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What is used oil analysis, and why should you be using it?

What is used oil analysis, and why should you be using it?

By Darryl Purificati, OEM technical liaison, Petro-Canada Lubricants

Proactive maintenance such as regular services and equipment checks are vital for maintaining the reliability and efficiency of a fleet. But when looking to the future and predicting downtime, how can you spot the signs of mechanical issues before they become too expensive to repair?

By taking a closer look at the condition and components of your fleet’s engine oil through oil monitoring, expert analysis can help highlight the early signs of problems within the engine. These can then be addressed in planned workshop time to prevent unplanned downtime and potential engine failure.

Monitoring the engine’s lifeblood

Engine oil keeps the vital internal hardware protected and helps ensure that the engine operates with maximum efficiency. The lifeblood of the engine, heavy-duty engine oil is essential to the smooth running of a fleet and used oil analysis is akin to preventative medicine or a blood test. The process allows you to monitor and identify any potential anomalies in the oil analysis report that may impact the overall health of the vehicle’s engine.

Analyzing the condition of your fleet’s used engine oil is a simple three-step process to produce a report which can inform your decisions. The first step is to take a representative sample of the engine oil. Second, the sample should be sent to a qualified used oil analysis laboratory, which will then share with you its report. The final and most important stage of the process is interpreting and acting on the findings of the report to improve the performance and reliability of your fleet.

Used oil analysis can also be utilized to highlight the potential to safely extend oil drain intervals* and to keep your fleet on the road for longer while reducing scheduled maintenance costs.

Reading the report

Being able to interpret and act upon the results of your used oil analysis report is vital – as otherwise the report and its insight are left unused and your fleet’s maintenance requirements unexpected.

By reviewing the results in the report, you can get to know what is ‘normal’ for your engines and detect issues more immediately that may require maintenance in the future. When used on a regular basis, used oil analysis helps build up trends in results that can be easily identified, and therefore help highlight any anomalies which could be the signs of early mechanical failure and results in the need for maintenance to be scheduled.

Common anomalies and early warning signs to look for include:

  • Coolant or glycol being present as this could be the sign of a failing Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) cooler seal. The first sign of this is reports of silicon, potassium or sodium in your oil analysis, so levels of these properties should be watched closely as a failing EGR cooler seal requires immediate attention from a mechanic.
  • Increases in iron and aluminum can be early indicators of a failing camshaft, coolant leak attacking the liners, or the engine requiring mechanical adjustment.
  • Unburnt fuel (as a result of fuel dilution and reduction in viscosity) and increases in metals (iron, aluminum, lead, and copper) are indicators that the protection of engine components may be compromised. If you see this in your report, seek expert advice from a mechanic and lubricant professional to help pinpoint the root cause and resolve the issue.

Spotting these changes in a used oil analysis report early can result in maintenance that is both less disruptive and costly, which helps get the fleet back on the road sooner. Used oil analysis provides you with a tool to help predict the future maintenance needs of your fleet to help keep the vehicles running reliability and reduce unplanned downtime to improve the overall efficiency of your business.

*Extending drain intervals should always be undertaken in conjunction with an oil analysis program.


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