What Is Oil Analysis and Why Should I Do It?
Oil analysis is a diagnostic, preventative maintenance tool for monitoring and evaluating lubricant and equipment conditions. It allows you to maximize asset performance and reliability by identifying minor problems before they become major failures. It can safely extend oil drain intervals and, ultimately, the life of your equipment — saving you time AND money.
How Often Should I Sample My Equipment?
Although the original equipment manufacturer’s recommendations provide a good starting point for developing preventative maintenance practices, sampling intervals can easily vary. How critical a piece of equipment is to production is a major consideration for determining sampling frequency, as are environmental factors such as hot, dirty operating conditions, short trips with heavy loads and excessive idle times.
How Do I Take a Sample?
Consult our list of sampling equipment and supplies to determine what sampling system and procedure will work best for the type of equipment you want to test. For step-by-step instructions by sampling equipment type, click on How to Take a Sample.
How Do I Submit Sample Information?
There are three ways to submit sample information accurately and efficiently, including:
- Use the HORIZON® app to find the component being sampled and fill out the sample information.
- Use HORIZON® to find the sampled component and fill out the sample information.
- When internet access is not available, then use the EZ Label to identify the component and add sample information.
How Long Does It Take To Process a Sample?
POLARIS Laboratories® processes most routine samples within 24-48 hours. Results and recommendations are available via HORIZON, our real-time internet service, within 15 minutes of completion. Reports also can be faxed and/or mailed but are not as quickly available.
Can Oil Analysis Predict Equipment Failure?
Yes. Oil Analysis provides vital information as to the condition of both the oil and the unit being tested. It can detect wear and contamination problems that, if left unchecked, can severely effect equipment performance or cause failure.
- What Are the Most Commonly Requested Oil Analysis Tests?
The most commonly requested oil analysis tests are:
Elemental Analysis by ICP
Water by Crackle
Water by Karl Fischer
- How Do I Know A Laboratory’s Results Are Accurate If I Get Different Results From Different Labs On The Same Sample?
Test equipment may not be the same. Even if identical, calibration standards must be maintained and the same test methods used in order to achieve the same or even similar test results. If accurate results are the main concern, send two or three identical samples to the same laboratory to ensure repeatability and degree of uncertainty.
- When Should I Have My Fuel Tested?
Diesel Fuel Analysis
- If there is an engine performance problem, take a sample of the engine fuel and have it tested for performance properties.
- If you have bulk delivery shipments to your terminals, each shipment should be tested for basic properties.
- Possible contamination, sabotage or vandalism is cause for testing.
- Large bulk reservoirs should be tested at least twice a year for basic properties – Water & Sediment, and Bacteria, Fungi & Mold.
- If you are blending #1 & #2 Diesel Fuel for winter applications, Cloud Point, Pour Point will tell you if you have reached the desired level of protection.
- If you are blending anti-gel additives with bulk fuel, testing may be necessary.
Why Should I Test My Coolant?
It is a fact that 40% of all engine failures can be attributed to cooling system problems. If inhibitors, pH, Nitrites, SCA (Supplemental Coolant Additive), % Antifreeze, Freeze Point and pH are not maintained at the proper levels, coolants can reek havoc on an engine.
How Often Should I Test My Coolant?
Engine coolants should be tested at least twice a year, once before winter sets in and again right before summer. POLARIS Laboratories® recommends every 500 hours or 3 months for Level II or Level III analysis and every 1000 hours or 6 months for Level IV or Level V analysis. Education and training are key to understanding cooling system preventive maintenance and coolant analysis.
Should I Test The Source Water That I Use To Mix With My Antifreeze?
Yes, water in all parts of the country is different. The reaction of water to heat in an engine will be determined by the contaminants that the Antifreeze and Supplemental Coolant Additives can correct in the source water.
POLARIS Laboratories® recommends every 500 hours or 3 months for Level I or Level II analysis and every 1000 hours or 6 months for Level III analysis. Education and training are key to understanding cooling system preventive maintenance and coolant analysis.
Why Spend The Money On Coolant Analysis If I Change My Coolant Every Couple Of Years Anyway?
Simply changing your coolant may not solve and rarely identifies the cause of a cooling system problem. If not properly identified and corrected, many cooling system problems can escalate, causing even more damage to other components. A quality coolant analysis program can identify electrical ground problems, combustion gas leaks, air leaks, localized overheating, etc. which could cost the owner thousands of dollars in repairs, equipment downtime, and/or replacement. Coolant analysis is more than just testing the coolant. It monitors the system’s overall health and allows users to take action before further damage or engine failure occurs.
Can Coolant Analysis Determine If Coolant Formulations Have Been Mixed?
Yes, if we know what the original product is supposed to be. Organic acid coolants don’t have the typical inhibitors found in conventional products, such as silicates, phosphates and borates. However, hybrids – or conversion coolants – do. This makes it difficult to determine when mixing has occurred unless the original product is known.
- What Are Conversion Coolants?
Testing the coolant before conversion is recommended so that the condition of both the coolant and the cooling system is known. pH alone is not going to identify all problems. If analysis does not identify any problems, conversion can be done safely. The new formulation becomes a hybrid.
What is Fuel Dilution and what causes it?
Fuel Dilution is raw, unburned fuel that gets past the rings and ends up in the crankcase. It is caused by over-fueling, excessive idling, damaged injector tips, a high fuel to air ratio, irregular ring seating, engine timing issues or the fuel pump is turned up to high.
How much fuel dilution is too much?
Generally speaking, >5.0% is too much and the cause should be investigated. At 5.0% or higher, the viscosity of the oil has thinned out dramatically meaning reduced oil film strength. At this point, the engine will experience more wear from metal to metal contact. POLARIS Laboratories® severity levels for diesel fuel dilution are:
- Severity 0 — Normal = <2.0%
- Severity 1 — Green Flag = 2.0 — 3.4%
- Severity 2 — Yellow Flag = 3.5 — 4.9%
- Severity 3 — Orange Flag = 5.0 — 6.9%
- Severity 4 — Red Flag = 7.0% and higher
How will high fuel dilution affect other test results?
Because fuel is much thinner than oil, viscosity will drop significantly meaning the oil becomes thinner. Metallic additives in the oil such as Boron, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Zinc, will also become diluted which reduces film strength and increases wear if not corrected with proper maintenance.
What is soot and what causes it?
Soot is a by-product of the combustion process in a diesel engine — a carbon residue formed from fuel air and moisture in the combustion chamber after ignition. Soot particles are held in suspension by dispersant additives in the oil preventing the soot particles from agglomerating (sticking together) and attaching to the rings, pistons and liners. These suspended particles are what turn diesel engine oil black. When too much soot is generated and the additives can no longer keep it suspended, deposits will form on the rings weakening the seal between the pistons and cylinder liners. Upper end wear to rings, liners and pistons begins and if not corrected, will eventually cause severe lower end wear to the main and rod bearings, crankshaft, camshaft, cam bushing and turbo bearing.
- How much soot is too much?
POLARIS Laboratories® has set its initial flagging point for soot in a diesel engine at 2.0% because it is at this level that wear metals such as Iron, Chrome, Nickel and Aluminum from rings, liners and pistons begin to increase. POLARIS Laboratories® severity levels for soot are:
- Severity 0 — Normal 0.1 — 1.9%
- Severity 1 — Green Flag = 2.0 — 3.4%
- Severity 2 — Yellow Flag = 3.5 — 4.9%
- Severity 3 — Orange Flag = 5.0 — 6.9%
- Severity 4 — Red Flag = >7.0%
Does soot affect other test results?
If too high, soot can affect all wear metals at some point. Once soot begins to exceed 3 — 4%, viscosity will increase because soot thickens the oil. Excessive soot will also cause the oil’s TBN (Total Base Number) to drop faster than normal because soot increases the formation of acids which must be neutralized to prevent wear from occurring.
What is viscosity and what might be happening when it increases?
Viscosity is a measurement of a fluid’s resistance to flow at temperature. In other words, viscosity is the film strength or thickness of the oil and because of this it is the most important fluid property test for oils. A change in viscosity can be an indication of many problems such as oxidation, nitration, water contamination, soot contamination (engines), shearing (when molecules are split), coolant contamination or mixing lubes with different viscosities.
What would cause viscosity to decrease?
The most common reason for a decrease in viscosity in both industrial and mobile applications is lube mixing — adding a lower viscosity oil to a system that contains a higher viscosity oil. A decrease in viscosity may also be cause by fuel dilution, shearing of the viscosity index improver additives (see shearing below) and contamination from solvents or process chemicals.
What is Oxidation?
Everything that is exposed to oxygen will eventually oxidize. Oil is exposed to extreme heat as well as oxygen. As temperatures increase, so does the rate of oxidation. For every 18° F above 160° F, the oxidation rate of the oil doubles. Oxidation produces acids that cause the oil to thicken and in the process also cause corrosive wear.
What is Nitration?
Nitration is usually the result of an imbalance in the engine’s air to fuel ratio. When the engine runs too lean, meaning there’s too much air and not enough fuel, nitration occurs. Nitrous Oxide (NOx) becomes entrained in the oil which can form nitric acid that will eventually will lead to corrosive wear. Although nitration is more common in natural gas engines, it has become a more evident problem in diesel engines since 2002.
What other tests would be affected by Oxidation or Nitration?
In both oxidation and nitration, acid formation occurs, so TAN (Total Acid Number) will increase. Acid formation increases viscosity and also depletes TBN (Total Base Number) because the oil must work harder to neutralize these acids.
What test identifies dirt contamination?
The primary test for the detection of dirt is Elemental Analysis by ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma). Most dirt consists of Alumina/Silica or Silicon and Aluminum. POLARIS Laboratories® reports 24 metals by ICP.
How can I confirm that the Silicon results on my report represent dirt and not a silicone sealant?
There is a direct relationship between dirt or Silicon and Iron. If Silicon goes up and Iron goes up with it at relatively the same rate, the silicon is dirt. If Iron does not go up when silicon goes up then it is most likely from a silicone sealant or possibly from a silicone-based anti-foam agent.