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Thread: reading the airhead engine oil level

  1. #1
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    reading the airhead engine oil level

    i've been trying to verify i have enough oil in my engine and not having any luck.

    i know i put the stick in (but not screwed in) but if i go in with the metal part "flat" i seem to get a good deal of oil 'up' the stick from it brushing up the engine inside so i have tried orienting the metal part of the stick "vertical" so that it faces toward the bike as it goes in but i never seem to be able to get a solid reading.

    one old school guy suggested drilling tiny holes in the stick in the area of where the reading should be and another suggested using a piece of paper and immediately placing the end of the stick against the paper to see where the oil was deposited. i tried the paper method but am not sure if i am getting a good reading and i'm a little leery of drilling the dipstick (though i love this idea).

    long story short is i got distracted on my last oil change and had to guess and i am wondering if i need to drain and refill. at the same time it would be nice to be able to be sure i am getting a good reading on the road in the future.

    THANKS


    also big apologies for the multiple nOOb posts but i had a couple of items i want to nail down as i get this bike together.

  2. #2
    Registered User lmo1131's Avatar
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    my rule of thumb... the oil level should be BELOW the MAX line on the dip stick (not screwed in). After a filter change, fill less than spec. Start the engine and add a necessary.

    A tad low won't hurt a thing. Don't over think this, it's not a sophisticated machine.

    This has worked for me since 1973.

    BTW, post your model and year in your signature line. It helps others comment on your bike.
    "It is what you discover, after you know it all, that counts." _ John Wooden
    Lew Morris
    1973 R75/5 - original owner
    1963 Dnepr

  3. #3
    Airmarshal-IL James.A's Avatar
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    Lew is perfectly correct. Do not over think this.
    Your Airhead will NEVER show full on the dip-stick except for when you carefully top up the motor oil after an oil change. Somewhere about half way between full and low mark is where your oil level will have found it's "happy spot". Oil up the stick is what you see if the motor is warm or if you try to keep the level to the top of the stick. Dis-regard the oil on the stick that is not part of "fully immersed". When you un-screw the stick, the oil level you see will be slightly higher than actual. Wipe the stick off and drop it back in the hole. When you pull it out the second time, the oil level that is fully coating the stick is your true oil level. Practice to keep the oil level above "low". About half way between the marks is where every Airhead I ever owned settles in. The bigger the motor, the more the oil gets churned and escapes thru the crank case ventilation system. I would not recommend drilling holes in the dip-stick to show the high/low marks. Learn to read the dip-stick the way the Germans intended. I will try to shoot a picture and post it tomorrow.
    1973 R75/5

    1988 R100RS (available)

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    OK. thanks guys.
    I get the part about just below the full mark. the problem is I seem to be having a hard time determining /where/ on the stick the oil level is actually showing. it seems really, really faint (like not clear at all where it is) and the stick above it seems to always get lightly oiled as well.
    on my pickup this is clear as day, and I know it sounds stupid but I'm not seeing a clear spot on/where/ it is showing which makes me think that it is /not/ showing and too low. so I want to fill with more to make it really clear where it is but I am sure this will then be over-filled and I don't want to then drain it if it is over-filled. maybe I should just try this to make sure I see the reading.
    a couple old school guys said that it can be hard to read, hence the paper 'trick' or drilling the stick.
    I guess I will just take a stab at it and see if I can get a clearer reading.

  5. #5
    Administrator 20774's Avatar
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    Reading a dip stick can be challenging...I often have to do it several times and move the dip stick back and forth in the light to see where the upper mark of the oil is.

    What about this. Take something else, like a wooden dowel. Stick it in the oil fill hole to the point where it won't go any further...there's probably only an inch below the length of the current dip stick before it hits the oil pan on the inside. Make a mark on the dowel right at the top of the oil fill hole. Pull out the dowel, see the oil level on the dowel, stick back in the metal dip stick and then compare to the dowel. You should be able to the oil level on the dip stick.

    As has been mentioned, if you drain the pan and then refill with two liters, you will have enough oil in the engine and there will be a mark on the dip stick towards the full mark. Maybe you only have one liter or less in the sump now?? If so, then that would explain your difficulties...using the dowel ought to tell you more.
    Kurt -- Forum Administrator ---> Resources and Links Thread <---
    '78 R100/7 & '69 R69S & '52 R25/2
    mine-ineye-deatheah-pielayah-jooa-kalayus. oolah-minane-hay-meeriah-kal-oyus-algay-a-thaykin', buddy!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by 20774 View Post
    Reading a dip stick can be challenging...I often have to do it several times and move the dip stick back and forth in the light to see where the upper mark of the oil is.

    What about this. Take something else, like a wooden dowel. Stick it in the oil fill hole to the point where it won't go any further...there's probably only an inch below the length of the current dip stick before it hits the oil pan on the inside. Make a mark on the dowel right at the top of the oil fill hole. Pull out the dowel, see the oil level on the dowel, stick back in the metal dip stick and then compare to the dowel. You should be able to the oil level on the dip stick.

    As has been mentioned, if you drain the pan and then refill with two liters, you will have enough oil in the engine and there will be a mark on the dip stick towards the full mark. Maybe you only have one liter or less in the sump now?? If so, then that would explain your difficulties...using the dowel ought to tell you more.
    aha. OK, I think if anything I overfilled but I didn't want to drain it and waste the cash.

    so that is a great idea. I think I will rig up some kind of wooden stir stick or some kind of longer material to the dipstick and make it obvious. then I can practice with just the dipstick (and make sure not to get distracted when filling).

    just quickly while I am asking - is there a good way to lower the oil level if you have in fact over-filled? just undo the drain plug and try to get it back in time ton take out the right amount? or I guess you could pump some out with a pump, huh...

  7. #7
    Administrator 20774's Avatar
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    Years ago, I bought a hand pump to use on the transmission in my Firebird...it has no drain plug, only a fill plug. The hand pump was a simple cylinder with a t-handle and a length of tubing to stick into the fill hole. Using the handle, I could draw an amount of gear oil, then push the handle to empty the contents into a drain pan. Repeat the process.
    Kurt -- Forum Administrator ---> Resources and Links Thread <---
    '78 R100/7 & '69 R69S & '52 R25/2
    mine-ineye-deatheah-pielayah-jooa-kalayus. oolah-minane-hay-meeriah-kal-oyus-algay-a-thaykin', buddy!

  8. #8
    not lost til out of gas 128521's Avatar
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    no need to waste the oil. just drain into a clean container, then refill the proper amount.
    don't know where I'm going, but I'm making good time. 1978 R 100 S, 1990 R 100 GSPD, 2005 R 1200 GS

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by 128521 View Post
    no need to waste the oil. just drain into a clean container, then refill the proper amount.
    aok. got it. great.

    apologies for the nOOb oil questions!

  10. #10
    Registered User lkchris's Avatar
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    Here's a fun solution: start using Motorex Boxer 4T motor oil ... it's green.
    Kent Christensen
    21482
    '12 R1200RT, '02 R1100S, '84 R80G/S

  11. #11
    Airmarshal-IL James.A's Avatar
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    Pictures of the oil level as shown on the dip stick. These were taken moments ago. The first picture is from my R100RS with a recent oil change. The second picture is from my R75/5 that is near due for an oil change. This is what you should see on your dip stick.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    1973 R75/5

    1988 R100RS (available)

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by James.A View Post
    Pictures of the oil level as shown on the dip stick. These were taken moments ago. The first picture is from my R100RS with a recent oil change. The second picture is from my R75/5 that is near due for an oil change. This is what you should see on your dip stick.
    hi james,

    thanks a ton for this. so I just went out to take of photos of what I have been seeing (bike on center stand) and clear as day I am seeing about half again (half of the distance between min and max) /over/ the max level. and I'm not seeing any additional oil up the sides of the dipstick. so no need for a photo as I can see what you are seeing.

    it may be that I was too low and put in some more oil awhile ago and was also trying to check after the engine was running for awhile (it's been sitting for a couple of days)

    looks like I will take a pump and get some oil out of the machine and I /really/ appreciate the help clearing this up.

    THANKS

    - jon

  13. #13
    Registered User PAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lkchris View Post
    Here's a fun solution: start using Motorex Boxer 4T motor oil ... it's green.
    So is Brad Penn oil.

  14. #14
    What I did to solve this problem after I had installed the deeper oil pan which added a quart to the volume.

    I went to a junk yard, and purchased a dip stick out of a Ford Escort (I think) which was narrower and longer. I use it as my secondary measuring stick.

    When I installed the pan, before installing, I poured a quart of oil into it to see just where the quart would go up to. It measured pretty much exactly at the top level of the pan. Knowing that, I use the alternate dipstick, and I insert it in until it bottoms inside the oil pan. I knew that at the top of the pan was where the extra quart would come up to, and then measured after putting in the amount recommended by BMW. This, then, I concluded would be my "high" point. At that point on the dip stick, I drilled a small hole. I also drilled a small hole at the point where the dipstick was level with the top of the oil pan. This became my "low point" for oil.

    In any case, having the assurance of the extra oil, and also the ability to measure the oil from the bottom of the pan and not from the top of the filler was more reassuring to me! The narrower dip stick, seemed also to eliminate the issue with gathering oil on the stick from the sides of the filler neck.
    "The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't change every time congress meets." - Will Rogers

  15. #15
    Registered User lkchris's Avatar
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    An interesting thing about Airheads ... posting after seeing the photos.

    There's a BIG difference between "iron" engines and Nikasil engines. The former seem to put a lot of their engine heat into the oil, the latter are real good at shedding it to your legs.

    Consequently--at least based on my experience with my '84 RS for 25+ years--you're less likely to see dark-colored oil in the newer bike. In my bike there was really never any need to even check oil between changes. Ran it to 70K miles from new, so not the highest mileage bike out there, but think this is still significant and interesting.
    Kent Christensen
    21482
    '12 R1200RT, '02 R1100S, '84 R80G/S

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