How to Change Oil on Harley Softail


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How To Change Oil On Harley Softail

Are you a Harley-Davidson biker who has to change the oil on your bike, but you don’t know how to? If yes, then you are definitely in the right place.

Changing oil on Harley Softail is quite easy as long as you know the right method to do so. The method involves removing the oil filter cap from the oil tank, finding the drain tube, positioning a drain pan under the drain to catch the oil, unscrewing the filter to drain out the old oil, inserting the new drain filter, adding a few ounces of oil, and replacing the filler cap of the oil tank. You must keep in mind that changing any type of oil can get messy if you are not careful, so be diligent about that.

In this article, you will get to know all about oil on Harley-Davidson bikes, how to change oil on Harley Softail, how often should you change oil, and more. Stick around to get all the answers that you are looking for.

Changing the Oil In Your Harley

If you love riding your bike, you should change its oil regularly to maintain optimum performance. If you’re wondering whether to change the oil, you should remain on the side of caution and simply change it. 

Many people claim that their motorcycle leaks oil all the time, so they constantly add oil and believe that it must be clean. However, this isn’t true and it’s a common misconception. Adding motorcycle oil and never changing it out at once isn’t the same as changing oil.

You should think of it like this – if you had a tub without a drain, and you took bath in the same water every day without changing it, only adding new water to it and keeping it at a level high enough to wash in, the water will become very dirty by the end of a week.

Eventually, you will not want to bathe in that water at all. This is what happens to the motor oil if the oil is never changed.

One of the properties of good motor oil is the ability to trap and contain contaminants, especially matter that develops in every internal combustion powerplant. Time, changes in weather conditions, extensive heat, and a wide variety of other factors will eventually degrade the oil. The cleaner the motor oil is kept, the longer it’ll stay healthy in great running condition.

The filter must be changed whenever the oil is changed. The filer is essentially a washcloth in the bathtub analogy. Sure, you may have used soap and water to scrub with, but eventually, the washcloth will get dirty too. The same will be true for an oil filter. It will stop being effective when contaminants get trapped in its inner pleats. If you allow the filter to get dirty, it’ll stop working altogether while allowing oil to flow through the bypass valve.

It will require extra horsepower for forcing oil through the bypass, which means that the motor oil isn’t doing its job of trapping particles and protecting the motor properly. A clogged filter will also create the parasitic drag, meaning that your motorcycle is running with a fewer ponies and no one wants that.

Why Changing Motorcycle Oil Matters?

Replacing your Harley-Davidson bike’s engine oil is one of the most essential motorcycle maintenance procedures that you can perform. As important as changing the car oil, changing your bike’s oil regularly is even more important.

Your bike’s oil serves numerous functions. Failing to properly maintain the oil can lead to engine and transmission damage, reduced fuel economy, and impaired performance.

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Oil will lubricate the moving parts of your bike while protecting the engine from the corrosive nature of moisture, contaminants with various additives, and combustion by-products. In contrast to cars, most bikes also use oil as an engine coolant, unless the bike is specifically liquid-cooled. Oil is also used for keeping a bike’s transmission cooled and lubricated, in place of the automatic transmission oil that is used in cars.

Unfortunately, the lubrication qualities and protective additives of the oil eventually break down while moisture and contaminants accumulate. This is why it is important to maintain the integrity of the motor oil by changing it from time to time. Further, it is also important to use the right type of oil.

How to Change Oil on Harley Softail

Changing the motor oil and filter for a Harley-Davidson Softail is a rather easy procedure. All the aspects of your motorcycle that are needed to be tinkered with for the process can be accessed easily, and they’ll only require a few simple hand tools such as a screwdriver, a filter wrench, a drain pan, a funnel, and more.

Once you’ve acquired the necessary fluids and filters, it shouldn’t take you more than 30–45 minutes to change the oil and filter. Further, you can also hand-wash your bike such that it is in great condition.

Tools to accumulate

Here are some of the tools that you need to accumulate when you are changing the oil on your Harley-Davidson Softail –

  • A service or a three-inch block of wood
  • A 5/8-inch socket 
  • A drain pan
  • A flat-head screwdriver 
  • A socket wrench 
  • Shop towels
  • A torque wrench 
  • A sealing O-ring
  • Oil filter
  • Parts cleaning spray
  • A cap-style oil filter wrench 
  • A funnel 
  • 3 quarts 20W50 motor oil

Steps to follow when changing oil

As a part of your basic maintenance program, changing a Harley-Davidson Softail’s engine oil will help you prolong the life of the bike’s engine and its internal parts. To keep your Harley-Davidson Softail’s engine at peak operating conditions, its oil and filter need to be replaced every 2,500 miles to prevent degradation, leading to premature wear. The procedure will be similar for both the Evolution engine-equipped Softails and the newer Twin Cam-equipped bikes. However, the location of the oil drain plug would differ.

You should warm your Softail’s engine and oil before starting the process. Start the engine and allow it to idle in place for three minutes or so. After that, you should stop the engine. Mount your bike on a service stand or place a three-inch block of wood under your bike’s side stand for elevating it into an upright position. 

Now, push down on the oil tank filler cap before twisting the cap counterclockwise to unlock the kit from the oil tank filler neck. After that, you should pull the cap and the attached dipstick out of the oil tank for venting out the oil system.

You need to locate the oil drain plug now. Softail models manufactured between 1984 to 1999 come equipped with an Evolution engine. It essentially makes use of an oil drain hose placed at the front of the transmission unit on the left side of the bike. Softail models that are manufactured after 2000 come equipped with the newer Twin Cam engine. This places the oil drain plug on the cross-member, which is below the rear of the transmission unit.

Place an oil drain pan under the hose or the old drain plug. You should be unscrewing the drain plug using a 5/8-inch socket and a socket wrench, or loosening the drain clamp using a flat-head screwdriver. After that, pull the hose plug. Let your Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail’s old oil get drained out for a minimum of five minutes, or until the flow of oil slows down to a thin trickle.

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Clean out the drain plug using a shop towel and then replace the sealing O-ring with a new one. After that, screw the drain plug into the cross-member with your hand and tighten it to 20-foot pounds using a 5/8-inch socket and a torque wrench. This step will apply only to Softail models that are equipped with a Twin Cam engine.

Wipe off the drain hose with a shop towel before pushing the hose plug into place. You need to tighten the drain hose clamp using a flat-head screwdriver. This will apply only to Softail models that come equipped with an Evolution engine.

Clean out the area around the oil filter and oil pump located towards the front left side of the engine by making use of a parts cleaning spray. Loosen the oil filter using a cap-style oil filter wrench before unscrewing the oil filter manually. Clean out the oil pump’s mating surface and threads using a parts cleaning spray. After that, you should wipe dry using a shop towel. 

Person Changing Oil On Harley Softail

Unpackage the new oil filter. Now, pour up to 4 ounces of 20W50 motor oil into the oil filter. Allow the filter’s paper element to element absorb the oil for a minute. Then, spread a thin coating of oil around the oil filter’s sealing O-ring. Using your hand, screw the oil filter into place until it gets sealed against the oil pump. Tighten the oil filter with your hand with an additional quarter-turn. Wipe away the spilled oil using a shop towel.

Now, place a funnel into the oil tank filter neck and fill up the oil tank with 2.6 quarts of 20W50 motor oil. You should then remove the funnel from the oil tank. Push the dipstick and oil filter cap into the filler neck before twisting it clockwise to lock it in place.

Start off the engine and allow it to idle for another three minutes before stopping the engine. Remove the oil cap while wiping the dipstick clean with a shop towel. Re-insert the dipstick in the oil tank filler neck such that the cap is resting on the filler neck’s rim.

Now, withdraw the dipstick while taking note of the oil level in relation to the upper and lower marks in the dipstick. If the oil level is below the low mark, you should add a bit of 20W50 motor oil into the oil tank before re-checking the oil level. Wipe off the dipstick again using a shop towel and re-install the oil cop if the oil level is between both marks.

How to Choose the Best Oil For Your Softail?

As motorcycle engine oil serves a lot more purposes than car engine oil, there are a few special considerations to keep in mind when you’re choosing the best oil for your Harley-Davidson Softail. Your bike’s user manual will have the oil types recommended by the manufacturer and should include –

  • Look whether synthetic or mineral oil is needed.
  • The viscosity grade or weight “10W40” is the most common option.
  • The American Petroleum Institute (API) classification, a two-letter code that ranges from SA through SN, indicates the lubrication and additive properties of oil. The API and most motorcycle manufacturers recommend using an oil with a rating of SG.
  • The Japanese Automotive Standards Organization (JASO) classification is a two-letter code that indicates the different qualities of the friction modifiers that influence clutch performance. Most bikes make use of a manual transmission with an oil-lubricated clutch and must use an oil option with a JASCO rating of MA. However, bikes with an automatic transmission must use an oil option with the JASCO rating MB.
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It is advisable that you should defer the Softail’s user manual for the specific oil to choose, alongside the recommended oil change intervals.

How Often Should You Change the Oil On Your Softail?

How often you need to change the motorcycle oil on your Softail will depend on the type of oil that it uses, the frequency it is driven, the number of miles, and many other factors. Your user manual will have the recommended service recommendations. As a general rule, you should follow these tips –

  • Mineral oil must be replaced every 2,000 – 3,000 miles or at least once a year. Some experts also recommend a minimum of two times a year.
  • Semi-synthetic oil must be replaced every 5,000 – 6,000 miles or at least once a year
  • Synthetic oil must be replaced every 7,000 – 10,000 miles or at least once a year

Surprisingly, you might have to replace the oil at more regular intervals if you aren’t riding your bike frequently or if you usually take short trips (under 30 minutes). This happens as the engine has to be driven regularly for around 20–30 minutes for burning off any moisture that might have been accumulated in the oil. The excess moisture can lead to accelerated engine corrosion or oil degradation.

If you cannot ride your bike for 30 minutes every couple of weeks, as often happens during the winter, it is recommended that you should replace the oil every four months.


What does motorcycle oil do?

Whether you own a bike, a car, or both, it is important to know that you should regularly perform oil changes. Motor oil is a necessary component for engines to run smoothly and last long because they act as a lubricant for the moving parts of the motorcycle engine. If your bike is running low or runs out of oil, it can lead to an expensive repair job, or you might need to have an entirely new engine due to the damage done to the previous oil-lacking engine. To make sure the engine is running smoothly, cooling, and lasts longer, motor oil will be necessary.

How often do you need to change the oil in your Softail?

It is recommended that you should change the oil on your Harley-Davidson bike after 2,500 miles after the initial inspection of 1,000 miles. The motorcycle can be run up to 5,000 to 6,000 miles on Semi-synthetic oil. However, fully-synthetic oil should be changed once every 7,000 to 10,000 miles.

How much oil does a Harley-Davidson Softail take?

For a Harley-Davidson Softail, you’ll need to pour about three quarts of oil using a funnel.

What is considered to be high mileage for a Harley-Davidson Softail?

Usually, high mileage for a Softail is considered to be anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 miles.

How to know if your Harley-Davidson bike requires an oil change?

The four signs that your Softail needs an oil change include the oil is filthy, warning lights keep on blinking, the oil level is too low, or the engine is noisier than usual.

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