The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

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Why So Complicated?

Blog Date - 10 May 2019

I've just spent 10 minutes checking the 500's coolant. It is really REALLY hard to see the coolant level as the expansion tank is hidden between the swingarm and the engine. It gets covered in chain lube and is barely transparent enough to see the fluid. I have to clean a section, find my torch and jiggle the bike while on the centre stand while lying on the floor while shining the torch directly into the tank. Pain in the bleeding ass.

The hidden and hard to see coolant expansion tank on the CB500X
Damn stupid place for something you ought to check often.

But despite Honda's best efforts to prevent owners checking the most basic of basic levels that's not what is so complicated. It's this damn coolant thing.

I remember learning with my dad and my grandad how to check the oil, the *WATER* and the brake fluid in a car. Easy, basic, simple yet essential knowledge for any would be motorised vehicle owner.

"If the oil is low on the dipstick, put more oil in it."
"OK, what sort of oil?"
"Most cars use 10w40, if it says that on the bottle you'll be about right."
"OK, and if the water is low?"
"Put more water in it!"
"Any water?"
"Yeah, that'll do. If you've drained the whole lot throw some anti-freeze in it too."
"OK, great."

The oil sight glass on a small motorcycle
Bit low that, lob a bit more in.

That'll be a very young me talking to my grandad, mechanic for the GPO (Post Office for you kids out there). Now we don't use water with a bit of anti-freeze in it. We use Organic Acid Technology coolant. We don't use 10w40 we use 5w30 synthetic ACEA C3 approved with emulsion and friction modifiers. When did it all become so complicated and is it all just a big stitch up?

It got complicated somewhere in the 30 years I've been on the road and yes and no.

Let's start with coolants. Why can't we just lob water and a touch of antifreeze in there like the good old days?

Firstly if you ARE low on coolant and you don't have the correct coolant on hand then do use water! It is far better to have water (or even pee if it's really desperate) than no coolant at all. That said as soon as possible replace the water (or pee) with the correct coolant as recommended for your vehicle.

But why? See thing is back 'int day enjuns wus made simples like. Bits of mostly steel, paper gaskets, rubber seals, the odd lumps of aluminium and generous tolerances. Today there's esoteric blends of metals, plastic and PTFE seals, silicon gaskets and incredibly precise tolerances.

So this antifreeze messes with the quantum carbon enabled alloys of the water pump, that coolant's non homogeneous particulate prevention inertial coulomb inverter additives wear out the ceramic teflon undercoated hydrodrive inverter mechanism. But the recommended juice uses molecular dyhydrodynamic quasi transferance to prevent this. Or something like that.

It's to do with how chemicals react with the weird and wonderful metals and seals in the modern engines. There, I understand that.

A bottle of Honda Pro coolant which should be OK for Ren's CB500X
It's not just water any more. It's very specific (and not cheap) coolant.

And oils?

Firstly if you ARE low on oil and you don't have the correct oil on hand then do use any *engine* oil. Any engine oil is better than no engine oil at all - but do not use pee, ever. That said as soon as possible replace the oil (not pee) with the correct oil as recommended for you vehicle.

But why? Just re-read the bit above but with oil in mind instead, then throw in the words "much tighter tolerances" after each sentence.

So that's the very basic non scientific explanation of the why. But are we being ripped off?

Yes, and no. Yes because it is plainly, clearly and entirely evident that engines can be made that work with basic oils and basic water + old school antifreeze. We did it 30 years ago, there's no reason we couldn't go back to basics and do it once again.

A very old vintage motorcycle engine
No, no we don't need to go THIS far back!

There is as always a "but". Modern engines are finicky about oils and coolants. Yet with the correct oils and coolants they can last a very long time as well as be considerably more efficient than old school engines.

Yes you will hear tales of your great uncle's 1978 Ford Popular that went around the clock twice and of how your sister's car only did 60,000 miles before it dropped a valve. That's a bit like smoking though. There's a great aunt that smoked 20 woodbine a day and lived to 97, and your mate who never smoked, ate healthy and exercised but died aged 43.

In a perfect world we'd have reliable and efficient engines that will run forever on pee for coolant and vegetable fats for lubrication.Unfortunately science is a hard master.

Having said all this and re-reading it I recall my NTV650 Revere. That ran good quality but "ordinary" 10w40 oils. That ran with water and old school antifreeze. It wasn't as efficient as my modern CB500X but at 55-60mpg it did OK. It was, without doubt, entirely reliable and dependable.

I think overall my opinions on the idea of these esoteric fluids being good or bad are complicated and undecided. I have a layman's grasp on the science and reasoning, but I still wonder if it is all entirely necessary.

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Reader's Comments

CrazyFrog said :-
I'm generally a bit of a Ludite (no, no, surely not I hear you cry!), but I think the major thing which enables car and bike engines to reach undreamed of mileages these days is the quality of modern oils. After all, finer tolerances aside, the same bits of metal are still bearing on each other within the engine.

I'm with you on the coolant though, the whole thing seems designed to confuse you so much that you buy the most expensive one you can just to be on the safe side!
10/5/2019 8:17:52 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
A luddite? Thought never crossed my mind.

Metallurgy has moved on CrazyFrog. How much different the engine bearing faces are though I do not know. I'd estimate the improvements are 70% oil, 20% tolerances and 10% metallurgy. These are purely gut feeling guesses.

DO NOT just buy the most expensive coolant!! There is this idea that mixing different coolant types can cause a sludge and your engine will overheat causing the end of society as we know it and lead to the apocalypse.

But how are we to know what coolant we have? Colour, ah yes. Match the colour. NOPE. Because the world is filled with "challenging" people some brands aren't following protocol. I'd suggest buying an air cooled engine.
11/5/2019 7:18:12 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Yes, I should have been more specific, I meant the most expensive coolant applicable to your machine, which is usually the manufacturers brand. Therein lies the rub though really, as lots of manufacturers now recommend their own specific coolant and I've found it difficult to ascertain what specification is applicable to a particular machine if you want to buy anothrr brand of coolant. I usually consult owners forums for advice, give the cooling system a really thorough flushing and then stick to the same brand and spec of coolant in the future.

Obviously I don't have this issue at the moment with two air cooled by, but I feel your pain.

If you think you're suffering trying to find which coolant to use though, it's a good job you don't like two strokes! Trying to decide on which 2T oil to use is an even bigger minefield...
11/5/2019 7:45:12 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Like OMG, like imagine you've like got a 2 stroke, that's bad enough like. Then like imagine that nasty thing is like liquid cooled you know like a NSR125 or RD350 YPVS. I mean like you'd never like ever ever ever know what to do!! Like.

I've been researching some more. It seems there are the usual wildly varying opinions. From "You will kill your engine in 5 miles" through to "Don't worry, it's all nonsense, they can be mixed just fine, maybe the wrong fluid might cause a water pump seal to fail after 20,000 miles". The problem with knowledge is knowing what is the right knowledge. There is a saying "ignorance is bliss", it is starting to make sense.

11/5/2019 9:38:59 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I agree that modern oils are a huge improvement. In the old days it would take hours for the horrible sludgy stuff to drain. When Duckham's 20w/50 came out it was seen as a miracle - no longer did we have to change our oil dependent on the season (although some people still insist on that).

I believe the other thing that has massively improved is the surface finish and accuracy of bearing surfaces which contribute to the astronomical mileages covered by some vehicles. My Land Rover Td5 is running very nicely at nearly 170,000 miles - doesn't burn any oil, starts immediately etc.

With respect to coolant I'm sure we've had the discussion here previously. To recap, there are essentially only 2 types; organic acid technology (OAT) and Inorganic (surprisingly enough) Acid Technology (IAT). The former is used on most modern cars; the latter on older ones. You can't tell which is which by colour although OAT is usually pink - but not always. You must read the label.

The problem comes with bikes which generally do not specify the type of coolant to use, but tell you to use the manufacturer's stuff which doesn't tell you what it is (see Ren's picture). My opinion (which is worth precisely nothing) is that they should use OAT as it resists corrosion better in mixed metal environments and does not contain silicates which can wear water pump innards.

And it is true that a mixture of OAT and IAT can develop a horrible sludge - I've seen it.
11/5/2019 2:18:18 PM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
I think you're on the money there Ian. As I say, I always do a really good cooling system flush when I get a new to me bike, because regardless of what is speced for the bike, it's probable that the previous owner was just as confused as the rest of us so in reality you've no idea what was already in there. Doing a really good flush hopefully minimises the chances of sludge forming.

Similarly, there's a sort of urban myth going round that you should do an engine oil flush if you are changing to fully synth engine oil as if you don't, you'll get sludge forming. I've never understood the logic behind this though, and I've certainly never had any issues doing this, though of course flushing your engines oilways out can't do any harm...
12/5/2019 8:24:53 AM UTC
Borsuk said :-
I'm glad my bikes are oil/air cooled I am.
Damn just remembered the quad is water cooled.
12/5/2019 9:50:13 AM UTC
Upt'North said :-
With regards the Honda coolant, you can buy it in the smaller bottles for bikes or top up etc, but if you go to a Honda car dealer parts dept. they will sell you a larger container for a good saving. Coolant as far as I am aware doesn't go off on the shelf so there shouldn't be any waste. I'm sure the Honda stuff would be good for any bike once flushed.
12/5/2019 10:10:49 AM UTC
Upt'North said :-
On a separate note, how do you dispose of the old stuff?
Took some to the local tip recently and they told me to put it into the skip for non recycled waste. So it's now buried somewhere in Northumberland. Should I have just poured it down the drain?
12/5/2019 10:13:40 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
The oil thing comes from the very rare and esoteric ester based one use only racing engine oils. Apparently these don't mix with regular oils. Dinosaur oil and synthetic oil can be mixed.
12/5/2019 8:32:18 PM UTC
pocketpete said :-
Following Rens problems with Coolant I had similar problems of the local dealers offering me the wrong coolant fortunately Ren had published his findings these are a few email conversations with Honda who clearly dont have a clue.


Thank you for contacting Honda UK.
We are very sorry to learn about the situation.
We can take this matter further to the attention of our Head Office where our colleagues from Customer Relations will be able to investigate this and offer advice.
In order to do this, please provide us with the reg. plate and VIN of your motorcycle, the names of the 2 Honda dealership involved and the different coolants they recommended. Please feel free to include any other relevant information.
After receiving that information, our Customer Relations team in Bracknell will provide you with a resolution.
Thank you in advance.
Honda Customer Service
Honda UK

My registration is MC1##### which is a 2016 cb500x.
I don't have the vin number handy.
I was offered Castrol coolant at hunts motorcycles burnage Manchester and motul coolant at robinsons of rochdale.
Neither of the coolants were silicate free oat compatible coolants which is designed for aluminium block engines to prevent internal corrosion.
I have used both dealers in the past and found them helpful indeed hunts even offered to order the correct coolant in for me. I cannot fault hunts who have always been more than helpful with superb staff.
My concern is that they are putting incorrect coolant in engines which are covered by warranty. Or selling the incorrect coolant without informing people of the possible corrosion.
I picked up the correct stuff from halfords within a few minutes by click and collect. Halfords own brand silicate free OAT standard coolant.
Interestingly whilst looking for the correct coolant I came across someone who had had exactly the same problem.
They also were given the wrong coolant by a dealer.


Thank you for your quick response.
We appreciate all the details you sent us and I believe my colleagues in the Customer Relations department will find them very helpful.
As agreed, I have forwarded the situation to our Head Office for further attention. They will look into the matter and provide you with a resolution within 3 working days.
Should you need to contact us again regarding this issue, please quote your unique reference number: #######
Thank you for contacting Honda. If we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Good Afternoon
Thank you for contacting Honda (UK) Customer Relations.
I understand your question was in relation to the type of coolant used in your CB500X motorcycle and there was a concern that this may have affected the engine.
I have raised your concerns with our team of motorcycle technicians, and they have explained that the coolant you have used shouldn't be causing any issues, but if different types have been mixed together then that may possibly be the problem. It would be very helpful if you could send a photograph of the types of coolant that you are using and have used previously, so we are able to offer a further diagnosis and a recommendation on what to do moving forwards.

Thank you once again for contacting Honda (UK).

Kindest Regards,

Customer Relations Co-ordinator
I have no idea what you are going on about, my email was Totally clear on this point. Please actually read it and answer the question I asked.
Which was why are your dealers offering the incorrect fluid for my bike when using the incorrect one may cause damage to the engine.
I am happy I have put in the correct fluid no silicates and OAT compliant But not happy your dealers are offering the incorrect fluid and seem to have no idea what is the correct fluid.
It's simple really if mixing incorrect fluids can cause damage to this type of engine block why are your dealers offering fluid that is capable of damaging the engine. When my bike has been serviced by the dealers have they put the correct fluid in mine or other customers bikes.
This is not isolated cases as the link I gave you shows and indeed the forums show similar cases.


I apologise if you felt I didn't properly understand your previous email.
I have spoken with our motorcycle technicians here at Honda (UK) and they are unaware of any dealers selling or using incorrect coolant fluid, and there have been no other cases relating to this to their knowledge. Each dealership has a Honda (UK) representative who regularly visits the dealership to check the proper standards are being met, and this includes the products used. If you feel the dealership that you have been to haven't been following this procedure, then I would be happy to pass the information onto their representative so they can investigate this further with the dealership directly.
Thank you for your feedback and for bringing your concerns to our attention at Honda (UK).

Kindest Regards,

Customer Relations Co-ordinator
Well you are now aware that dealers are offering incorrect coolants to their customers.
I have as an experiment rang 3 extra dealers Wigan Chester and derby. Only Wigan offered me the correct type of coolant for my engine and even Wigan were confused until I mentioned it must be silicate free. Then he knew exactly which one it was. Chester and derby offered me standard coolant both stating it was the correct one even though it wasn't.
Try it your self ring a few dealers and ask for bike coolant for a cb500x. So far 4 out of 5 have got it wrong and only hunts and Wigan actually had the correct one available.
So to say your dealers have not misold or mislead customers is simply not correct. How do I even know if they use the correct fluid during a service if they cant get it right for a customer who actually knows which one it should be. You need to check across your dealer network.
I will be publishing my findings across the owners club and associated online forums as I have little confidence in your dealer network.

Indeed it took halfords less than a minute to identify the correct product for me.


Dear Mr ,
Thank you for the information that you have provided and for your feedback on this matter.
I hope that you appreciate that customer satisfaction is very important to us here at Honda (UK) and, although we certainly would never question the sincerity of a claim such as the incorrect coolant being offered at our dealerships, it is important that the information we use is always based on factual evidence. If you have a photograph of the exact coolants that have been used previously that you're concerned about and the name of those that have been offered, and also the dealerships you have contacted we can then work to provide a resolution.

Kindest Regards,

Customer Relations Co-ordinator

Are you totally thick I gave you all that information in my first and second emails.
My bike has just had its 16000k service which required removal of the top radiator hose which means you have a loss of a small amount of coolant. In order to replace this coolant I required the correct coolant to match the specification in the manual to ensure that the bike is served in accordance with your warranty and maintenance schedule.
I rang the two dealers hunts and robinsons to obtain the coolant. It was at that point I was offered the incorrect coolant by both dealers although hunts offered to order in the correct coolant
I really think you are failing to understand a simple principle here. The bike I have required Silicate free OAT coolant. Your dealers offered me castrol and motul which is not silicate free or OAT.
Therefore it is certain your dealers are selling incorrect coolants for a given model and its possible putting incorrect coolant in during maintenance.
Do you not understand the significance of this?

Damage can be caused by incorrect usage of the wrong coolant!
I have already demonstrated that your dealers are giving out incorrect advice.
And a web search revealed other people who have also been given incorrect coolant advice by your dealers. I sent you the links.
As I am extremely deaf I record all calls do i have to download the calls and send them to you or is it simpler to publish them online where the world can listen to them.
I am not after compensation or a discount or anything i simply want you to understand the significance of this and get your dealers to give out correct advice for this and other models in order to prevent this from happening to someone else who may not be as technically minded.


Dear Mr,
Thank you for the information that you have provided and for your feedback on this matter.
I have spoken with the dealernetwork supervisor and can confirm that all the Honda dealers are fully trained in the use of the correct coolant and are supplied by Honda Uk with the correct coolants for servicing UK bikes in accordance with Honda technical requirements.
I hope that you appreciate that customer satisfaction is very important to us here at Honda (UK) and, although we certainly would never question the sincerity of a claim such as the incorrect coolant being offered at our dealerships, it is important that the information we use is always based on factual evidence. I would be grateful if you can forward the call on to us to verify what you were offered.


Please See attached copy of phone recording between myself and your dealers.
Dear Mr ,
Thank you for the call information that you have provided and for your feedback on this matter.
I have listened to the call and have sought legal advice on its contents.
Firstly it is illegal to record private conversations without the express consent of both parties.
In light of this you have failed to provide us with any evidence of bad practice as the recording cannot be used in this way.
I am sorry I cannot help you in this matter further.

Kindest Regards,

Honda UK
Legal Services

Dear xxxxx,
Under RIPA legislation it is legal for a private Individual or a business to record telephone calls for the following reasons.
provide evidence of a business transaction
ensure that a business complies with regulatory procedures
see quality standards or targets are being met
in the interests of national security
for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime
prevent or detect crime to investigate the unauthorised use of a phone network
secure the effective operation of the phone network.

I suspect your dealers come under several of these reasons.
Mainly to see business standards are being met and in order to prove a business transaction ie to prove I purchased the coolant or indeed to prevent or detect crime.
It may be illegal to sell something knowing it may cause damage or reckless at the whether damage may be caused. ie damage to an engine.
In any case this would of course be a civil matter and not a police matter.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.


They have not answered me since this.......I Wonder why?

14/5/2019 6:16:58 PM UTC
RobEll said :-
As it's also an offence to attempt to prevent individuals from exercising their rights e.g. Consumer rights; consider referring the case to your local trading standards department to investigate the consumer protection breaches that may have arisen from the actions and poor responses, from the businesses involved. Perhaps the apt. regulator can make companies listen where legitimate concerns exist.
16/5/2019 8:06:26 AM UTC
Glenn said :-
Pocketpete, you sir, are a patient man.
But I can't say I'm surprised by the responses.
23/5/2019 9:13:17 AM UTC
c87reed said :-
Not a good attitude from Honda's customer service there.

I've always considered myself to be quite switched on in terms of mechanical maintenance and such like. But the latest oil and coolants are undoubtedly a real source of headaches. I think that one problem is that some 'professionals' are a little too quick to guess to provide an answer, presumably through fear of it being apparent or admitting that they don't know or aren't sure.

I know that I have at least 3 separate litre bottles of coolant that I've bought for a one off top up different bikes/cars through just not wanting to presume compatibility. The same goes for oil, I've 5w-20 in Ford ecoboost spec sat there. My VW Up GTI also takes 5w-20 but isn't compatible based on the specs. It can soon become very wasteful.

Owner's manuals are often vague at best and aren't always much help. My Sh300i provides no information about final drive oil type, not wanting to presume anything, I scoured the internet provided that answer which turns out to be 10w-30 as per the engine. To my knowledge all of the latest Hondas now specify 10w-30 in the manual (certainly the case for my 18MY CB1000R & 15MY SH300i), with no other viscosities listed as being an option. Presumably due to economy/emissions benefits of a thinner 30 weight oil. I know that some dealers are servicing the latest CB1000R with 10w-40 rather than 10w-30. I have an unopened bottle of Castrol Power 1 10w-40 fully synthetic sat in my garage, if it was listed in the manual I would be telling my bike mechanic to put that in on Saturday when I have my 600 mile service. However, if the engine goes pop, what would stop Honda then saying that it did so due to an incorrect spec of oil!

27/5/2019 4:59:03 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
So is this all a conspiracy by the Rothschilds or The Illuminati or our Lizard overlords? Or is it a result of different development paths by Ford and VW.

Yes my Honda also requires 10w-30 and during the first 2 services carried out by Honda Wigan the official Honda dealer used 10w-40. When I asked about this - and the fact they wanted to sell me the wrong kind of coolant - the attitude was "we've always used this and never had any problems." Yeah mate. That's because you only service new motorcycles up to about 3 years old. After that everyone either does it themselves or uses cheaper and perhaps more thorough local mechanics.

I could run new motorcycles on water for coolant and cheap 20w-50 basic oil for the typical 3,000 miles a year and the engine will survive the warranty period. After that it's not their problem.

28/5/2019 9:12:09 AM UTC
Upt'North said :-
An oil thread, I knew it was time for one of them.
10w30 or 10w40,does it make any difference, do we care?
With regards to using the correct oil or franchised dealers during a warranty period, that's got to be a no brainer? Hasn't it?
Afterwards as long as its either dedicated wet clutch bike oil or non dedicated that are not environmental oils that are full of slippy stuff, 10w30 or 10w40 will make little difference. That's unless you are riding in warmer climes where a 40 could have benifits over a 30, at a cold start they're the same oil, I.E. 10.
If anyone has any old oil in sealed containers post it to me for testing!

28/5/2019 11:07:46 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
10w is the cold startup viscosity. 30 or 40 is the running temp viscosity... give or take. As c87reed says it's likely the 30 is preferred to the 40 primarily for fuel economy reasons. Buuuuuuut I *could* argue the thinner oil is required due to the tighter tolerances of the modern motors. Otherwise we'd all still be running 50 weights like we did in't good owd days.

Imagine your super tight motor. The thin almost water-like oil slips easily into all those tight spaces between the crank and rods and is then fluid enough to spray around under the piston. You stick in some treacle and the oil doesn't even flow fast enough to reach the far end of the crank let alone squirt under the piston.

I am grossly exaggerating here, I also agree it's 99.9% fine to use 10w-40 in a 10w-30 motor. My point is it is way more complex than just "thicker is better" or "thinner is better". Some cars use 0w-20 now. It really is like horse-pee. I have a grasp of the science but it FEELS so wrong to put something so watery in there.
28/5/2019 12:55:27 PM UTC

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