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Understanding Oil Contaminants

By Tom Bock

April, 2019

One of the questions I hear often is “why does it take 24-48 hours to process my sample, when I can get it done in a few minutes at a truck stop?” The answer is that the truck stop uses a desktop analyzer that tests for a few of the wear metals, viscosity, fuel, soot and glycol. The lab used by OPS tests for 31 different components including all wear metals, contaminant metals, multi-source metals, oil additives, fuel dilution, soot, water, viscosity, base number, oxidation and nitration. The desktop model can provide effective results for oil that is being changed every cycle, but for an extended drain program you should use an advanced mobile test kit from an accredited lab. The additional information on oil additive package, base number, oxidation, nitration etc. will ensure the oil quality is within guidelines to ensure proper engine protection until the next sampling or drain cycle.

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The accredited labs analyze the oil on equipment that costs upwards of $500,000 and follow strict testing guidelines established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Test procedures are administered by trained certified technicians. The test results are then sent to a certified analyst for evaluation and recommendations. A typical oil sample will undergo testing on 8 or more different analysis machines and may receive additional extensive individualized analysis if the standard testing produces any unusual abnormalities. The sampling equipment is calibrated by the Quality Control Supervisor and certified accurate before and after each sample run. Comparing certified sample materials to test results ensure proper calibration of equipment, adherence to sample protocol and accuracy of test results. 

Think of the difference between a desktop sample and a fully accredited lab as; the difference between your family doctor ordering basic blood work, to determine any deficiencies compared to The Mayo Clinic running a full battery of blood work with a full body scan etc. The basic blood work may tell you to avoid sugar or you need more iron in your diet. But the full scan will discover any deficiencies or health issues you may have and suggest the proper course of action to ensure you a healthy life.

Recently the question came up as to why the additive metals section of the oil sample results seem to have an unusual amount of abnormal results reported. The reason is that oil companies do not always update the labs timely when they change formulations. The lab may have old information that the Calcium should be between 1200-1400 ppm for a certain oil type and tested oil has 1500 therefore an abnormal result would be noted. The oil additives: Boron, Magnesium, Calcium, Barium, Phosphorous and Zinc are not used in the same concentrations by every oil manufacturer. Some may substitute Magnesium for Calcium to enhance the base package, others may use Boron to extend oil life etc. In addition, when additives are blended into the oil they may not blend evenly. Taking a 4-ounce sample from a 7500-gallon tanker, a 55-gallon drum or a gallon bottle will most like not produce exactly the same readings. The key to ensuring the additive package is meeting the guidelines is to know how the total base number is holding up and how well the Zinc is protecting engine from excessive wear. 

One thing that should also be taken into consideration is that when you drain oil there is always some residue left in the engine. If you change oil types or add a different brand / grade of oil the residue or new formulation may contain oil additives that the new oil type doesn’t utilize. This will be reported as an abnormality but should not be a cause for concern.

I hope you were able to attend the Mid America Truck Show this year and were able to find products that will improve your performance and add to your bottom line. I know that anyone that stopped by the OPS booth 68216 to discuss oil sampling and the EcoPur System spent their time wisely and they were able to see ways of improving oil and engine life.

If you have any questions or would like to see certain topics discussed in this column, please email me at: tbock@horizoncp.biz