3,000-mile oil changes? Puh-leeze.

by bj max

Unless you’re a motorcycle social outcast, you have most likely been a part of, heard of, listened to or been involved in the longtime and ongoing controversy about what type and brand of oil to use in your motorcycle. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is more than willing to share it with you. Read any magazine for any length of time and you’re certain to stumble across the latest thoughts and opinions on what weight oil to use, at what intervals to change that oil and whether or not you should run mineral based oil, synthetic oil or a synthetic blend. And never mind what your owner’s manual says, there must be controversy. So I decided to write this story that is, ahem, another opinion.

My brother once owned a ‘49 flathead V-8 Ford with three deuces under the hood. (Carburetors for those of you under thirty) When he could afford it he would change the oil. Mind you, he didn’t change oil every three thousand miles or even every five thousand miles. He changed it when he had some extra cash, and that was rare. The old flathead had a canister-type oil filter and again, to save money, he simply dropped in a fresh roll of toilet paper. It worked and that old Ford ran like a clock with what some might call a redneck maintenance program.

Back in the sixties we had a similar plan for those old ragged-out Harleys we rode. They had a dry-sump lubrication system much like a NASCAR stocker; i.e. no oil pan. They incorporated an oil tank instead and the engine got its supply of oil from that tank as did the automatic chain oiler. It was a total-loss system by design and you had to keep a close check on your oil supply and top it off on a regular basis. Well, we were poor boys and even if we could have afforded Harley oil from the dealer, we certainly couldn’t afford to continuously top off the oil tank with that expensive stuff. So we used regular old thirty weight motor oil from the corner gas station and it worked just fine. Or seemed to anyway.

My owner’s manual says that I should change the oil in my GL1800A every eight-thousand miles. The oil companies preach every three thousand miles. That’s a big gap. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because motorcycle manufacturers are out to sell all the motorcycles they can build and by the same token, big oil is out to sell all the oil they can refine. Could it be that the motorcycle manufacturers are recommending a too-long interval between changes so the motorcycle will wear out a little sooner and the oil companies recommend a too-early change in order to move more product? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it.

After all these years of advising us to change oil every three-thousand miles, the big automotive manufacturers, thanks to synthetic oil, are now getting on the longer-interval bandwagon. Did you know that the oil system on a new Porsche Boxter is sealed? It’s true. A friend of mine has one and it doesn’t have a drain plug. Imagine that. Makes you wonder what kind of oil that thing has in its innards, huh? It’s hard to believe but synthetic oil, or at least the makings for synthetic oil, has been around since 1877. No, that’s not a typo. It really was eighteen-hundred and seventy-seven. That’s when Charles Friedel and James Crafts, in an attempt to manufacture synthetic diamonds, developed the Friedel-Crafts reaction. This would eventually lead to the first synthetic oil, or more specifically, Amsoil.

In the past I’ve always changed my oil and filter every three thousand miles. But according to some tests I’ve been reading lately, changing oil that often is a waste of time and money, not to mention a waste of precious petroleum resources. Its an on-going study that I found on the internet and up until they began their tests, these people changed their oil religiously every three thousand miles. Granted, they are car guys and their test mule is a Camaro, not a motorcycle, but the results they’re getting from Mobil One and Amsoil are eye-opening nevertheless. Even after fifteen thousand miles both of these synthetics are holding up very well with Amsoil just a tic better than Mobil One overall.

It’s an interesting study and the kind that will really mean something I think. They seem to be covering the important bases and the results to date would indicate the study to be worthwhile. If we can change oil and filters every 15,000 miles, the savings for the whole motorcycling community would be considerable; not to mention the reduction of contaminates into the environment from the disposal of oil. It would be interesting if they included some info on how these oils are safely disposed of compared to mineral based oils. I would think they would take longer to biodegrade but assume they would eventually. Actual performance is “proof in the pudding” and better than any prediction from a lab test.

I’ll bet you’re surprised that a barefoot, toothless redneck like myself can write scientific commentary like the above paragraph, ain’t you? Well, I wish I had written it but I’ll have to be honest and admit that I didn’t. I was up against the wall with a looming deadline and realized that I was in way over my head with this article. I asked my friend Bob, world traveler, motorcyclist extraordinaire and chemical engineer, to comment on the test. Then I stole it.

Having studied the charts and graphs, I pondered the results and talked to BoI have now officially resigned from the three thousand mile club. From this point on I’m going to change my oil once a year on my birthday whether it needs it or not. I’m going to use Amsoil 10W40 and a two-dollar Wal-Mart Super Tech filter. This filter got the best rating from Motorcycle Consumer News in a recent filter comparison and that comparo included the thirteen-dollar Honda filter. I will no longer worry about when an oil change is due. When the birthday cards start arriving in the mailbox, that will be my signal that it’s time to break out the old drain pan and filter wrench.

If you are a student of the every three-thousand mile school, you really should scoot on over to http://neptune.spacebears.com/cars/stories/oil-life.html and check out this independent and ongoing test. I’m not going to attempt to go into the details here, it’s too involved. Trust me, you will be impressed. To quote the site, “We’re as shocked as almost anyone else that at 10,000 miles, the oil is still good, the filter is still good, everything really looks just fine in there. 3,000-mile oil changes? Puh-leeze. Never again for us.”



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