Triumph Thunderbird Sport Oil Change
I've changed the oil in may motorcycles, but the first oil
change in the Triumph Thunderbird Sport was a real adventure!
I felt like a rookie again. Changing the oil and filter in a
motorcycle shouldn't be this hard. Here are some observations
and tips that may help owners of the Triumph Thunderbird Sport
and other Triumph motorcycle owners.
On This Page:
The Saga of the
TBird's First Oil Change
The owner's manual, the Haynes
manual and the official Triumph motorcycle shop manual all call
for 4.00 liters of oil with an oil and filter change in a Triumph
After I bought a 4-liter jug of the super expensive Mobil
1 "4T" Racing Oil as specified by Triumph (more on
that topic below), I situated the bike as level as possible,
and I opened up the Haynes manual and followed the instructions:
open the 8mm Allen key drain plug and drain the oil (per the
photo on their page 1-14); then loosen the 17mm hex nut on the
oil filter cover and let that drain also.
I went in the
house for a while to give the oil some time to drain. A little
while later I went back in the garage, and everything's done
draining. I put in a new filter, buttoned everything up and
start pouring in the new liquid gold. Exactly 2.5 liters later,
the sight glass shows that it's full!! How can this be?!
The book says it takes 4 liters!
I started up the bike
up and everything seemed fine (by the way, a good tip is to
shut off the fuel on your ride home prior to changing the oil,
then let the bike die in the garage from lack of fuel. This
will allow you to turn over the engine with the starter after
the oil change to build up oil pressure prior to starting it
So I decided to search for some answers. I learned some interesting
things from various sources: the site glass is wrong (probably
true; see below); and a guy with a Triumph who works at the
local Harley dealer told me that the bike only takes 3 quarts
(2.8 liters) of oil. How can this be, when the owner's manual,
the Haynes manual and the Triumph shop manual all say it takes
So I figured the only thing to do would be
to drain out all the now wasted $50 oil to start again with
an empty engine. Out came the 8mm Allen screw; I opened up the
filter cover and drained everything once more. This time I measured
it with a 500cc graduated cylinder.
Oil pan from right side: blue arrow
= oil filter cover
red arrow = center 8mm Allen bolt;
white arrow is the other (correct) 17mm
hex drain plug.
Oil pan, left side: yellow arrow indicates
17mm hex drain plug.
All I got was the 2.5 liters!!! What's going on here??!!
Either there HAS to be another oil drain plug, or I've got a
serious problem with 1.5 liters of old oil hiding somewhere!
So I looked under the bike and noticed the 17mm hex bolt on
the left side of the oil pan near the sidestand. That
HAS to be another drain plug! But they don't say anything
in any of the books about it!
Slowly, slowly, I loosen
the bolt. It looks like it's never been opened before -- I see
no traces of oil or grime. I slowly turn it out until almost
the very last threads and... OIL!! There's another friggin'
oil drain plug on this bike that the book didn't tell me about!
I let it drain, measure it in the graduated cylinder, and
guess what?? Yep, it all adds up to 4.0 liters exactly.
Moral of the story? There are TWO oil drain plugs,
at least on my T-Bird Sport. When I go back and look closely
at the Haynes photos, I see they're definitely opening an Allen
bolt drain plug, and now that I know what's up, I can see that
it does appear to be on the left hand side of the oil pan, which
I never noticed after looking at the very poor photograph many
On my bike, the Allen bolt was in the center hole, so not
knowing any better, and this being my first oil change, it's
the first one I saw and the it's the one I removed, following
the lead of the Haynes photo. Perhaps someone got them switched?
Maybe you're never supposed to open the center hole? What does
the plug for the center hole in the oil pan do?
I realize what is going on, I discovered that you should only
drain the oil by unscrewing the drain plug on the left hand
side, because it's lower than the central drain plug. If you
do it carefully, and only use the drain plug on the left hand
side, you'll eventually get all four liters out of the bike.
What are the correct torque values for the oil drain plug and/or
oil filter housing bolt? The Triumph shop manual advises "...tighten
to 48 Nm for M22 drain plugs and 28 Nm for M14 drain plugs.",
while the Haynes manual advises 48Nm for the oil drain plug
and 18Nm for the oil filter center bolt. Note that the Haynes
manual does not distinguish between the M14 and M22 drain plugs.
replacement plug (left);
Triumph plug (right).
Since my Thunderbird Sport has an M14, 17mm hex plug, I'm
sticking with the 28Nm for the oil filter drain plug. I first
tried about 38Nm, and it felt like the bolt started to slip,
the first sign of stripped threads! It doesn't take much
to strip the threads in aluminum, so be really careful!
Now I needed a new oil drain plug, and of course, the dealer
didn't stock one! BUT - I found out that the Honda automobile
plug will work by looking at the information on the
website. If you ever need an oil drain plug, or the crush
washers for your bike, they have zillions of them in all different
shapes and sizes! They also have a cool magnetic-tipped
drain plug of the correct size that I've ordered and will install
at the next oil change.
I needed a drain plug RIGHT NOW
though, so after I realized from comparing drain plug sizes
on the CG Enterprises site, I went down to the local Honda car
dealer and purchased a Honda (car) part number 90009PH1000 (oil
drain plug) and a crush washer, part number 9410914000I. $2.16
for the plug, $0.60 for the washer! The Honda part has
4mm shorter threads than the original Triumph, so it's not
exactly the same, but so far it has worked for me without
any problems. The Honda crush washer is 14mm inside diameter,
and 24mm outside diameter, just like the original part.
If you want the exact replacement
Triumph motorcycle oil drain plug, you can order one from CG
Enterprises (see photo below) For the record, the Triumph
oil drain plug dimensions are:
- Threads are 14mm outside diameter (called an M14);
- It has a 1.5 thread pitch, which is how metric screw
threads are identified;
- It has a 15mm thread length from the shoulder to the
end of the threads;
- It has a 17mm hex head with a round shoulder under it
that measures about 21mm diameter.
- Here are the CG Enterprises dimensions and part numbers
for the matching plug; apparently, this is an almost identical
CG Enterprises part number 1085 is an M14, 14mm x 1.5 thread
pitch drain plug, with a thread length of 14.85mm, a 17mm hex
head and a shoulder diameter of 24.8mm.
The CG Enterprises part number 1085M is the same plug with
a magnet which adds 4.8mm to the overall length. I'm going to
try this one next time, but it may be too long, as the original
equipment Triumph part has a total of 15mm thread length, and
I want to make sure the extra 4.8mm doesn't bang into the crank
or something. (Update: it works; I've had it in now for over
Finally, don't forget the aluminum crush washer! The
shop manuals recommend that these are replaced each time the
drain plug is removed. I believe that my not replacing this
was the major factor for stripping the Allen-headed drain plug.
The Triumph aluminum crush washer dimensions are 1.5mm thick
by 24mm outside diameter, to fit over the 14mm threads. The
CG Enterprises part is an identical replacement; their part
number for the aluminum crush washer is 2402 is a 14mm
aluminum gasket with a 23.85 O.D. and 1.53mm thick.
For more information, contact Gary Grave,
Enterprises Automotive Inc., Quality Products for the Fast
Lube Industry. Phone 1-800-565-9743; Fax 1-866-645-5823
My order arrived from CG Enterprises - here's a photo
of their magnetic oil drain plug, part number 1085M (left
side of this photo). I'll install it at the next oil change
but will make sure there's enough clearance over the magnet
-- I'm 99.9% sure it will be OK.
At the right is
the standard replacement drain plug, part number 1085.
In the center are the 20 aluminum crush washers I ordered.
Neither the local Triumph dealer or hardware store had the proper
aluminum crush washers, so as long as I was placing an order,
I bought a handful. I guess this should hold me for a while!
Oil Level and the
Triumph Thunderbird Sport Sight Glass
Both manuals claim
that the oil level should be half-way up the sight glass when
the bike has the full complement of 4.0 liters of oil. But with
the 4 quarts (3.784 liters), the oil level is already over the
top of the sight glass when the bike is exactly level. However,
when I place a 2x4 flat on the ground under the side stand,
so that the bike is "almost" level, the oil is exactly
half-way up the sight glass. It doesn't take much to move the
oil level around in the sight glass. This is interesting....
on the Third Oil Drain Plug...
|webBikeWorld visitor "G.G."
"Rick, That third bolt got
me to wondering what the heck is that for. In my
approximately 10 oil/filter changes I have never
removed that one.
If you look in the Triumph Manual (mine is issue
7, 10/97) on page 2.17 (Maintenance 2) you will
see the drawing showing the sump drain plug and
oil filter bolt that are to be removed during an
oil/filter change. The third bolt, positioned between
the two has a pipe coming from it. Now look at page
8.3 (Lubrication 8) and notice the drawing on the
lower right hand corner that has got to be an oil
cooling system. My guess is that the third bolt
is for that system.
The Haynes Manual only lists the torque spec
for the M22 drain plug (48Nm) while the Owner's
Manual and Triumph Manual list torque for the M14
drain plug (28Nm). The two specs are mentioned in
the text of the Maintenance section, on the torque
spec charts in the General Information section and
in the drawings in the Lubrication section of the
The *how to* photos and drawings show the M22
drain plug which is not on the TBS engines AFAIK.
My parts catalogue (Issue 7, 07/00) does show three
sump part numbers but only one number for the M14
drain plug. It does not help us that Triumph and
Haynes refers (correctly I found out) to fasteners
by the size of the hole they fit into, not the tool
that goes in/on them.
On other T3 lists I have read about owners who
have broken the head off the M14 drain plug tightening
it to 48Nm and can remember only one who stripped
the threads in the sump."
Thanks "G.G."! I sure hope
we can save someone else a headache with this article!
By the way, I received another note stating that a TBird
Sport owner had an M14 drain plug with a 13mm hex head that
was installed OEM with left-handed threads!
So be careful -- if your plug is not unscrewing, don't overdo
it! It's hard to believe, I know, but there may be some
TBirds out there with left-handed threads!
Type of Oil to Use? Triumph Thunderbird Sport
Oil Types - Grades
Now about that oil...
There are as many opinions
about oil as there are people that use it. Everyone has their
favorite. Someone will say "I used Acme brand 10W30 in
my bike and it ran for 300,000 miles!". The question to
ask is "compared to what?"
Who knows if that same person used a different brand or weight
of oil if the bike still would have gone 300,000 -- or maybe
400,000 miles? The point is, until someone does some very
scientific study comparing oils, a good bet is to use whatever
the owner's manual recommends. The market is so competitive
nowadays that most oil is of excellent quality anyway (and probably
made by same manufacturer), so it would be hard to go wrong
with any name brand oil.
In the case of the Thunderbird
Sport, oil type is a bit confusing, but easy to resolve. The
owner's manual and the shop manual call for either 10W40 semi-synthetic
or 15W50 full synthetic motorcycle oil. The shop manual on page
1.34 calls for 10W40 semi-synthetic with an API grade of SG.
On page 2.16 of the shop manual, and in the owner's manual,
either 10W40 semi-synthetic or 15W50 full synthetic "which
must meet or exceed API SG specification" is specified.
There's a difference here, and to make things more confusing,
the Haynes manual calls for "fully synthetic 5W40 or semi-synthetic
10W40 motorcycle oil". My advice is to disregard the Haynes
manual (I bet they dropped a "1" in front of the "5"
in the 5W40 during printing or something), and go with the Triumph
shop manual's specification for 10W40 semi-synthetic or 15W50
full synthetic "which must meet or exceed API SG specification".
The Mobil 1 " 4T" racing oil that is recommended
by Triumph doesn't list an API specification or a weight on
the 4.0 liter jug. It's a European specification oil and I've
confirmed with Mobil that 4T is only sold in the U.S. under
the Triumph label in those mucho expensive 4.0 liter jugs. It's
$49.95 for 4 liters, which is completely outrageous.
As of the date of publication, Mobil1 does not offer motorcycle
oil in 15W50 weight in the U.S.A. and Mobil U.S.A. recommended
to me in an email to use their 20W40 synthetic as a replacement,
but then that doesn't meet Triumph's specs for oil weight.
So you pay your money and you take your chances: I plan
on using 15W50 full synthetic motorcycle oil (do not use automobile
oil, as it may be too slippery for the wet clutch lubrication
in any motorcycle that has them). 15W50 is not that easy to
find, although that grade is made as a motorcycle oil by Amsoil,
Spectro, and others, and can usually be found at your local
motorcycle dealer, albeit for anywhere from $6.50 to over $12.00
I have been using BMW 15W50 fully synthetic,
API SH rated. This oil has been very highly rated in several
tests, the most exhaustive being the tests conducted by
Consumer News in the August and October 2000 issues. By
the way, this is a great monthly magazine that does not accept
advertising, and runs detailed tests on motorcycles and motorcycle
The BMW oil is always readily available
at my local BMW dealer for about $6.00 per quart; still very
high-priced, but about 50% less than the Triumph stuff, and
it costs just about the same as the Mobil1 motorcycle oil.
Update: I've also used Golden Spectro 10W40 semi-synthetic,
which now comes in 1 liter containers and meets API specification
By the way, 4 quarts of oil is only 3.784
(3,784 cc's), not the 4.0 liters that the bike should take when
empty. This means if you put in 4 quarts, you will be short
roughly 5.4% of the total theoretical oil capacity. This shouldn't
make a difference, but you may want to buy a 5th quart to have
around and measure out the exact amount when filling the empty
engine with a 500cc graduated cylinder.
I don't know why the Thunderbird owner at the Harley dealer
(they used to sell Triumphs) said that he only puts 3.0 quarts
in at an oil change -- that would only be 2.84 liters, which
would be leaving his bike approximately 29% short of the correct
amount of oil; I think this is dangerous. Perhaps he's only
using the central drain plug and only getting the 2.5 liters
out, always leaving 1.5 in the bike?
for Triumph Motorcycle Parts
NOTE: Use at your own risk! Listing here
does not mean that these parts are direct replacements; I have
no idea whether or not they meet the same specifications as
original Triumph parts.
Oil Filters: Yamaha makes an oil filter that
looks identical to the Triumph part. I'll add the official Yamaha
part number when I get it, but here's a photo of it on the
CRC oil filters page, it's their part number YC04
Scotts Performance carries
steel lifetime oil filters that filter down to 35 microns;
available for the Thunderbird Sport and other Hinckley Triumphs
Here's a list of what are claimed to be replacement oil filters
that will fit the Thunderbird but are produced by various manufacturers.
I have no idea if this list is correct or not, I recommend spending
the money and getting the correct Triumph part, so use at your
Potential Replacement Oil Filters
for the Triumph Thunderbird Sport
|Amsoil: SMF 101
||STP: SMO-12 or SMO-09
|| Yamaha: 36Y-13441-00
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