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The Importance of Engine Oil Analysis

The Importance of Engine Oil Analysis

Learn how implementing a regular engine oil analysis program can maximize vehicle protection and minimize operating costs.
Dave Mann
May 15, 2024
5 min read
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The Importance of Engine Oil Analysis

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Meet The Author

“Hi, I’m Dave - a former Ford Truck/Automotive Engineer and the face behind Performance Oil Technology. My trucks, heavy equipment, farm and powersports vehicles experience extreme use, and I use AMSOIL products in every single one; learn more about me here. Have a question? Contact me here. Enjoy the site!”

Why is engine oil analysis important?

Studies over the past several decades have shown that inadequate lubrication causes between 40%-83% of machine failures across different industries and costs U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

One of the best ways to mitigate premature machine and engine failure is to utilize oil analysis programs. These programs allow for an early diagnosis of potential lubrication problems, which can prevent equipment failure and save you time and money down the road.

Lubricant analysis can also increase vehicle performance and service life. Commercial and construction fleet vehicles can use engine oil analysis procedures to maximize their uptime and improve cost-effectiveness. Even the standard passenger vehicle can safely extend oil drain intervals and you can obtain a wealth of information that can be used to extend vehicle life through oil analysis.

AMSOIL partners with Oil Analyzers, INC to provide customers with cost-effective oil analyses for a wide range of engine applications encompassing passenger vehicles, commercial fleets, agricultural, industrial, construction equipment and even marine applications.

What is engine oil analysis?

Engine oil analysis is the thorough evaluation of used motor oil where oil contaminants, chemicals, and internal wear metals are analyzed to determine if your oil is adequately lubricating your engine. As in the analysis of human blood, oil analysis provides insight into the internal condition of equipment and the oil itself.

What does an engine oil analysis tell you?

An engine oil analysis from AMSOIL involves a range of tests that will tell you whether or not you need to change the oil and/or filter immediately or modify the drain and testing intervals. Oil analysis helps determine the following characteristics:

  • The presence of 24 metals in ppm using ICP Spectroscopy (wear metals, contaminant metals, additive metals, e.g.).
  • Fuel dilution by % of volume.
  • Engine soot by % of volume.
  • Water contamination by % of volume.
  • The oil's Kinematic Viscosity @ 100 °C.
  • The lubricant's Total Base Number (TBN).
  • Oxidation by absorbance per centimeter (abs/cm).
  • Nitration by abs/0.1 mm.

When you receive your test results from Oil Analyzers, they also summarize the results on a severity scale from 0 to 4:

  • Severity 0 (Normal) = The oil is suitable for continued use.
  • Severity 1 (Normal) = The oil is suitable for continued use; monitor trends in future tests.
  • Severity 2 (Abnormal) = The oil is suitable for continued use but another analysis is highly recommended at half the normal interval to prevent premature engine wear or damage from poor lubrication.
  • Severity 3 (Abnormal) = Immediately replace the oil filter and top-off the system with fresh oil. Recommended to resample and analyze at half the normal interval or change the oil entirely.
  • Severity 4 (Critical) = Immediately change the oil and filter if it wasn't already done when the sample was taken.
an engine oil analysis report from Oil Analyzers, INC.
An engine oil analysis report from Oil Analyzers, INC.

How long does engine oil analysis take?

Your engine oil analysis test results should be available to you by email or via an online portal within two business days after receiving your oil sample. AMSOIL oil analysis kits can be purchased with or without pre-paid shipping so you can determine how quickly the oil sample gets delivered.

What are the benefits of oil analysis?

Oil analysis enables you to:

  1. Obtain optimum equipment life by preventing premature failure.
  2. Reduce maintenance costs by eliminating unscheduled downtime.
  3. Identify pending problems before they become catastrophic.
  4. Schedule preventative maintenance when it is convenient for you.
  5. Calculate optimum drain intervals to reduce lubricant and disposal costs.
  6. Enable better assessment of equipment and lubricant performance.

How an Oil Analysis Program (OAP) Works

If you manage a fleet of commercial vehicles, over-the-road trucks, heavy operating equipment, or just want to extend the life of your oil and time between oil changes, an effective Oil Analysis Program (OAP) is a must.

Note: AMSOIL highly recommends engine oil analysis if you want to extend drain intervals beyond the AMSOIL-specified oil life guarantees and drain intervals recommended in their technical data.

OAP is a four-step process:

  1. Purchase an oil analysis test kit (with recommended pump).
  2. Pull the oil sample from your vehicle and ship.
  3. Oil Analyzers, INC analyzes the oil sample.
  4. Receive your report within two business days from sample receipt.

Step 1 - Purchase An Oil Test Kit

Begin the OAP process by purchasing an AMSOIL Oil Analysis kit. Analysis kits are available in single units or in quantities of 50 or 100, with lower per-kit prices for larger orders, and some of them come with an oil sample pump which can also be purchased separately if needed.

Upon receipt of your order, AMSOIL will immediately send out your sample kit, which includes a sample bottle, sample information form, and pre-paid shipping & packaging (kits without pre-paid shipping are also available).

Step 2- Sample and Ship Your Used Oil

  1. Read the Oil Sampling Procedures on the back of the sample information form.
  2. Fill out the Sample Information Form completely.
  3. Take a sample (minimum: 2 to 3 oz).
  4. Close and seal the sample container tightly.
  5. Send the filled sample container and the Sample Information Form to OAI in the supplied mailer.

Step 3- OAI Performs The Analysis

Upon receipt of your sample at the laboratory, all requisite testing will be performed. All analyses include the determination of viscosity, fuel dilution (if applicable), water, dirt content, fuel soot contamination (if applicable), plus spectrochemical analysis for 24 elements to determine component wear, airborne dirt, antifreeze contamination (if applicable), and oil additive concentrations.

The analyses also includes a neutralization value determination - Total Base Number, TBN (primarily for gasoline and diesel motor oils) or Total Acid Number, TAN (non-crankcase lubricants). Oxidation values and nitration value (if applicable) are also determined.

Step 4 - Receive Your Results

OAI will provide your analysis report to you the day your sample is analyzed via email and through their online portal. If your analysis uncovers a critical problem, such as pending equipment failure, a technician will telephone you directly to advise you of the situation and recommend a course of corrective action.

Oil Sampling Tips

  • For best results, oil samples should be taken immediately after equipment shutdown while the equipment is still at operating temperature. Never sample a cold engine, and always make sure the oil has been well circulated before taking a sample. Dirt, water, and other debris tend to settle to the bottom of the reservoir, while light fuels tend to float. This separation will compromise your analysis.
  • Good locations for sampling include an oil gallery, the engine crankcase, the drain plug or dipstick tube, and the equipment reservoir or sump.
  • When taking oil from industrial machinery through a bottom drain, be careful to draw oil until your sample has a uniform, representative appearance.
  • Use samples from the drain pan or oil filter only as a last resort. For a failed engine that has had the oil drained, a drain pan or oil filter sample may help detect the cause of the failure.
  • Avoid prolonged skin contact with used oil. Wash exposed skin with soap and water after exposure.
CAUTION: Engine crankcase oil temperatures can exceed 200°F. To avoid personal injury, use protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses and protective clothing.

Can antifreeze be tested/analyzed?

Yes. Oil Analyzers, INC. can also test your antifreeze. To do so, purchase an AMSOIL coolant testing kit, sample your antifreeze, ship it to Oil Analyzers (pre-paid shipping included) and they'll report back with your coolant health, detecting corrosion, contamination, and improper mixtures if they're present.

Save Money With Extended Oil Drains

Changing lubricants and fluids eats up a lot of time and money commercial fleets put into their regular maintenance programs. Commercial fleet owners and operators can save time and money by safely extending the intervals at which oils are changed while maintaining an active and productive fleet of vehicles.

For extended drains to be an option, however, contamination must be controlled.

Oils and greases protect moving parts from the effects of contamination but are themselves contaminated as they do so and eventually have to be replenished or replaced. Engine oil, for example, lubricates, cools, cleans, and protects the inside of an engine. It functions in an environment where clearances are smaller than the diameter of a human hair. In this environment, contact between camshafts and lifters or meshing gear teeth generates forces measured in tens of thousands of pounds per square inch. But the oil survives thanks to chemical additives designed to keep it from breaking down. These additives also increase fuel economy by reducing friction.

However, no oil can withstand the long term effects of contamination alone. Oil must be filtered through a medium to remove soot and other contaminants that remain suspended in the oil over time. Acids and other combustion by-products also are removed through oil filtration. These filters can last only so long before they also become clogged with contaminants and must be replaced.

If the rate of contamination in a vehicle's engine oil is carefully monitored, the life expectancy of both the oil and filter can be dramatically increased, and the amount of downtime related to routine maintenance can be significantly reduced.

How to Safely Extend Drain Intervals Beyond OEM Specs

Here are a few guidelines to remember when extending drain intervals beyond the manufacturer's recommendations:

  • Perform regular oil analyses: This service can tell you what contaminants are in your oil and how much life is left. A good oil analysis program can also tell you a lot about the condition of your equipment. AMSOIL recommends oil analysis kits and services from Oil Analyzers, INC. to develop lubricant regiments for commercial accounts.
  • Use Synthetic Oils: Synthetic oils have more stable chemical properties than petroleum-based oils and last longer. AMSOIL offers a wide variety of synthetic motor oils designed to work with all types of fleet equipment.
  • Install Bypass Filtration: Bypass filtration systems and filters can be used to extend oil life for much greater service intervals. Some owner-operators have extended oil life nearly indefinitely with the addition of bypass filtration units. The AMSOIL Bypass Filter efficiently filters out particles smaller than those that actually cause damage to internal engine components.
  • Keep Copies of Oil Analysis Reports: An article in Road King magazine reported on one owner-operator who had a warranty claim denied because he went 58,000 miles without an oil change (using synthetic oil and a wrapped-media bypass filter) when a con-rod bushing broke. He brought out a stack of oil analysis reports and asked, "Which one of these shows that I should have changed oil?" His warranty was honored.

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