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measuring oil level

Matthew Miller

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Matthew Miller

I have a 2001 BMW R1100RL. I seem to have a hard time knowing when my oil level is correct. the manual says place the bike on the center stand and check the level in the window. If I do this there never seems to be enough. Other things I have read say to place the bike on the side stand for 10-15 minutes then place on center stand and check oil level. when done this way sometimes it looks like I have to much. Here is a theoretical question. Is it possible to track oil level by measuring oil pressure? Obviously it would have to be a more sensitive oil pressure sensor than the stock sensor. Just a thought. Thanks for all of your help and ideas.

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Is it possible to track oil level by measuring oil pressure?

Not on this engine. The oil pressure sensor is downstream of the oil pump. As long as there's enough oil in the crankcase to submerge the oil strainers/intakes, you'll have the same amount of pressure (for a given oil temperature) in the gallery the pressure sensor monitors.


EDIT: For consistent level readings, the sidestand-centerstand routine is best because it ensures the oil coolers have drained before putting the bike on the centerstand. The other thing to do is to only check level after the oil has fully warmed up to normal operating temperature -- i.e., check the level at reasonably consistent oil temperature. Oil has a fair thermal expansion coefficient, so the same amount of cold oil will not register as high in the sightless as hot oil.

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Morning Matthew


The proper way to check your oil level is spelled out in your riders manual. That procedure is how BMW set up the oil level vs sight glass height.


BUT-- the riders manual way of putting bike on the center stand only works correctly if the bike is put on the center stand when the engine is hot & the oil thermostat is open.


Depending on the BMW model (specifically the oil cooler type used) placing the bike on the side stand first can show a higher oil level in the sight glass than it should. (this is especially true of dual oil cooler R bikes)


When the bike is put on the side stand first that allows the L/H side of the oil cooler to be lower so that lowers the hose fitting on that side allowing more oil cooler drain-out than when put only on center stand.


If BMW designed the oil level check with 1/2 of the oil cooler still full of oil then I have never understood why riders would tip the bike to drain that remaining oil cooler oil into the crankcase before checking the oil level.


My personal take is-- it really doesn't make that much difference so no matter how you check the oil level as long as you can see oil in the sight glass you are good-to-go.


If you want the oil level absolutely (perfect) then just do an oil & filter change allowing the engine to fully drain out-- THEN, re-fill the engine with the PROPER amount of oil measured to the ounce.


THEN, run the engine until hot enough to open the oil thermostat, then do the oil dance of your choice & see where the oil level comes to on the sight glass (that is your baseline oil level)

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Fair enough DR,

But the oil dance is very easy to do and gives a simple repeatable procedure. Ultimately it leaves us in that state of 'if you can see oil, you're good to go'.


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When arriving at destination for evening (home, motel, etc) put on centerstand. If you need/want/compulsively must :Cool: check oil, do it next day or before next ride. If you see oil, good to go. If barely at bottom, add enough to bring to between center dot and top. Simple, consistent. Many thousands of miles ... no issues.

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Copy of my older post on this subject... Missing oil is an old and elusive problem. My 48 Panhead is simple, can your fingertip touch the oil in the oil bucket? No? Add until it will, regardless of what finger you use, it's fine enough. If it's up to the filler neck, it might be too much on board. Doesn't matter, some will leak out of something :)


Here's what I did to find the missing oil...


Bike on centerstand, weight on the rear tire. Rotate front tire clockwise if you're looking at it from the left side. Make sure road or bug particulate matter doesn't drip onto your foot.


Then, reset the trip meter to "0". Turn the key on, then off, then off, then on.... but don't start.


At this point, make sure the refueling MC-130 is on station... tip to the left, then to the right, then check the level.


IF, there is no oil in the window, drain all the oil out, leave the filter on, then refill all oil back into the filler hole.


Wait 10 minutes, recheck oil.


Repeat as needed.


Have seen this odd situation about half the time I check my oil. I tend to ignore it until I get 3 bad reads in a row. Kinda like reading blood pressures.

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D.R. is absolutely correct. I would only go to the side stand on an oilhead with an oil thermostat prior to an oil change. Before draining oil I bring the engine up to operating temperature then go directly to the side stand for 30 or so minutes then place on the center stand to drain oil. I always get 4 quarts out and put four quarts in. Then when checking oil, always on a hot engine, I go immediately to the center stand and the oil level is always very near the dot. Trust the owners manual.

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After a few thousand miles one should have a pretty good idea wrt oil consumption.

If you don't see smoke/puddle/drips/spray/smell something or hear something different, all is well.

Based on how much your bike uses, whether to bring or don't bring oil is up to length of trip, IMO.

Otherwise just ride the damn thing.

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