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Interpreting an Oil Analysis

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Oil Analysis Interpretation

Understanding an oil analysis can be a crucial step towards assessing the health of your engine, provided you know what to decipher. In this detailed guide inspired by a video from Engineering Explained, which was supported by Mobil 1, we aim to simplify the entire process for you.

The host of the video, Jason Fenske, utilized his Subaru Crosstrek to demonstrate the process. He collected 12 synthetic oil samples for the analysis, which included four from new oil, four after an idle period of 15 minutes following an oil change, and four after a 3,000-mile journey. While one batch was sent to Mobil 1, another set was sent to Blackstone Laboratories for cross-verification considering Mobil 1 also sponsored the video. The third set served as a reserve.

Oil analysis generates a plethora of data. A sensible starting point is to scrutinize the wear indicators like diverse metals. The presence of these metals in high quantities in the oil could suggest engine wear. For instance, high parts per million (ppm) of aluminum may indicate issues with pistons, while an elevated iron level might point to a problem with the crankshaft, as these metals are typically deposited in the oil from these respective components.

The analysis also highlights potential contaminants. Elements like potassium and sodium, which are byproducts of engine coolant, when found in considerable amounts in the oil, suggest coolant leakage into the oil, a possible sign of head gasket failure. Additionally, the detection of silicon could mean contamination from sand or dirt, possibly due to a malfunctioning air filter.

The health of the oil and the appropriate time to replace it can also be determined through oil analysis. Fuel dilution is a significant aspect here as the admixture of fuel with oil can weaken the oil’s effectiveness. Another critical measure is the Total Base Number (TBN), a measure of additives that combat the accumulation of contaminants. A TBN above 1.0 is recommended by the third-party laboratory used in this test.

The examination can also assess factors like soot content (typically more critical in diesel and direct-injected gasoline engines), water contamination, viscosity levels, and the extent of oxidation and nitration — two reactions that degrade oil quality over time. However, if you adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended oil change schedule, you’re less likely to encounter any peculiarities in these aspects.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Oil Analysis Interpretation

What was the purpose of the oil analysis demonstrated in the video by Engineering Explained?

The purpose of the oil analysis was to demonstrate how it can be used to assess the health of an engine. The host, Jason Fenske, used various samples of oil from his Subaru Crosstrek at different stages of use to illustrate how various aspects of the oil change over time and usage, and what these changes can indicate about the engine’s condition and the oil’s effectiveness.

What do high quantities of different metals in the oil signify?

High levels of different metals in the oil, like aluminum and iron, can serve as wear indicators. Aluminum could be indicative of issues with the pistons, and iron could point to problems with the crankshaft, since these metals are typically shed by these components and end up in the oil.

How can contaminants in the oil be identified?

The presence of elements such as potassium and sodium, which are byproducts of engine coolant, could suggest coolant leakage into the oil, potentially pointing to a head gasket failure. If silicon is detected, it could mean contamination from sand or dirt, possibly due to a malfunctioning air filter.

How can the health of the oil itself be determined?

The health of the oil and the optimal time to replace it can be determined through measures like fuel dilution and the Total Base Number (TBN). Fuel dilution refers to the situation where fuel mixes with the oil, thereby thinning it out and reducing its effectiveness. The TBN indicates the level of additives present that fight the accumulation of contaminants.

What factors does an oil analysis assess?

An oil analysis assesses a range of factors, including wear indicators (like diverse metals), potential contaminants (like elements from engine coolant or dirt), fuel dilution, the Total Base Number (TBN), soot content, water contamination, viscosity levels, and the extent of oxidation and nitration. These factors can provide insights into both the health of the engine and the condition of the oil.

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7 comments

Dave_Mechanic July 22, 2023 - 7:23 pm

Woah, never knew oil analysis was this in-depth. Gonna check my Subaru’s oil now lol!

Reply
RoadRider July 22, 2023 - 7:39 pm

i dont get it why ppl dont just stick to the factory advice for oil change, keeps it simple. Isn’t it?

Reply
OilMaster101 July 22, 2023 - 8:15 pm

Interesting read, especially the part about metal deposits. could explain a few things about my truck’s performance lately

Reply
GasolineJunky July 22, 2023 - 9:38 pm

Fuel dilution…sounds bad! Gonna keep an eye on that with my old Ford. Cheers for the info.

Reply
CarLover55 July 23, 2023 - 1:39 am

guess i been neglecting my car’s health, Time for an oil check-up i suppose…

Reply
GearShift_Guru July 23, 2023 - 3:21 am

such a technical topic but it’s explained well. Kudos to the writer. Could’ve used more diagrams tho.

Reply
TurboQueen July 23, 2023 - 8:44 am

Never thought about potassium and sodium being in oil, creepy. Good to know!

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