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Can I put car engine oil in my motorcycle engine?

There are some key differences between engine oil meant for cars and bikes.

Can I put car engine oil in my motorcycle engine?

You can certainly say that oil is the lifeblood of your engine. It is quite possibly the most important fluid that keeps your engine running. Apart from ensuring that your motor runs smoothly, it also keeps temperatures at bay, and ensures maximum longevity and efficiency from your beloved machine. 

Now, there are hundreds of different options when it comes to choosing the right engine oil for your motorcycle. While your owner’s manual states exactly what type of oil you should use, not everybody is diligent enough to double check. Sometimes, people make the mistake of putting car engine oil into their motorcycles. While doing so won’t immediately cause catastrophic failure, there are certainly a few reasons why we should avoid this 

Car versus motorcycle oil - what’s the difference?

While car and motorcycle engines function in more or less the same way, their engine oils differ substantially. You see, motorcycle engines, especially those found in high-performance big bikes, have a tendency to get really hot, making them more prone to breaking down, especially when stuck in traffic in a region as temperate as ours. As such, motorcycle oils tend to have better lubricity properties, and are more capable of withstanding immense heat and high RPMs. 

Most motorcycles' engines and transmissions are combined.

Motorcycle Slipper Clutch

This brings us to another important thing to note. In an automobile, the engine and transmission are two separate units connected together by a clutch and flywheel assembly. While some motorcycles, such as the BMW R 1250 GS, make use of a similar setup, most other motorbikes have their engine and transmission encased in a closed system. This means that oil passes freely through the engine and transmission, and has a much more crucial job in lubricating the engine and transmission at the same time. 

Furthermore, motorcycle engines tend to be equipped with a wet clutch system, meaning the same oil that lubricates the engine and transmission also lubricates the clutch. As such, most modern-day motorcycle oils are equipped with friction modifiers that prevent the clutch from slipping upon engagement, especially in high-power machines. 

Some drawbacks of using car engine oil in your motorcycle

Motorcycle engine oil

If you happen to find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, somehow inaccessible to motorcycle engine oil, then yes, you can fill your bike up with car oil, provided that, once you have access to the proper stuff, you go right ahead and change it all out. However, using car engine oil for prolonged periods of time has the potential to accelerate wear on your engine and transmission. The worst part is that all these systems are interconnected, given the fact that most motorcycles’ powertrains are a single unit. 

In the event of the failure of, say, one of the gears in your transmission, you run the risk of having these metal shavings travel all around your engine causing damage in multiple places. The lack of friction modifiers found in car oil to account specifically for motorcycle engines gives it the tendency to break down a lot faster, thereby losing its lubricating properties. At the very least, you may experience some clutch slip upon acceleration, resulting in an inefficient engine, or worse, a worn-out clutch. 

How to tell if motorcycle engine oil is good

Motorcycle oil level

There are indeed a few ways to check if a certain type of oil is right for your motorcycle. Simply by scrutinizing the label on the bottle, you can tell whether or not it’s safe to put this type of oil in your motorcycle. For starters, double check that the viscosity ratings match, or at the very least, are very close to that recommended by your owner’s manual. Secondly, look for JASO MA, if your bike has a manual transmission with a wet clutch, or JASO MB, if you ride a scooter with a CVT transmission. 

JASO stands for Japanese Automotive Standards Organization, a private organization consisting of Japan’s top automotive manufacturers. These companies work together to establish parameters and set standards when it comes to vehicle engines, with oil being a topic of concern. For modern day motorcycles equipped with O2 sensors and catalytic converters, you're going to want to look for the more premium JASO MA2 marking on the label of the bottle. 

So, there you have it. Always remember that oil is one of the most important elements in your engine. Be sure that it’s always up to spec, topped up, and in good condition. That way, you can ensure the optimum efficiency, longevity, and performance of your engine, and get the most out of your investment. 

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