no sufficient oil flow to lubricate. Wet clutches need engine oils to operate smoothly.
  2. Damaged Piston rings: Piston rings may get damaged because of overheating. However, replacing the piston rings are easy and inexpensive as well.
  3. Damaged Cylinder lining: A damaged cylinder lining on the other hand is a serious issue. You might have to get it fixed which might require re-boring. This can turn out to be an expensive affair.
  4. Piston wear: Unlike piston rings, replacing piston itself can be quite expensive. Depending on the amount of damage and the area where there is a wear, you can get it fixed or replace it entirely. Usually piston wear will also be associated with a damaged cylinder lining since they are in contact with each other.
  5. Impaired engine valves: Engine valves may get damaged if the motorcycle runs out of oil. Although replacing valves is simple, the engine has to be taken apart and dismantled, which can be expensive for the motorcycle owner.
  6. Hard shifting of Gear: As there is no sufficient oil in the motorcycle, the gear shifting will not be smooth. You will feel the effort and noise while shifting the gears of your motorcycle.
  7. Increased Engine vibrations: The engine vibrations and the noise will increase considerably when your motorcycle runs out of oil.
  8. Low Mileage: The efficiency of the engine will drastically reduce down when the oil levels are low in the motorcycle. This reduced efficiency will cause low fuel mileage.

What are the Symptoms of Low Engine Oil?

If your motorcycle is running out of oil, how will you know about it? What are the symptoms of low or empty engine oil in your motorcycle?

  • Engine noise and vibrations get higher once the oil levels drop. If the oil is emptied, you can actually hear metal-to-metal clinking noise coming from the motorcycle.
  • Engine seizure. The engine may become seized if the engine is low on oil.
  • Increased temperature and a heated engine are another symptom of low engine oil in your motorcycle.
  • Few motorcycles have temperature gauge or oil sensor in them which can be used to identify low oil levels in the motorcycle.

The best way to check whether your motorcycle is running out of oil is to check the oil level in a dipstick. If you see nothing, that means the engine has run out of oil.

How far can your motorcycle go with low engine oil?

If you are running the motorcycle with low engine oil, the motorcycle will run until the engine seizes functioning.

The exact distance that you will travel will vary from motorcycle make to the other.

On an average, the motorcycle may last around 40 to 50 miles max.

However, one should be aware that although motorcycle may run for these many miles even with low oil levels, you are causing permanent and premature wear in the engine parts.

And as mentioned earlier, some of these wear in the engine parts may prove to be costly in the long run.

Okay, so what type of engine oil should be used once the motorcycle runs out of oil?

There are mainly 3 types of motorcycle oils.

  1. Mineral Oil
  2. Synthetic Oil
  3. Semi-Synthetic Oil

Mineral Oil

Composition: As the name suggests, mineral oils are sourced from petroleum processing. Different additives and friction modifiers are added to improve the viscosity of mineral oils for optimum lubrication.

Advantages: Affordable pricing even with frequent changes. Provides high protection.

Disadvantages: Won’t last very long and requires frequent oil change.

Best suited for: New motorcycles, motorcycles with smaller capacity engines.

Oils - Cover Page

Synthetic Oil

Composition: Fully synthetic oils are processed out of pure polymers sourced from factory made oils. Fully synthetic oils are considered the best quality oils out there as they won’t break down fast as mineral or semi-synthetic oils.

Advantages: High quality oil with best lubricating performance.

Disadvantages: Expensive pricing.

Best suited for: High performance motorcycles like super-bikes and race machines.

Semi-Synthetic Oil

Composition: Semi-Synthetic Oils are a mixture between mineral oils and synthetic oils. It uses both the natural oils from petroleum as well as polymers from factory oils.

Advantages: Good performance and good protection.

Disadvantages: Middling quality – performance and protection falls between the other two oils.

Best suited for: Motorcycles with medium capacity engines.

Based on the type of motorcycle you own, you can choose one of the above types of oil which is most suitable for your motorcycle.

How frequently should you change the oil

The next question that pops up is how frequent should one change the oil in the motorcycle.

The frequency of oil change depends on the make of the motorcycle, the type of oil you use, how old the motorcycle is, what condition the motorcycle and engine is in, how you use your motorcycle – for short rides, long rides etc.

As a general rule of thumb, here are the recommended frequency of oil change for the distance traveled based on the type of oil you are using.

Type of OilFrequency for Oil change
Mineral Oil2000 miles
Semi-Synthetic Oil5000 miles
Synthetic Oil8000 miles

However, if you ride the motorcycle for long distances frequently, you may have to change the engine oil and take it for servicing much more frequently. You want to ensure the quality of oil remains top notch for the smooth functioning of oil in the motorcycle.

How to change the motorcycle oil

Before you start changing the oil in your motorcycle engine, here are the items you need to have it in hand.

  • New Engine Oil (duh!)
  • Drain Tray
  • Funnel
  • Socket wrench
  • Torque wrench
  • New Oil filter, if applicable
  • Gloves and rags
Motorcycle Oil

Now that you have everything ready, here are the steps you need to follow while changing the oil in your motorcycle.

  • First, run the engine for a minute or two for warm up. Warm Oil is easy to drain.
  • Wait for some time after stopping the engine and then, unscrew the oil filler cap and set it aside.
  • Place a drain tray underneath the drain plug. Now, carefully unscrew the drain plug using a socket wrench. The oil will start to drain now.
  • Once the oil has started to drain out, it is time to remove the old oil filter. Use a wrench to unscrew and then use your hand to turn counter clockwise and remove the filter.
  • Once the oil is drained out completely, you can refit the oil filter back. Whether to use a new oil filter or clean up and use the old one again is up to you. Depending the condition of the oil filter you can choose to decide.
  • Then, carefully screw the chosen filter back into place and make sure you are not over-tightening it.
  • Refit the drain bolt back and clean the bolt with some fresh oil before refitting.
  • Now you need to refill the engine with new oil. Place the funnel into the fill hole and start pouting the new oil. Make sure to fill the oil in the engine according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Place back the filler cap and clean up the dirt or oil splashes in your motorcycle with a rag or towel.

Summing Up

  • The two main functions of Engine Oil are: i) Lubrication, and ii) Cooling
  • Lubrication: In order to function smoothly and the energy transfer takes place without much loss, the engine oil provides lubrication between the engine parts by forming a slick film.
  • Cooling: The continuous flow of the oil across the engine parts, carries the heat and takes it away from the frictional contact surface, thereby cooling the parts.
  • Damages caused because of Low Oil Levels include:
    1. Burnt Clutch Plates
    2. Damaged Piston rings
    3. Damaged Cylinder lining
    4. Piston wear
    5. Impaired engine valves
    6. Hard shifting of Gear
    7. Increased Engine vibrations
    8. Low Mileage
  • Symptoms of Low Engine Oil include – Engine noise and vibrations get higher, Engine seizure, Increased temperature and a heated engine.
  • The best way to check whether your motorcycle is running out of oil is to check the oil level in a dipstick. If you see nothing, that means the engine has run out of oil.
  • On an average, the motorcycle may last around 40 to 50 miles while running without oil.
  • There are mainly 3 types of motorcycle oils:
    1. Mineral Oil
    2. Synthetic Oil
    3. Semi-Synthetic Oil
  • As a general rule of thumb, here are the recommended frequency of oil changes is – every 2000 miles for mineral oils; 5000 miles for semi-synthetic oils; 8000 miles for synthetic oils.