There was  a time when I installed a car oil filter on my motorcycle. I didn’t know there was a difference – car-specific oil filter and motorcycle-specific oil filter. What?? Silly me. 

Long story short, Installation was fine and my motorcycle was running without issue. So what’s the difference really? Motorcycle oil filters are more expensive than cars. If there’s no difference, can I keep using a car oil filter on my motorcycle?

So then, I begin researching. And here’s the straight forward information for all of you that’s also curious. 

The internals of a motorcycle oil filter and car oil filter are the same. As long as the size fits, you should be able to install a car oil filter on a motorcycle. 

However, this is not recommended because there are internal specs that may differ like maximum pressure and filtration level. It’s best to use the right oil filter for your motorcycle whenever possible. 

Now that’s the short answer. Let’s talk about the long answer. What pressure and filtration level am I talking about?

BMW motorcycle oem oil filter

BMW motorcycle OEM oil filter

Reason Why Car Oil Filter Also Works On Motorcycle 

All engine oil filters work the same way – no matter for cars or motorcycles. They all contain filtering material that traps dirt and impurities when engine oil passes through them – making sure your engine components still operate smoothly. 

oil filter internals

Internals of an oil filter

As long as the sizing and mounting point fits, the oil filter can be installed (despite it being a car or motorcycle). It will do some sort of filtering but it won’t be perfect. 

Each oil filter has a set of specs that are suited for different engines. The car or motorcycle manufacturer defines what specs of oil filter you need. It’s important you follow this. Otherwise, there are consequences (more on this throughout this article).

How Do You Know If An Oil Filter Is Suitable? (Filter Specs)

Again, there’s no difference between a car oil filter and motorcycle oil filter. As long as you find one with the correct specs, you are safe to install that on your motorcycle – despite it being marketed for cars. 

Specs, specs, specs what are these specs really? Let’s go through the most important things in oil filter specs right now. You can find your required specs from the bike’s manual.

1. Oil Filter Size

The size of an oil filter is important because it dictates if you can even install it on your motorcycle. 

But aside from installation, the size of an oil filter also controls the oil pressure in your engine. This oil pressure cannot be too high or low (should follow manufacturer manual). 

Oil pressure that’s too low means the engine oil cannot reach the correct places in time. Some components will be starved of engine oil and may not work as well. 

Oil pressure that’s too high may cause some components to burst  and fail – causing the engine to seize up or oil to leak out. 

Going a little smaller or bigger than the stock oil filter should be fine. Just don’t go overboard. 

Sizes of oil filters

Different sizes of oil filters

2. Filtration Level (Micron Rating)

Filtration level on an oil filter is usually controlled by the filtering medium that’s used. Some filters are extremely restrictive – where they don’t allow even the finer particles to pass through. While other filter mediums can be less restrictive. 

Similar to its size, filtration level that’s too high can limit the flow of engine oil – which means the engine oil can’t get to the correct places in time and deprive some components from its much needed oil.

Filtration level that’s too low does not do a good job on filtering impurities from engine oil – which means your engine parts will operate with more wear and tear damages. 

NOTE: Pay attention to the micron rating. Micron is a unit of measure for fine particles. Higher micron rating means only the finest particles can pass through.

3. Maximum Pressure

Maximum pressure from an oil filter indicates how much pressure can the oil filter take before failure from bursting or any broken valves. 

Maximum pressure is important because the pressure from engine oil can surge significantly when you rev up. The engine pushes oil quickly into places that require it.

Getting an oil filter with maximum pressure that’s too low is never a good idea. The required value depends on your engine. Obviously, a more powerful engine requires an oil filter with higher maximum pressure. 

NOTE: Pay attention to the numbers with ‘psi’ on them. That’s the unit of measure for pressure.

These are just some of the things you need to pay attention to when getting an oil filter. There are many more but you get the point. It’s easiest to just get the oil filter recommended by the shop for your motorcycle.  

But if you choose to go the other way, then you should understand that there are certain things you need to identify.

Why Should You Keep Engine Oil Clean?

All these discussions of finding the right oil filter – is clean engine oil really that important? 

Actually yes, clean engine oil allows your engine components to operate smoothly without much friction – preventing wear and tear damages and reducing fuel consumption because the engines don’t have to work as hard to move. 

If you don’t already know, a motorcycle engine is made of many moving parts – valves, pistons among other things. 

As these components work and slide against each other, some metal gets chipped away and accumulates in the engine. 

A well circulated engine oil picks up these debris and impurities along the way. It is then the oil filter’s job to get rid of these impurities from the engine oil – keeping the engine oil clean and ready to pick up more impurities. 

Without a working oil filter, your motorcycle’s engine oil stays dirty until it cannot pick up any more unwanted impurities. 

With this, your engine parts will have to work with the accumulated impurities on them – which means extra friction, extra pressure and extra heat. Basically everything that you don’t want from your engine. 

Without a clean engine oil, you will have additional wear and tear damages at best and total engine failure at worst. Best to keep that engine oil clean! Starting with choosing the right oil filter. 

Good. Now that I have established how important an oil filter is. It’s time to discuss the final thing. Should you get an OEM motorcycle oil filter or aftermarket? What’s the difference?

Do You Have To Use OEM Oil Filter (OEM Vs Aftermarket)

Using OEM oil filters for your motorcycle is usually the better choice. Unless you are going for a premium, high performance aftermarket oil filter like K&N, then I recommend going for OEM. 

This topic is another post by itself. However, the main point is that cheap aftermarket oil filters are usually made with lower quality materials – they get clogged much easier and don’t last long. 

After reading about how important an oil filter is, you should know that saving a few dollars on a cheaper aftermarket oil filter is not worth it at all.

knn performance oil filter

K&N performance oil filter


Thanks for sticking till the end. Here are the most important takeaways I want you to get from reading this article:

  1. Car oil filters that have the same sizing will work on motorcycles.
  2. It’s important to get oil filters with the right specs for your motorcycles. Read the manual
  3. Do not cheap out on oil filters – clean engine oil is important. Get an OAM air filter.
Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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