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How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike

Keep enough oil in your dirt bike and the engine will last a long time. Forget to check it and you could be in for a costly overhaul. 

Changing the engine oil is simple maintenance on your dirt bike, but checking it should be a regular thing and can prevent a catastrophic failure. If you know where the engine oil level is before every ride, you’ll know what the engine is doing and when it needs to be changed. 

Oil Level Check 2 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Oil dipstick on Honda CRF230F

This is a simple tutorial on how to properly check the engine oil on your dirt bike. It’s an easy task, but it’s easy to do it wrong or not at all. 

What Can Happen If I Don’t Check My Bike’s Oil?

Every engine burns at least a small amount of oil. This is due to required tolerances. Some burn through more oil than others, which is why it’s important to regularly check it before riding. 

Oil is the only thing separating the internal engine parts from rubbing each other. Metal sliding on metal creates friction, and friction results in heat. The more friction you have, the more heat you will get as a result. 

Oil reduces that friction. If there’s not enough oil, then there will be more friction and heat. Overheating your engine may result.

Low oil will cause engine parts to wear out a lot quicker. A piston or a camshaft lobe that starts “scoring” (physical scratch or gouge) will rapidly break down.

Sooner or later, the parts that are creating more heat will eventually melt together and seize up. This “locking up” will stop the engine and you won’t be able to crank the engine over. 

Overheated Engine 2 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Piston that overheated and seized.

You don’t want to have your dirt bike lock up when you’re out in the middle of nowhere because you didn’t check and see that the oil level was below the minimum amount. 

Should I Check Oil When It’s Hot or Cold?

The most consistent time to check your dirt bike engine oil is when the engine is cold. A cold engine just means that the engine hasn’t been started and warmed up at.

It can take several hours for an engine to cool back down, depending on the ambient air temperature. 

How Do You Know When Oil Is Cold?

Obviously, you can’t pull out the oil and feel if it’s hot or cold unless you drain it. The easiest way to know if your engine oil is cold is by feeling the engine cases. Put your hand on the clutch cover. If it’s the same temp as the air, then it’s a “cold engine”. 

Can I Check Oil With My Bike On The Kickstand?

Resting your dirt bike on its kickstand is not the right way to check the oil level. Oil may show up on the dipstick, but it will not be accurate, especially if the ground is not level. 

How To Check Oil Level On A Dirt Bike

To properly check the oil level, your bike must be level. This means standing it perfectly straight up, whether you hold it up or put it on a bike stand. 

Oil Level Check 7 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Standing up the dirt bike to check oil level.

If your dirt bike has a dipstick, pull it out and clean it off with a clean rag or paper towel.

Oil Level Check 5 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Cleaning off the dipstick to check oil.

With your bike upright, put the dipstick back in the oil fill hole but don’t thread it back in. Just place it in as far as it will go without turning it in. 

Then, pull it out and check where the oil shows up on the end of the dipstick. There should be 2 lines with a cross-section between them. The end of the oil line should show up in between these lines.

Oil Level Check 9 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Oil showing at the “full” line.

Ideally, you want the oil at the “Full” or maximum level, especially if you just changed the oil. If it’s at the “Low” end, you should add some oil before you ride.

How To Check Oil Without Dipstick

Not all dirt bikes have a dipstick to check the oil level. Trail bikes often have a “sight glass” to show the oil level. It’s usually on the right side of the engine, often on or next to the clutch cover. It will have 2 lines for the Full/Low levels. Always check this with your dirt bike standing upright or you won’t get an accurate reading.

Oil Level Check 3 How To Properly Check Oil On A Dirt Bike
Checking oil level through sight glass.

Check Oil On A 2 Stroke Dirt Bike

If your 2 stroke dirt bike doesn’t have either a dipstick or sight glass, then it probably has a small bolt that has to be removed. You will need to check your manual if you can’t find it, but it’s usually on the right side of the engine cases (clutch cover; similar to the sight glass method). 

You will need to remove this bolt and stand your bike upright. If it’s full, oil will start weeping out of this hole. If it doesn’t, lean your bike towards the right until oil starts coming out.

Did you have to tip your bike over very far to get oil out of the hole? If yes, then it’s low on oil and you need to add some before riding it. 

How Much Oil Do I Need?

The oil capacity is usually stamped or marked on the side of your bike’s engine case near the oil fill hole. See your owner’s manual if you do not see it. 

Just for reference, an average 2 stroke dirt bike will take about 600 ml (milliliters is the same as “cc” which stands for cubic centimeters of volume).

An average 4 stroke will take about 1000 ml of oil.

How Much Oil Should I Add If It’s Low?

It really depends on the bike. If your bike requires 1000 ml and the oil level is showing just below the “Low” mark, add about 100 ml and re-check the level.

What Causes Low Oil Level?

An engine naturally burns a small amount of oil while running. Not checking the level for long periods of time will leave you with a low oil level. An oil leak will increase the amount of oil usage, as well as an engine that’s burning more oil than usual due to mechanical wear.

How Do I Know When To Change Oil On My Dirt Bike?

When you check your oil and the color is black or dark brown, that means it’s dirty and should be replaced with fresh oil. 

Oil collects dirt over time and gets contaminated. Dirty oil does not lubricate as well. 

Key Takeaways

  • Keep enough oil in your dirt bike
  • Properly checking oil level requires the bike to be upright
  • Add oil if level is low
  • Change oil when dirty

To find out more about how often you should change the oil on your dirt bike click here.

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Saturday 5th of March 2022

Every bike has a different method for checking oil. Check your manual, if you don't have it, it can be easily found on the internet.

For example, if I were to follow these instructions listed here on this page I would be led astray Checking the oil level on a WR450F when cold will not give you a correct reading. In fact, it will not give you any reading at all.

Kelley Fager

Saturday 5th of March 2022

You're absolutely right that the manual should be your guide for checking a specific bike. I also think that I can check my WR450F when cold or hot and it will show on the dipstick. But, like you said, always refer to your service manual.