What Is An Oil Analysis?

Justin Christensen |

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When it comes to our physical health, there are plenty of exterior signs that let us know the kind of condition we’re in – weight, muscle tone and energy level are just a few examples. However, sometimes we need to dig deeper, so it’s off to the doctor for a checkup or an exam and perhaps some tests.

It’s like an oil analysis for your engine. You might notice things such as rust, cracks or leaks on the exterior, but a simple way to get an idea of its overall health is to see what’s in the oil.

What Does an Oil Analysis Involve?

In a typical analysis, a series of four tests are conducted: 

  1. Spectral Exam – A sample of the oil is run through a spectrometer machine. This indicates the levels of various metals and additives that are present and how much engine wear is taking place.
  2. Insolubles Test – Measures the amount of abrasive solids that have accumulated from oil degradation. This test tells how much it has oxidized and how well the oil filter is working.
  3. Viscosity Test – Measures the oil’s thickness and what the grade should be, such as 5W20 or 15W40. If it falls outside that range, the oil may have been overheated or contaminated.
  4. Flash Point Test – The temperature at which the oil’s vapors ignite. Every grade of oil has a specific flashpoint. If it flashes lower than it should, the oil has likely been contaminated.

What Does It All Mean?

Once all the tests are done, you will receive a report or diagnosis of the results. Oil that has been inside any mechanical system over a period of time is in essence a working record of the machine. The oil traps trace metallic particles from various components and other products used in the combustion process. 

Identifying and measuring these impurities are a reflection of where the engine wear is occurring and any abnormal contamination. For example, high levels of sodium usually mean a coolant leak, but it could also be coming from an oil additive. Other properties tested for include: aluminum, magnesium, chromium, copper, lead and silicon. 

The analysis can also detect conditions such as: fuel diluted oil, presence of dirt or antifreeze, excessive bearing wear and misuse of lubricants.

What Are the Benefits?

Like any medical history, an oil analysis can tell you what’s happened in the past and can give you advance warning of something coming down the pipeline.  There are a number of benefits to having one done.

  • Allows you to “look inside” the engine without taking it apart;
  • Reduces maintenance and repair bills;
  • Lessens or prevent disastrous failures;
  • Extends the life of machinery and equipment;
  • Decreases unplanned downtime;
  • Is a reliable evaluation tool for buying or selling used equipment;

Who Can Benefit? 

Analyses can be performed on any type of oil, including: bio-diesel, engine, lube, hydraulic, power steering fluid, oil based additives or any other type. This makes the process applicable in a wide range of equipment and industries, such as:

  • —  Automotive gas engines
  • —  Truck diesel engines
  • —  Motorcycles
  • —  Industrial plants
  • —  Aviation
  • —  Marine
  • —  Locomotive
  • —  Transmission
Early detection and regular checkups are the best forms of prevention, so make an appointment with your fuel distributor specialist. Their team of dedicated professionals will conduct oil and equipment analyses and provide top of the line products to ensure optimal operating performance. They will also offer training, technical support and maintenance programs. It’s a fantastic prescription that will save you valuable time and money.