Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Harley Oil Change

Being a new Harley owner and being a bit - shall we say - obsessive about researching the 'best' products for my motorcycle, means that a routine oil change is anything but routine, at least for my first time.

I change my own oil on my work van, and it's a pretty routine job that costs less than $20 for an oil filter plus five quarts of decent quality oil (I use Castrol). I just can't see paying a quick-lube place $40 for an oil change (plus having to endure attempts to up-sell you on other services).

But what's a simple matter on my van, is a huge production with my Harley. My obsessive nature has been researching the Internet (mostly Harley forums) for opinions on the best oil and oil filters. I have decided I will go with the H-D oil filters, which filter particles as small as five microns, but I will buy a painted (black) filter, instead of the chromed one. The black filters are slightly cheaper, but I decided on them mainly because I was told they dissipate heat slightly better than the chrome filters. The Twin Cam engines run hotter than the Evolution engines, so I'll take any edge, however slight, to cool it down.

For oil, the big choice is natural or synthetic, and after doing my research, I've decided to go with a synthetic oil, which results in lower engine oil temperatures - definitely a good thing in slow traffic in the summer. The oil I plan on using, Mobil 1 V-Twin 20W50, is not cheap at about $10 per quart, but neither was my Harley, so I don't mind spending a bit more on something as critical to engine life as oil.

Then there's special tools to make changing oil on a Harley an easier job. The oil filter is above one of the rubber engine mounts and oil will get all over the engine mount and frame, unless you use some kind of shield, whether it's a specially designed plastic tray with a funnel, or a 2-liter plastic soda bottle that is partially cut open, to stick underneath the filter before removing it. There is also a sensor right near the Harley's oil filter, so not all styles of oil filter wrenches will clear the sensor. For about $10, Harley makes a special end-style oil filter wrench with a cutout to clear the sensor, and this looks like the best option.

Yesterday, I stopped at the local Harley dealer and bought an oil filter ($8.95) and an O-ring ($0.95) for the oil drain plug. I also bought three quarts of Mobil 1 V-Twin 20W50 synthetic motor oil and a new funnel at an Auto Zone store.

Instead of the stamped-steel Harley version of the oil-filter wrench, the Harley dealer ended up selling me a slick-looking oil filter wrench made by Paulimoto Racing. At a price of $17, it's not cheap, but it is very high-quality machined billet aluminum, and made in the U.S.A.

Then I stopped at the supermarket and bought 1- and 2-liter bottles of soda, which I bought for the plastic bottles. Using a utility knife, I cut the bottom and top off each of the bottles to use as a spill shield underneath the oil filter. The 1-liter bottle seemed to be a better fit.

Today's weather was sunny and in the 50s, so I took the bike for about a 10-mile ride to warm up the oil before I changed it. The oil filter wrench worked well, but the cut-up soda bottle didn't catch all the oil. I spilled some on the frame and motor mount. Next time, I may cover the area beneath the filter with aluminum foil, or else buy a catch tray specially made for this task. I used brake cleaner to clean the spilled oil off the bike.

Anyhow, I feel better now that I changed the oil on the bike, because the old oil was pretty dark and probably overdue. I celebrated by taking the bike out for a 50-mile ride, enjoying the best riding weather so far this year.


  1. I did the oil changes on my Harley also. For the spill shield, I used paper towels. Just took a few sheets, folded it over once, and placed it below the filter as I twisted it off. The paper towel absorbs the oil rather than spill it off.

    BTW, funny you post this yesterday. This morning I did an oil change on my ST1300, and discovered the three different oil filter wrenches I had are all too big. It seems each vehicle has to have its own oil filter wrench.

  2. Thanks, Steve, I will try your paper towel method on my next oil change!

  3. You kill me, Ken. You really do.