June 17, 2013

Sumping Special Page 2

Analysing the Situation

I have noticed some healthy debate in 4×4 Forum regarding engine oils (see Engine Oil for Patrols, 4×4 Australia, January 2003 and Oils are Oils, February 2003). The only sure way of knowing what CH4 oil is doing to your 3.0-litre turbo-diesel Patrol is to analyse the oil. This will determine if any long-term damage is being done.

Lots of people have their vehicle’s oil analysed. Plant operators do it, truck owners do it – there’s no reason why you can’t use the same technology to check on the condition of your oil and, more importantly, the condition of your engine.

Oil analysis is carried out by specialist labs and is a very good way to determine what’s going on inside your engine. It’s a particularly effective way to determine if dirty air is getting in through the intake system. When I put a K&N air filter on a Jeep Grand Cherokee I once owned, I was concerned the aftermarket filter might not handle the very fine bauxite dust prevalent around my home town of Weipa. To check this I had the engine oil analysed. The findings were moderately high silica (dust) and titanium (bauxite). Neither material is used in the Jeep’s engine.

The lab analyst told me the engine was getting very lightly dusted. I checked all the intake hoses between the air filter and engine but they were spotless. Then I discovered the point of entry; the PCV (pressure control valve) in the rocker cover was wiggling up and down on our corrugated roads and working the dust down past its seal. An easy sealing job with some RVT silicon fixed the problem. The next oil sample was clean.

There are three easy ways to check the state of your engine oil.

1. Inspect the drain tray after you’ve tipped the waste oil into the old oil bottles. It should be black and oily, no grit and no discoloration. A milky colour indicates that water is present.

2. Disassemble the oil filter and inspect the filter element. I use an old wood chisel to cut through the filter’s outer steel shell and my pocket-knife to cut around the fibre filter element. In sunlight, check for anything glittering or gritty looking on the element. Check both sides. A few tiny lumps of glug is okay, it’s just carbon.

3. Get an oil analysis. The company Oil Check, for example, will send you a kit for about $75 (schedule 3 check).
The kit will include a bottle and very precise instructions on what to do. Read these before starting the oil change. Follow the instructions exactly and give the lab all the information they ask for. This is very important.
The lab will process your sample and send back the results with an explanation of any anomalies.

The oil analysis labs have access to information from the engine and oil manufacturers that indicates what base metals are where in the engine, so they can point you towards a component that might be about to fail before that failure can damage other parts of the engine. They can also determine if your oil is holding up okay.

An oil analysis is a must-do if you are operating your vehicle outside the manufacturer’s planned vehicle usage. Whether it be hot dusty desert conditions or racing in the ARB Warn Outback Challenge, you may need a specialist engine oil.