It’s time we do a little maintenance on one of the most popular motorcycles of all time. Here’s how to change the oil on a Harley-Davidson Sportster.
Introduction to the Sportster and this video
The Harley-Davidson Sportster was first introduced in 1957, over sixty years ago, making it one of the longest running motorcycles of all time. Throughout decades, various generations of Sportster models have come and gone, using a variety of engine and build configurations. The instructions in this video apply to a 2002 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, however they will probably be 90% identical for other Sportsters using the evolution engine. As always, you should consult your owner’s manual or service manual if you want to be 100% sure.
My idea in creating this video was to make a super quick and easy to follow instructional how-to video, showing people how to change the oil on a Harley-Davidson Sportster, without necessarily taking twenty minutes of their time. You’ll see most of the work is already done in the video, so I can speed up the process of showing you what you’ll need to do.
Click the little unmute button in the bottom left corner to unmute the video.
Sportster oil change instructions
I break up changing the oil and filter on a Harley-Davidson in ten baby-step tiny instructions, the first one is something you do all the time: starting the motorcycle. My goal with this walkthrough was to make the oil change process as fool-proof as possible, but if you do have any questions please leave me a comment in the comment section down below.
Remember that all work should be done with the Sportster in an upright position, so you’ll want something like this table lift or at least this $89 wheel chock.
What you’ll need to change your Sportster’s oil and filter
Sportsters are amazing for their simplicity. The entire oil change process is easy and can be done with only basic tools and without even needing to use a torque wrench.
- 20W50 semi-synthetic motorcycle oil. You may prefer 20w-50 full synthetic motorcycle oil if you live in hotter climates or ride your Sportster aggressively. Quantity: 2.9 quarts (2.7 litres). Keep the leftover in case your Sportster leaks or burns some oil in between oil changes.
- K&N KN-170 oil filter or other compatible oil filters like this one.
- Oil filter wrench, or if you want one kit that will cover every oil filter size, I love my 30-piece kit.
- Oil drain pans. Quantity: 2.
- A small flat head screw driver.
- Disposable gloves.
1) Warm up the engine
Start your Sportster up and let it run for long enough that your oil will heat up a bit. You want your oil warm when doing oil changes because warm oil flows out better and faster. Harley recommends using 20W-50 oil in your Sportster, which is a particularly thick oil, so warming it up first is definitely recommended.
You want the oil warm enough it flows, but not so hot that you risk burning yourself.
2) Take off the oil cap off
Taking the oil cap off lets the oil flow out better once you have the drain hose open, so while your hands are still clean, now is a good time to take the cap off.
If your oil cap is equipped with a dip stick for measuring your oil level, now is a good chance to wipe it clean and check out your oil. Remember to keep your motorcycle upright throughout the process.
3) Open up drain hose
Your Sportster has a drain hose, and that’s where your oil will be coming out of. The drain hose connects to the frame, and a hose clamp keeps it tightly sealed. The hose is located on the right rear side of the bike, in front of the back tire. You can get a good view of it in the video, so be sure to check that out.
To get the hose off, loosen the clamp at the end of the hose with a flat head screw driver, then pull it off and let the oil drain into a drain pan.
4) Take off the oil filter
The oil filter on a Harley-Davidson Sportster is between the front cylinder and the frame and is pretty easy to access. If your Sportster has a K&N oil filter on it you’ll need a 17mm bit to remove it. Some Sportsters will need a 76-14P oil wrench like this one. You can simply get a universal oil filter removal tool like this. Personally, I just spent a little more and got this 20-piece kit so I can easily handle oil filters on all of my vehicles.
Tip: If your oil filter doesn’t come off (mine didn’t), blast it with a heat gun on high for a few minutes. The heat will help the metal expand which should help loosen things up. You might want to have a fan pointed at your face while you do this to blow any fumes away.
5) Lubricate the new oil filter
Before putting your new oil filter on, you’re going to want to lubricate the o-ring under the oil filter. To do this, dunk a finger into your clean 20W-50 motor oil, then run the oil along the black o-ring on the oil filter.
Lubricating your o-ring before installing it will help to avoid the oil filter from being stuck on the engine. You’ll be grateful you did when you go to change your oil again and don’t have to tear your filter in 4 pieces to get it off. Trust me.
6) Put the new oil filter back on
Once you’ve adequately lubricated the new oil filter (you can watch the video to see how I do it), it’s time to put the new oil filter back on. It just spins on, righty-tighty.
The golden rule with oil filters on motorcycles, is “hand tight, then 1/2 turn.” That means, spin the filter on until it’s half tight, and then use a tool to go just an additional half turn. Never, ever, use a tool to tighten an oil filter as tight as you can get it. You’ll have an awful time trying to get it back off.
7) Re-attach the drain hose
Reconnect the drain hose and tighten up the hose clamp to stop prevent any leaks. Use your flat head screw driver for this. It’s just the opposite of how you took the Sportster’s drain hose off.
Trivia Question: Despite first coming into production in the 1950s, the Sportster isn’t the longest-running production motorcycle. Do you know what is?
8) Pour your new 20w-50 oil into the bike
Now that the old oil is all drained and you’ve sealed everything up nice and snug, it’s time to pour your fresh new oil into your Harley. Remember where we took your oil dip stick / oil cap out in Step 2? That’s where you’ll be filling in approximately 2.3 to 2.9 quarts of 20w-50.
You should have some oil leftover, be sure to keep that. You never know when your bike may start to leak or start to burn oil. Keep the leftover new oil, and check your oil level again in a month.
Trivia Answer: The Royal Enfield Bullet has been in production since 1931, making it the longest running production motorcycle in the world. The Bullet was around for 26 years before the Harley-Davidson Sportster arrived in 1957.
9) Start up the motorcycle
I recommend you start with pouring 2.3 litres, and then starting the bike up, make sure that the low oil light goes off (it should in the first 5 to 10 seconds, if not, shut the bike off and add more oil). Once you know that you have at least enough oil, and the bike has run for a moment, shut it off and check your oil level with your dipstick and add more oil if necessary.
Once you’re sure of your oil level, I recommend either going for a ride to really test your work, or if you’re going to park it, put some newspaper under the oil filter and under the oil drain hose and see if anything leaks. You might get some initial drips, which could just be from oil mess dripping off, that’s part of every oil change. If you’re still getting fresh drops a few days later it might be time to tighten things up a bit.
10) Show some love!
Were these instructions and this video helpful to you? Did it save you a lot of money compared to having a dealer do the work for you? If so, please show some love, you’ll feed a small dog, and it’s free!
In March it’ll be a full year that I’ve been self-employed and trying to make a full-time living from motorcycles. I’m putting out a ton of free content to try to help other motorcyclists out. If you found these instructions on how to change the oil on a Sportster helpful, and they saved you a few dollars, I’m not asking for any money, I’m just asking that you share this link on forums or on social media with your friends, or if you really want to make my day, please Subscribe to YouMotorcycle on YouTube.
Your Sportster oil and filter change is done!
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is such an easy motorcycle to work on. I’ve owned a couple over the years and always found them to be a pleasure. Doing an oil change is pretty easy, and once you’ve done it once, you can do it over and over really quickly. It’s a great first thing to do any time you’re getting an old Harley-Davidson running again.
The first time doing an oil change yourself is always a little tricky though, so if you have any questions, please leave me a comment down below. Thank you for watching and reading this how-to.
You might also be interested in checking out how to change the handlebars on a Sportster, and how to tell what model of Sportster you have based on your VIN#.