What Oil Analysis Reveals About Your Engine and Oil
Oil analysis is a scientific way of preventing and uncovering issues with your engine. Read on to learn what key functions this early warning system can help you optimize – and how.
By Dan Arcy, Global OEM Technical Manager, Shell Lubricants
Oil analysis is a proven way of checking oil condition, quality, contamination, and machine wear. When an abnormality is identified, you’ll know what actions to take to correct the root cause, stop a failure from developing and more.
Ideally, you should have a sample of used oil analyzed after every oil change, and for every piece of equipment. A regular oil analysis program lets you build a database of your engine’s historic behaviors – maximizing your ability to secure a sustained optimal performance.
Think of oil analysis as a cost-effective early-warning system. Is there too much diesel fuel in the oil? You may need to check your fuel system.
What about traces of coolant? Your cooling system may need a check-up.
Too much dirt or soot? Maybe you've overextended your drain interval or have a leak in the air intake system.
In these types of cases, the lab can notice small abnormalities long before you do, so you can act before these triggers turn into possible operational problems or engine damage.
Longer ODI and lower costs
The knowledge gained from a consistent oil analysis program can help:
- Optimize your oil drain interval
- Increase equipment reliability
- Minimize unscheduled downtime
- More precisely track operating efficiency and maintenance practices.
This powerful combination can contribute to helping lower your total operating costs.
The wear-metals section of your analysis, for example, may detect a mechanical engine problem that has nothing to do with your oil.
High levels of iron could point to cylinder liner wear. Chromium, aluminum, lead, copper, tin – unusual levels of any of these metals can be spotted and interpreted by the lab, helping give you valuable information about your engine.
Another function of an oil analysis is to tell you about your oil. For example, you'll learn about its viscosity grade. If it's too high, then there could be soot or some other kind of contamination that's making the oil too thick.
Accurate oil analysis
For accurate results, an engine-oil analysis program asks users to follow a few fundamental steps that rarely get the attention they deserve:
- Provide a proper oil sample to the lab (read on to learn how)
- Give all necessary information needed by the lab
- Send the sample on the same day you took it; don’t let it sit on the shop workbench.
How to take an oil sample
If you take your sample when the oil is being drained, catch it midstream by waiting at least five seconds. That way, you won't be collecting heavy metals or other deposits lying at the bottom of the pan.
Withdrawing oil through the dip-stick opening is another good way to take a sample. Doing this can reduce the chance of outside dirt or contaminants getting into it – and prevent splattering when you stick the bottle into the stream.
Whichever way you take a sample, do it in the same way each time for consistent results.
Finally, although engine-oil analysis is common, it's also beneficial to your bottom line to have gear oil, transmission fluid and other vital lubricants tested.
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