Do-It-Yourself Oil Change–Honda Shadow 600 (VLX 600)

Plenty of riders, myself included, are interested in trying some do-it-yourself mechanical work on their rides. Perhaps it’s part of the larger American cultural trend towards DIY skills; perhaps it’s the lingering influence of Robert Pirsig’s 1974 classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; perhaps it’s due to the fact that motorcycle shops are expensive (shop rates in California tend to be between $80 and $110 per hour), and motorcycles’ frequent maintenance needs make going to the shop for every chain adjustment and oil change a pricey proposition. For me, the image of the self-sufficient lone rider, contentedly working on her bike in the middle of nowhere, was too good to resist; and after a couple of years of riding, I became an apprentice mechanic at a local shop.

So, with the aim of helping riders learn a little basic wrenching on their bikes (and, hopefully, getting the satisfaction that building skill and learning to maintain your bike can bring), I’m starting a series on changing your own oil and filter, geared to the relative beginner. Recycling your filter as well as your oil is a key part of responsible wrenching, too–so I’ll cover that. I’m hoping to include a variety of bikes in future DIY oil change posts, as well, from cruisers to standards to sportbikes to dual-sports and beyond. Thanks, too, go out to Werkstatt Motorcycle repair in San Francisco; owner Jennifer Bromme has generously agreed to let me use her shop for occasional educational purposes.

The first bike in the series is a common metric cruiser, the Honda Shadow VLX 600. Like most streetbikes, it needs an oil and filter change every 3,000 miles.


Up on the lift and ready to go


Tools and supplies you’ll need for an oil and filter change on the Shadow


1. 3-4 liters of 10w40 oil (look for the small circular label on the back of the bottle; if it says “energy conserving,” it’s the wrong type for bikes; additives in the oil will make your clutch slip. If there’s no such text, it will be fine).
2. An oil filter (K&N brand #303 is recommended; the 17mm nut on the front of the filter is very useful for replacing the filter in the tight space on the Shadow).
3. A sturdy screw-top jug for recycling oil and ziploc for recycling your filter (since I was in a motorcycle shop for this series, I simply placed the oil and filter in their respective recycling drums).
4. An oil pan to catch oil–for the home mechanic, the type with a screw-on lid are convenient for transporting oil to a recycling location.
5. Plenty of shop towels or paper towels for cleanup, and latex or nitrile gloves to protect your hands–used oil is toxic.
6. A new crush washer for your drain plug (The standard size for most Japanese bikes has an interior diameter of 12mm).
7. A 17mm wrench (the Shadow doesn’t have sufficient clearance near the drain bolt to allow a socket, so a wrench is your best bet). If you decide to use a K&N 303 filter, the wrench will also turn the nut on the filter–very convenient. If you don’t use a K&N, a socket and a cup wrench of the appropriate size will work to snug down the new filter, as will a sturdy strap wrench.
8. A sturdy funnel for re-filling the oil.
9. A pair of oil filter pliers–Channelock makes a good variety. Most are adjustable, and they must have a minimum inner diameter of 2″ or so to grasp small motorcycle oil filters. A socket and oil filter cap wrench, or one of the various types of strap wrench will also work.
10. Soap and water, a mild solvent like Winzer’s MPS-1000, or Simple Green solution for cleanup.

Left side of the Shadow’s engine; drain bolt and filter are below, near the kickstand pivot.

Lay out your tools and supplies…here we go.

Location of the oil drain bolt, marked

Location of the oil filter–it’s a spin-on type on the Shadow, as is common with modern Japanese streetbikes.

Position your oil drain pan beneath the drain bolt, and remove the bolt, being careful not to drop it in the oil (remember, left is loose, right is tight).

Whoosh, out comes the oil. It will drain more quickly if the bike has been ridden or at least warmed up before servicing.

Meanwhile, pull off the old crush washer from the oil drain bolt, and put on the new one.

Prep your oil filter pliers, strap wrench, or cup wrench.

Grab that oil filter and twist–in most cases, it will come right off.

Every once in a while, you’ll run into one that’s really stuck; the wily old mechanic’s trick is to hammer a cheap screwdriver deep into the filter and use the leverage of the screwdriver handle to twist off the filter. It makes a mess, but almost always works.

With the filter off, the threaded oil filter boss is now exposed. Hang out for a while and let the oil drain, then clean the area where the new filter’s o-ring will contact the engine if it’s dirty.

Let the old oil filter drain into an oil pan for a while before bagging it. This is the shop’s homemade rebar rack.

Here’s the fresh new oil filter. Rub a bit of oil on the o-ring (on the bottom surface of the filter, where it contacts the bike) before installing it.

Use the 17mm wrench (or cup wrench or strap) to spin on the new filter–it should be snug (hand tight) plus a quarter of a turn.

Now it’s time to put the drain bolt back in. Be careful NOT to overtighten, as you can strip the threads in the drain pan, requiring replacement of the entire unit. I made this mistake on my bike as a rookie mechanic, and I’ll never forget the expense, busted knuckles, tedious gasket scraping, and shame. Save yourself the trouble and learn to torque bolts properly–a bit of practice with a torque wrench and some sample bolts can help you get a feel for 10 foot-pounds vs. 80 foot-pounds of torque on a bolt, as can the mentoring of a more experienced friend or relative. In the case of the Shadow, the proper torque on that oil drain bolt is 22 foot-pounds–not that tight, though you don’t want the bolt backing out, either. With a wrench or a socket, you’ll feel the bolt get snug, then you’ll feel the crush washer give slightly as it compresses (half a turn or so), then firm up a little–that’s when to stop. With care and attention, you’ll develop “wrench feel” for proper torque over time.

Old oil ready for disposal–make sure there aren’t strange objects, sparkly residue in the bottom of the pan, or milkshake-like cloudiness in the used oil–all indicate trouble. This oil is fine, just old and dark.

Since I’m in a professional shop, recycling used oil and oil filters is easy–the old oil goes in the used oil barrel, while the drained filter goes in the used filter barrel; when each is full, our hauler takes them for processing. The old oil is re-refined and used again. When I don’t have access to the shop, I put my oil in a screw-top jug, my drained filter in a ziploc, and either bring them to my local O-Reilly’s auto parts for disposal or set them out on recycling day for my garbage company to haul (my city has curbside recycling, which makes it easy).

To find out more about where to recycle your own oil and filters, check here for local info.

Once the filter and drain bolt are back in and the old stuff disposed of, it’s time for fresh oil. On the right side of the Shadow, unscrew the plastic oil filler cap and fill with fresh oil until the sight glass (the clear glass window that displays the oil level, located near the oil filler cap) is full. Make sure that the bike is straight up and down, on either a center stand or a jack–or simply have a friend hold the bike vertically while you pour oil and check oil level. It’s vital that the bike be straight up and down to give an accurate fill reading.

Cleaning up the oiled areas after the change is a good idea at this point, whether you prefer solvent, Simple Green, soap and water, or another cleanser.

Once the bike is clean and the oil filled, it’s time to start the engine. Run the bike for a couple of minutes, then shut it off and wait 3-5 minutes. Some of the oil will be pulled into the oil filter, and the level of oil in your sight glass will drop. If it is below the filler line, add a little more oil, then start and run the bike again, and as before, shut it off and wait, then check the sight glass. If the oil is up to the proper line in the sight glass, you’re good to go. Look beneath the undercarriage of the bike and check for oil leaks, just in case.

You’ve just completed your oil change–bask in the glow of mechanical accomplishment!

Next time–oil change on a Suzuki V-Strom 650, stay tuned.

–Heidi

33 thoughts on “Do-It-Yourself Oil Change–Honda Shadow 600 (VLX 600)

  1. My drain screw is seized and now also stripped. Can I grind off the dimple that is in front of the screw? Have no idea what it’s purpose is, except of being in the way at already cramped space. Cheers.

    • That protruding fucker is there to protect the bolt from anything that might find its way under your bike, i suggest you use patence and manually grind some slots with a rasp then grip it with a smaller wrench, warming up the engine might help too but careful not to get burnt during the struggle, good luck

  2. Hi, I have a 1992 Honda Steed 600.
    I’ve looked for manuals and parts but almost always get referred to the 1992 Honda Shadow 600.
    My question is, are these two bikes the same in regards to oil filter (KN 303), air filter, spark plugs etc?
    Also, what manual do I refer to?
    VLX600?
    VT600C?

    Thanks,

    Dan

  3. Found your guide very helpful to changing the oil on my 2001 vlx deluxe. For those looking for 10w40 oil, grab Valvoline 4-stroke motorcycle 10w40 oil at Walmart or autozone. Grabbed 3 quarts this morning for 13 bucks otd

  4. I Have Just Bought A 2007 Honda Shadow VLX600.
    When Checking The Oil Level With The Dip Stick, Do You Stick The Stick In Remove And Check? Or, Do You Stick The Stick In And Screw Down, Remove And Check?
    Waiting For Your Response, Thank You, WWVETTE

  5. If you do not have a stand or a lift for your honda you can put the front tire on a curb and keep the back tire off the curb. It lifts the front end and creates much more space underneath for you to work.

  6. Oh how funny I ran across this looking honda oil change tips. I think I’ve had my Honda up on that exact stand at Werkstatt before. Having a Honda Shadow with low clearance and no center stand really makes me wish I had one of those for oil changes!

  7. wish i had pics as good as what i am seeing changing stator in my 07 600 vlx i too am a new rider and need to save money working on my bike not to mention taking pride in getting hands dirty!

  8. Just what I needed, couldn’t find Oil Plug for sure…got filter off. Now I can finnish the job. Do these take special sockets for spark plug. I ended up using my chain saw wrench-thinner, to get spark plug out.

  9. Great DIY. I have one question – I want to replace the drain bolt with the magnetic one. Do you have something as advice? Maybe you know what drain bolt I can use for 600VLX

  10. I have a 95 Honda shadow VLX 600. I changed the oil with O’Reillys 10W-40 and there wasn’t a label stating energy conserving. Directly after my Oil change the clutch started to slip. What would you recommend?

    • Hi there,
      Sorry this is happening. Can you post a shot of the back of the oil bottle? In any case, if the clutch is slipping you need to buy verifiable non-energy-conserving oil, drain the existing oil, and likely do a second oil change in the next couple of hundred miles.

      I would also recommend checking the condition of your clutch cable (they eventually fray and break, usually right where they attach to your clutch lever), as well as the condition of your chain and rear sprocket; both of those can cause clutch slipping problems. Of course it is also possible that it is time for a clutch plate change as well–they do get worn out, burnt, etc. Good luck.

    • I did the same thing with a 2003 Yamaha Warrior, I put Oreilly oil in it, the problem is with most powersports is they are a wet clutch plate, and regular automotive oil has Molylubes in it. When you put molylube oil in a wet clutch plate system, it makes the clutch slip. The only way to fix it is to put a new clutch pack in the motorcycle/quad or whatever powersport. Always check with the dealer before doing any kind of service to your powersport vehicle. I know now not to use oil from any kind of automotive store. I go to Yamaha/Honda dealerships to get the right kind of oil for my vehicle.

  11. Heidi,

    Great thanks for your lesson. Although, I loved it so much but want to forward this blog to my little bro who has purchased a new bike last month. Your guidance will absolutely helpful for him.
    Your way of explaining things step by step is highly appreciated. Looking forward for more posts.

    Already bookmarked it!!!!:) Thanks for sharing

  12. Is any kind of 10w-40 oil acceptable as long as it is not labeled as energy conserving…..Like Penzoil or Castrol 10w40? or does it have to be oil labeled for motorcycles?

    • It does NOT have to be labeled for motorcycles (though oil labeled for motorcycles guarantees it’ll be appropriate for the bike’s engine and transmission). As long as it is 10w40 (or close) and there is no “energy conserving” in the round label on the back of the bottle, you’re golden. I’ve even used cheapo store brand (O’Reilly’s) conventional oil and had no problems.

  13. I was wondering: I’m looking at a lift/jack for my 92 Shadow VLX and noticed that the frame has a hose (by the drain bolt) and the filter gets in the way on the rear part. I also have some Cobra pipes that hang a little low (maybe a half inch below the right side of the frame) that would get messed up with a regular lift.

    Do you have any advice on what type? I was looking at the Black Widow Scissor Jack cuz it has some arms that come up to touch the frame which can be adjusted.
    Here’s the link about the Widow jack: http://www.discountramps.com/motorcycle-lift-jack/p/MC-JACK/

    Thanks for your help. BTW – I did my first oil change without a jack and smashed a couple fingers. Ouch. But I did use your blog for help. Thanks.

    -Peter

    • I hear you, Peter–cruisers can be a little challenging to work on with the small clearances and parts hanging off the frame at awkward angles. The VLX 600 has very little drain bolt clearance and filter clearance, too–that radiator hose gets in the way, making a wrench a necessity for grabbing the drain bolt, and a K&N filter with the bolt on the front is much easier to install and remove.
      Scissor jacks (also called flat jacks) are a necessity with cruisers, and while I haven’t used that Black Widow jack with the frame cradles, it is a great price and sure looks like a good design for cruisers with pipes that hang low. FYI, those flat jacks work best when you can clamp or tie the front or rear end of the bike down to something–of course at the shop we used the clamp on the motorcycle lift or a pair of straps on the rear frame rails, but you will need to innovate a bit (eyebolt in your porch railing, wheel chocking, etc.). Otherwise the bike is quite unstable and can fall over on you while wrenching. Good luck saving your fingers! As you gain experience it will happen less often, though it happens to us all eventually. 😉

  14. I dropped a plastic baby spoon down in the hole where you put your oil back in at. On my 93 vlx . Any tips onhow to get it out? I tried fishing it out but just pushed it down in there further

  15. Thanks for this blog. I’ve got a Honda Shadow vlx 600 Custom Deluxe and boy I did NOT EVEN think about the location of the oil plug/filter.( knowing I would be doing oil changes myself) There is no hand clearance at all under the bike, if you do NOT get it up off the ground. It’s the lowest sitting bike I’ve ever seen.

    I always dreaded changing all this stuff. Previously someone did it for me and while I watched and know how to do it. I took care of all my previous bikes in life, but this one is a bugger.

    After reading your blog. I am in FULL CONFIDENCE I can do this! Thank you sooo much.

    Heidi, I’m female and my husband doesn’t ride, nor is he much for mechanics lol. I feel WITH you 🙂 I pretty much knew when I got another bike, this time…I was responsible for everything. AND I WAS RIGHT LOL.

    I also want to attend a bike maintenance school, and we have several around. Once I can afford it all. I am DEFINATELY TAKING IT. LOL.
    Thanks Again!
    p.s. I gotta change my chain and sprockets….I have the parts….just need the know how…hope you have something like that soon. Otherwise I’m thinking…here goes a chunk of change. There are NO LOCAL BIKE SHOPS in my area….argh.

    • Good luck! If you are anywhere near San Francisco, Riders Recycle occasionally teaches oil change and basic maintenance classes there for free.

      I’ll try to do a chain and sprocket change tutorial eventually. Couple of tips: You generally replace chain and sprockets as a set. An old chain on new sprockets or vice versa will simply wear faster, negating any cost savings. Grinding off the rivets on the side plate with an angle grinder, burr bit on a power drill, etc. allows you to simply pop the old side plate off with a big screwdriver. Get a couple of spare sprocket bolts, seems one or two tend to get stripped when putting on a new rear sprocket. Use an air tool or battery impact wrench to break the sprocket bolts loose, and rivet the new chain on carefully–don’t smash or squish the new master link rivets too much with your chain tool!
      Finally, purchasing a ready-made chain and sprocket kit for your bike ensures that you won’t have to cut and measure the chain–a kit will come in a proper pre-cut length. And don’t cheap out on chains–a good o or x-ring chain will last longer than a cheapo one.
      Good on you, enjoy.

  16. Heidi,
    Thank you for the lesson! I started riding a couple of years ago, and am very interested in learning how to work on my Honda Shadow vlx 600, and any other bike. Riding has opened up a new world to me that is amazing, and just like you said, I want to be able to fix my bike on the side of the road if necessary. Being a woman, it is even more important to me than my husband. He is the complete opposite of “mechanical!” So, anyway, I just wanted to thank you, and keep posting! I am looking into Motorcycle mechanic classes, but they are hard to find in the small town where I live.

    -Christina Harden

    • Glad to hear it was a help! I agree that it can be tough to find motorcycle maintenance classes in many parts of the US. We’re really lucky here in Northern California. Remember, though, people are surprisingly helpful to stranded riders on the side of the road, the AMA offers towing coverage with membership, cell signals now cover a larger part of the US, and bikers tend to look out for one another. There’s always a way to get home! I should be doing another cruiser oil change entry soon, so stay tuned.

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