Oil | Fuel | Coolant
What Is Oil Analysis?
Oil analysis involves sampling and analyzing oil for various properties and materials that indicate wear and contamination in an engine, transmission or hydraulic system. Sampling and analyzing on a regular basis establishes a baseline of normal wear or contamination occurs.
Oil analysis tells you a lot about how the equipment was used and what condition it’s in. Oil that has been inside any moving mechanical apparatus for some time reflects the exact condition of that assembly. As moving parts make contact, wear occurs and introduces minute metal particles to the oil. These particles are so small that they remain in suspension. Many products of the combustion process also become trapped in the circulating oil. In addition, the oil may be exposed to external contamination. Identifying and measuring these impurities indicates the rate of wear and level of contamination. Thus, the oil becomes a working history of the machine. Oil analysis also suggests methods to reduce accelerated wear and contamination.
A typical oil analysis can indicate the presence of contaminants and tell you if you’ve been using the appropriate lubricants. Oil analysis detects:
- Fuel dilution of lubrication oil
- Dirt contamination in the oil
- Antifreeze in the oil
- Misapplication of lubricants
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Some wear is normal. However, abnormal levels of a particular material can give an early warning of impending problems, prevent a breakdown and allow for corrective action such as repairing an air-intake leak before major damage occurs. One major advantage of an oil analysis program is being able to anticipate problems and schedule repair work to avoid downtime during a critical time of use.
Early detection can:
- Reduce repair bills
- Prevent catastrophic failures
- Increase machinery life
- Reduce non-scheduled downtime
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Physical & Metal Tests
During a complete oil analysis, you should test the sample for both physical properties and metals. Some of the physical properties tested for and usually included in an oil analysis:
- Anti-freeze: this forms a gummy substance that may reduce oil flow. It leads to high oxidation, oil thickening, high acidity and engine failure if not corrected.
- Fuel dilution: This property shows that oil has thinned, lowering lubricating ability and potentially causing a drop ni oil pressure. This usually causes high wear.
- Oxidation: Checking for oxidation is a measure of gums, varnishes and oxidation products. High oxidation from oil that became too hot or was used to long can leave sludge and varnish deposits and thicken the oil.
- Total base number: this generally indicates the acid-neutralizing capacity still in the lubricant.
- Total solids: these include ash, carbon, lead salts from gasoline engines and oil oxidation.
- Viscosity: Viscosity is the measure of oil’s resistance to flow.
- Oil may thin due to shear in multi-viscosity oils or by dilution with fuel. Oil may thicken from oxidation if it is run too long or too hot. Oil may also thicken from contamination by anti-freeze, sugar and other materials.
The following are some of the metals for which oil is tested and some of their potential sources:
- Aluminum: Thrust washers, bearings and pistons are made of this metal. High readings can be from piston skirt scuffing, excessive ring groove wear and broken thrust washers, among other problems.
- Boron, Magnesium, Calcium, Barium, Phosphorus and Zinc: These metals normally are from the lubricating oil additive package. They include detergents, dispersants and extreme pressure additives.
- Chromium: You typically associate chromium with piston rings. Dirt coming through the air intake or broken rings can cause high levels.
- Copper and Tin: These metal normally come from bearings or bushing and valve guides. Oil coolers also can contribute to copper readings along with some oil additives. In a new engine, these results normally will be high during break-in but will decline in a few hundred hours.
- Iron: This can come from many places in the engine, such as liners, camshafts, crankshafts, valve train and timing gears.
- Lead: Lead is associated with bearing wear, but fuel source (leaded gasoline) and sample contamination (use of galvanized containers for sampling) are critical factors in interpreting this metal.
- Silicon: High readings generally indicate dirt or find sand contamination from a leaking air intake system, which cause excessive wear from abrasion.
- Sodium: You normally would associate a high reading of this metal with a coolant leak. But they also can be from an oil additive package.