Is Engine Oil Analysis, a waste of time or a scientific method of reducing breakdowns? You decide.

Analysing engine oil can be yet another very useful tool for the good yacht survey. Key to its success has been in fully understand and possessing the correct equipment as well as the process to go through to obtain a good sample. It is also crucial to be able to interpret the findings of that analysis and put that into simple to use pragmatic advice so the average yacht owner can use it. The results in my view can tell us a lot about how the engine is being used and what condition it’s in at that moment.

Let us have a quick look at the equipment I use.

Oli sampling equpment

This equipment has come direct from the laboratory where the samples are examined. I have a number of sterile bottles and tubing for the oil, and a specially designed pump that draws the oil into the bottle through the tubes without passing through the pump. The sharp knife is for cutting the tubes to the correct length dependent upon the engine specifications. Finally I have pre-paid envelopes and sealing labels to ensure integrity of the sample at the lab. Police forensic officers call this “Bagging and tagging.”

In order to get the sterile sample, I assemble the equipment and place the tube into the oil dipstick tube having first removed the dipstick. Then I draw up the engine oil into the bottle and seal it immediately noting all relevant details and identifying marks on the sticky labels. Because of the small amounts involved I can then send this in the normal postal system to the laboratory for testing. I would expect to get a result within a few days. If this is for a legal case I would take a second sample and seal it in the normal manner offering the owner any one of the sample bottles for his own testing if required. The laboratory I use is regarded as experts in this field and their findings are accepted in proceedings.

So why should I have my engine Oil tested?

The short answer is you do not have to but it is, in my opinion, a worthwhile consideration. When a patient goes to see their doctor they often provide samples which are analysed and the doctor or nurse then interprets the results. Advice is often given that indicates all is well or on occasion may require further investigation or even treatment. Oil sampling is a similar process but with obvious differences. Oil from any engine, that has been in place over a period of time, is an excellent diagnostic medium for indicating the condition of that engine. When the engine is run no matter how efficient the lubricant, minute particles of the working metal parts are released and circulated in the oil. They are so small you are most likely unable to detect that this is occurring; more importantly to what extent. That is not all, the combustion process induces pressure and strain on numerous parts of the engine assembly and any fault, no matter how slight may result in some of those substances being transferred unintentionally and circulated within the oil. Finally, the oil may be contaminated from any outside or foreign source and not meant to be part of the combustion or workings of the engine at all.

To summarise; Oil analysis can detect the following:

  • Dirt or foreign particle contamination in the oil
  • Antifreeze in the oil
  • Misapplication of lubricants
  • Fuel dilution or combustion material of lubrication oil
  • Excessive bearing or other metal wear

By taking a sample and analysing it we can identify and measure any of these impurities. Even more effective would be to sample and analyse over a period of time every six months or annually for example. This then can indicate scientifically and accurately the rate of wear and or the level of contamination. By skillful interpretation of these results we can suggest methods to reduce unnecessary wear or reduce the contamination, which in turn may well reduce the possibility of engine failures and the associated inconveniences and costs that involves.

For years we have all serviced our engines and changed fluids and filters at regular intervals regardless of how the engine has been used or the condition it is in. While this may meet manufacturer warranty issues; it does not necessarily meet our individual engines requirements. I would never advocate acting outside of those guidelines moreover I would suggest that an additional check may be more beneficial.

One other significant advantage of an oil analysis program; that is regular oil sampling over a period of time, is being able to anticipate problems and schedule repair work to avoid downtime during use. By sampling and analysing on a regular basis you can establish a baseline of normal wear and can indicate when abnormal wear or contamination occurs. Early detection through an oil analysis program has been proven to:

  • Reduce repair bills
  • Reduce non-scheduled downtime
  • Reduce catastrophic failures
  • Increase machinery life.

Consider this. The RNLI have for some time now moved away from the more traditional  “X” hours run type servicing schedule and now use oil sampling analysis to indicate the level of servicing or maintenance required on their boats. They do not have any warranty issues I am aware of and we all know how important reliability of their vessels is to all of us. I am confident that the RNLI moved across to this method of service scheduling ultimately and potentially to save lives. That was enough to convince me to offer this service to my clients.

If you would like any further information or indeed wish to request that your engine oil is sampled please do not hesitate to give me a call.