Oil Tech: Oil Analysis

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Jun2012 20

In some of the other Oil Tech articles I briefly touched on some oil properties such as total base number (the measure of remaining acid-neutralizing capability of the oil) and viscosity. There was also a brief mention of the additive packages that, in addition to the base stock, make up engine oil.

One common question that goes along with these things is “How do i figure out how much life is left in my oil?” or “Is it ok to extend my oil change interval?” Both of these questions can be answered with an oil analysis.

We typically use Blackstone Labs, which is one of several companies that offers a variety of oil analysis procedures. Pricing is reasonable at $25 for a standard oil analysis, which uses a spectrometer to measure the level of metals, additives, and silicon present in the oil. Blackstone Labs will also measure some of the physical properties of the oil such as flash point, viscosity, and percentage of insoluble solids present. Measuring the total base number (TBN) is an additional $10. They also offer a variety of other tests which are listed, with pricing, on their website.

The spectrometer results can be very helpful in diagnosing what exactly is going on in your engine. The levels of common additives, such as calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, will give you an idea of how depleted the additive package in the oil has become. The levels of wear metals can give you an idea of the condition of things like your bearings and piston rings. For example, if you see an elevated level of copper or aluminum, it may indicate bearing wear. On the other hand, piston ring wear may show up as elevated chromium levels.

The Blackstone Labs analysis report will also have an explanation of what the different levels may indicate, recommendations as far as extending your oil change interval (may require TBN test), or things to keep an eye on in the future. Regular oil analyses will give you an idea of how these levels have changed over time and allow you to track the condition of the parts inside your engine.

They do ask for some of the vehicle information, such as make, model, engine, mileage, etc. All of the times I have spoken with them directly, they were very knowledgeable about some of the common problems with the engine in question, such as the issues with camshaft wear in some of the TDI (turbocharged, direct-injection, diesel) engines.

All in all, an occasional oil analysis is a good way to stay aware of the condition of your engine as well as your oil. It is a great way to keep an eye on wear and potentially prevent damage. It is always easier to solve a problem when you know that the problem exists and what that problem is.

For the complete series of Oil Tech posts, check out this link

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