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✔ Article reviewed by Ethan Orenstein. Bringing motorcycles back from the dead since 2013. Learn More.

Motorcycle Oil vs. Car Oil

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Searching for the best oil for your motorcycle is surely to send you down a rabbit hole of heated debate and strong opinions.

However, there is one aspect about oil that most riders can agree on – that’s whether you should use car oil in your motorcycle engine.

Here’s the quick answer: You should use motorcycle oil in your motorcycle. While car oil won’t kill your engine, it’s best to minimize the miles ridden on car oil if you absolutely have to use it.

You should refer to your motorcycle owner’s manual for the exact type of oil you should be using in your engine.

Then, learn how to change the oil in your motorcycle here.

Can you use car oil in a motorcycle?

If you’re in a pinch, you can get away with using car oil in your bike, but this should be drained and changed for proper motorcycle engine oil as soon as your able.

Do not ride for extended periods of time with car oil in your motorcycle engine.

Because the design is different than a car engine, motorcycle engines require motorcycle engine oil.

Motorcycle oil is designed for wet-clutch operation and includes different additives and formulas than car oils.

Difference between Car Oil and Motorcycle Oil

Both car oil and motorcycle oil serve essentially the same purpose, and that’s to keep the engine’s moving parts lubricated so they don’t bind, grind, or break.

Depending on the specifications of the engine and where and how it’s being operated, there are different properties to the oil that will ensure optimal performance.

At a high level, the important properties that can vary between different types of engine oil include:

  • Viscosity or thickness.
  • Stability of viscosity.
  • Friction additives and characteristics.

Unlike a car’s engine, transmission, and clutch where each component is typically housed in separate units and may even take different types of fluids, a motorcycle’s engine, transmission, and clutch are typically all housed together and use the same oil.

Because of this, motorcycle oil typically features more lubrication and friction characteristics than car oil.

Proper lubrication is needed for the transmission gears and shift forks, while a proper level of friction is needed to ensure the clutch plates don’t slip.

Those are the main reasons why using car oil in your motorcycle engine for prolonged periods of operation can cause problems.

If the oil lacks enough lubrication, the transmission gears are going to wear down prematurely and send metal shavings into your crankcase.

If the oil doesn’t have the right friction additives, the clutch is going to slip.

In situations where you’ve put car oil in your motorcycle, it’s always best to do an oil change and use motorcycle oil as soon as possible.

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Content Editor: Ethan Orenstein

Ethan is not just any motorcycle enthusiast. With a decade of experience riding, maintaining, and restoring a range of motorcycles, Ethan brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Many of the tips and tricks shared on this site are born from hours spent wrenching on personal bikes. Paired with his experience as a journalist covering DMV & insurance topics, is a must-visit site for any home-mechanic. Every article has been carefully reviewed and edited to ensure accuracy, authenticity, and simplicity - all to help bring your bike back from the dead and onto the road.

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