Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are great for so many reasons. They stick by their products and offer warranties in the case of defective parts that may have been overlooked or unrecognized during design and construction. Plus, not to state the obvious, they make the motorcycles we all love to ride. I see people complain sometimes about the tactics used to get more from their customers and they do occasionally appear a bit underhanded, but what you see as the consumer usually isn’t the whole story. Oftentimes seemingly bad policies are misunderstood throughout the ranks and are a result of miscommunication rather than greed or disregard for customers. Let’s also face the fact; these are corporations and their goal is to make money, so maximizing profits and finding new ways to generate income are certainly important to them, and I don’t think it is fair to fault them for that as long as they don’t do it unfairly.
Most of the major OEMs in the motorcycle industry have their own brand of lubricants or at least recommend a specific brand of lubricant as “approved” or the “official lubricant of…” and that carries a lot of weight for riders and for dealerships too. In most cases these partnerships are driven by business deals and are beneficial to both entities, but it does not mean they are not good things from a technical standpoint. No OEM wants to recommend their customers use a product that will cause them warranty headaches, and products are generally tested rigorously before being approved or recommended by an OEM. So, products that do get recommended can be reasonably trusted to have the performance necessary to give your bike a long life. The flip side to that coin is that just because the OEM product is suitable, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better performing or a better value product available.
In addition to recommending a specific brand of lubricant, you will often see a statement like “or a similar product that meets API SL and JASO MA specifications to maintain warranty coverage” or an “API GL-4 gear oil” or some statement similar to those. Basically they will have an approved product and they also will tell you the minimum performance requirements with regards to API and JASO in order to retain the warranty status on your motorcycle. In general that is all you need to be concerned with when selecting a product; correct viscosity grade, correct performance level. If you comply with those two details when selecting a lubricant, your warranty is not in danger.
Very briefly, I want to mention a tip regarding selecting the correct viscosity grade for your machine. The second number in a multi-grade recommendation (ie. the 50 in 20W-50) is the most important grade to comply with. If your manual tells you a 20W-50 is required, you can use a 15W-50, 10W-50, 5W-50 or 0W-50 and maintain the warranty coverage because all of those grades meet the properties of a 20W-50. However, I would not recommend going to a higher winter grade though because you may run into oil pump issues if the oil is too thick at low temperatures. You can read more about this subject in Viscosity & Viscosity Grades.
One of the problems I often see is when OEMs or dealers imply that if a customer uses any product other than the recommended brand, their warranty will be voided. This is not only incorrect, but it is illegal to require a specific brand of product for warranty coverage except in special circumstances. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was enacted to specifically stop OEMs from holding monopolies on service products and spare parts for their products. The FTC does a pretty good job explaining it on their website (there is a link to that FTC description in the Outside Links page), but here is the synopsis of what the law states:
- An OEM cannot require the use of a specific product or spare part to maintain warranty coverage unless they provide that product or part free of charge.
- An OEM cannot void a warranty for work done by someone other than an authorized servicer unless they can prove that the work was done incorrectly and it was the cause of the failure.
- The only way an OEM can require the use a specific product is if they can definitively prove that is the only product that will work in the application. (At this time, no company has ever demonstrated this)
The Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act is a US law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, but there are equivalent or at least similar laws in many different countries and regions around the world. Any country that has a free trade agreement with the US should recognize the law as well, so if you are outside the USA and you think your warranty was unfairly voided, look into these types of laws.
The OEMs make products that are good for their motorbikes; there is no doubt about that because as I said earlier, they do not want warranty issues. So it is unlikely they will jeopardize their brand image to cut corners. Aftermarket brands also make some great products that are worth looking into that will often exceed OEM product performance.
As a final note; a lot of OEMs have up to this point been recommending API SG as a minimum performance requirement for a lot of years, but I’ve been seeing more and more of them changing to higher specifications like API SL and SM lately; so check your oil of choice and confirm it meets the minimum specifications for your motorcycle or else you may actually be jeopardizing your warranty status.