Will low oil cause a motorcycle not to start? The primary purposes of an engine oil is to lubricate and cool. If oil is low in your bike, you’d think it damages the engine and other parts of the motorcycle, but what if not?
Your bike may start on low oil if it’s just enough to start. And, depending on the distance you intend to cover, riding with low oil can become a problem. The engine will heat since oil is not there as coolant.
If you ride a motorcycle with low oil, it can result in damaged piston rings, burned clutch plates, impaired engine valves, piston wear and damaged cylinder lining, low mileage, gear hard shifting, and increased engine vibration.
Major functions of engine oil in your bike
Before we dig into the possibility of riding on low oil, below are the functions of engine oil in your bike:
Fuel energy is converted into energy by the engine parts in your motorcycle. This mechanical energy then moves through various motorcycle parts down to the wheels. For this function to occur smoothly, the engine oil provides lubrication between these parts of the engine.
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Motorcycle oil forms a slick film between the parts of the engine that come in contact with other, reducing friction. This significantly gets rid of wear, making the transfer of mechanical energy take place smoothly.
Engine oil also serves as coolant in your motorcycle. The transferred mechanical energy between the components comes with energy dissipation in the form of heat.
This is where engine oil comes in, it flows across the engine parts, cools the heat and prevents frictional contact surface. Oil flows away the dissipated heat energy, cooling the engine parts significantly.
As such, a high heat resistance is recommended in an engine oil to keep it from exceeding the flash point.
Will low oil cause a motorcycle not to start?
Most of the time, low oil causes your motorcycle not to start. You’d need at least 1 quart of oil in it to start occasionally and let the bike idle. If you can see oil in the window, just tilting the bike should start it. However, it comes with consequences, including:
1. Engine wear and tear
Your motorcycle engine will wear and tear as a result of insufficient lubrication. This means oil levels is low, so the slick film forming between the engine parts thin out.
a. The contact surfaces will then generate friction excessively, which causes a wear.
b. Also, since there’s no continuous oil flow in the system, the dissipated heat from the friction stays with the engine parts, causing the engine to heat with no oil to serve as the coolant.
c. With insufficient oil flow, heat is not carried to cleanse the surfaces, so carbon deposits form on the engine part surfaces. Usually, this can result in extensive damages.
2. Burned clutch plates
Excessive friction and heat can burn out clutch plates or the friction plates since there’s no oil for lubrication. Engine oil is necessary for wet clutches to operate smoothly.
3. Faulty cylinder lining
A damaged cylinder lining will require re-boring, which can be expensive.
4. Damaged piston rings
Overheating will cause the piston rings to get damaged due to low oil in your motorcycle. It turns out that piston ring replacement is easier and inexpensive.
5. Worn piston
Replacing the piston itself can be expensive. If the damage is not severe, the piston can be repaired instead of a replacement.
Piston wear usually goes hand in hand with a damaged cylinder lining since they come in contact.
6. Impaired engine valves
Your motorcycle running out of oil will damage the engine valves. Valve replacement requires taking down the engine, which can be expensive.
7. Hard gear shifting
Gear shifting becomes harder when there’s no oil or low oil in a motorcycle.
8. Engine vibrations
You’d get an unusual level of vibration resulting from the low oil level in the engine. Alongside the vibration will be strange noise you want to get rid of.
9. Low mileage
Engine efficiency reduces when the oil is low in your motorcycle. You’d get reduced efficiency causing low fuel mileage.
Symptoms of low engine oil
Below are the symptoms of low engine oil in a motorcycle:
Engine seizure. Your engine will seize when oil is low.
- Noise and vibration. Engine noise and vibration increases when oil is low. If you empty the oil, you’d hear metal-to-metal clinking noise.
- Overheating. The motorcycle engine will experience increased temperature and overheat when oil is low. You may want to check the temperature gauge or oil sensor of your motorcycle (if any) to check low oil levels.
The best way is to use a dipstick to check your motorcycle oil level. If you see nothing on the dipstick, it’s either the oil is low or no oil at all.
If you need to ride your bike, perhaps, it may be okay to use an available car oil in it.
How long can you ride a motorcycle with low engine oil?
Your motorcycle will run until the engine seizes functioning. Regarding how long it’ll take for a motorcycle on low oil to run, this depends on your motorcycle. Nonetheless, a motorcycle may last for about 40-50 miles maximum on an average.
Note that though your motorcycle can run a few miles with low oil levels, you risk permanent and premature wear of the engine parts. Some of these parts are expensive to replace or repair.
Engine oil to use for your motorcycle
We have 3 types of motorcycle oils, including mineral oil, synthetic oil, and semi-synthetic oil.
a. Mineral oil
Motorcycle mineral oil is at the other end of the spectrum from full synthetic. It is a budget-conscious option good for older engines, according to Castrol. This is because full mineral oil provides greater cooling and improved protection, but this can come at the expense of raw acceleration.
b. Synthetic oil
Full synthetic motorcycle oils are made science rather than nature. These oils are chemically engineered in labs to meet the demands of high performance, high temperature motorcycle engines.
Synthetic motorcycle oil also combine high protection with low viscosity to enable instant throttle response and acceleration. They flow fast and minimize friction.
c. Semi-synthetic oil
As the name implies, semi or part synthetic motorcycle oils combine some benefits of synthetic lubrication technology with those of traditional mineral oil.
Semi-synthetic oil is designed to provide a balance between the protection and economy that mineral oil offers as well as the throttle responsiveness offered by full synthetic oil.
Your type of motorcycle will determine what oil type is suitable.
How often should you change oil in your bike?
How often you change oil depends on the make and model of your motorcycle, type of oil you use, the condition of your motorcycle and engine, motorcycle age, and your motorcycle usage (long rides, short rides, etc.).
The thumb rule: the recommended frequency of oil change based on the oil type you use:
- Mineral oil = 2,000 miles
- Part synthetic oil = 5,000 miles
- Synthetic oil = 8,000 miles
However, if you frequently cover long distances with your motorcycle, consider changing the engine oil and take it for servicing much more frequently. The smooth performance of your motorcycle depends on the oil quality.
How to change oil in your motorcycle
1. Prepare the items
The items you need include:
- New recommended engine oil
- Drain tray
- Torque wrench
- Socket wrench
- Gloves and rags
- Replacement oil filter (if the current one is broken)
2. Prepare the bike
Consider running the engine for a couple of minutes to for warm up—warm oil drains easily. Turn off the engine and let it cool for some time before you unscrew the oil filler cap.
3. Drain the oil
Keep a drain tray below the drain plug and carefully unscrew the drain plug with your socket wrench to drain out oil.
After the oil drains, you may have to remove and clean or replace the old oil filter. You can remove the filter with a wrench.
4. Replace oil filter
Screw the oil filter back into place, ensuring not to over-tighten it. Replace the drain bolt—clean it with fresh oil before refitting.
5. Add new oil
Refill with the replacement engine oil. Just place the funnel into the fill hole and pout the new oil following the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Finally, replace the filler cap and wipe oil splashes and dirt around motorcycle using a clean towel or rag.