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Dollars & Sense

Kevin Rutherford

Change thinking, not oil

Oil analysis can save thousands of dollars by alerting you to emerging engine problems.

Oil analysis can save thousands of dollars by alerting you to emerging engine problems.

When I started in the industry, it was common to change your engine oil every 10,000 miles. Engines were mechanical, nothing electronic about them, so the only thing that controlled how much fuel went into the cylinder was your right foot.

The excess fuel would wash past the rings into the crankcase and dilute the oil. It was hard on rod and main bearings, and that’s why we used to roll in a new set of bearings every 250,000 miles.

Electronic engines don’t overfuel, so we no longer have to worry about fuel dilution in a healthy engine. Bearings last as long as cylinder kits or longer, and we now change them as part of an in-frame.

Unfortunately, our thinking about oil hasn’t evolved as much. When I ask people how often they change their oil, the most common response is 15,000 miles. When I ask why, I get nothing but blank stares or “the manufacturer says I should” or “that’s what my friend told me to do.”

At any point of potential oil change, the oil is either clean enough to keep using it or dirty, already causing damage, so you better get it out. There is a much better option: oil analysis. Instead of choosing some random number of miles and changing oil, you could do oil analysis and not change the oil until it really needs it.

**Provides a service history of individual equipment
**Improves equipment reliability
Highlights minor faults before they become major problems
**Reduces expensive parts replacement
**Aids warranty claims
**Reduces maintenance and service costs
**Extends oil change intervals
**Reduces new oil costs
**Reduces waste oil costs
**Monitors positive and negative results
**Allows you to schedule downtime and increase productivity
**Provides insights into used equipment before purchase
**Increases machinery resale value
**Helps the environment

If you normally drain at 15,000 miles, instead take a sample at 14,000 and find out the oil’s condition. The lab will test for wear metals, including iron, copper, lead, aluminum, chromium, etc. This tells if components are wearing out and which component it might be. Lead and copper together indicate bearing wear, while iron and chromium together could mean cylinder and ring wear.

The test also will show if the necessary additives are present in the correct quantities and if contaminants – such as fuel dilution, soot, water or coolant – are present in dangerous quantities. Finally, the test will show the oil’s physical properties, such as viscosity, total base number (TBN), oxidation and nitration.

That information also allows you to correct budding problems before they cause damage. When I read an oil analysis report indicating fuel dilution and ask the owner whether the truck is running OK, the answer is usually yes – yet the analysis points to fuel dilution. This usually is caused by a failing injector; if that goes unrepaired, it will cause excessive wear metals and bearing failure.

Coolant intrusion is another problem that can go unnoticed but is detected easily with oil analysis. Coolant in the oil will strip out the zinc and cause high wear metals and ultimately premature engine failure.

Increasing soot levels are an indication of incomplete fuel combustion, causing higher fuel consumption and loss of performance. When we see high soot levels, check the charge air cooler (CAC) and for exhaust restriction and low operating temperatures.

The bottom line: A $30 oil sample could prevent a $15,000 engine overhaul. It’s time to stop changing your oil and start changing your thinking.

  • Bob

    What are the measured levels of contaminants that would indicate it’s time to change the oil and/or start inspecting internal parts

  • JJMclure

    where is the best place to take the sample from? dipstick, drain plug etc?

  • Fred Flintstone

    The snake oil salesman known as kevin Rutherford

  • Steve

    If an oil sample will save a $15K overhaul so will an oil change. Who is this guy and how many trucks does he own?

  • Daniel Kupke

    I would say the drain plug ?? Most of the Speedy Lube places do this for a fee of course ?? I have a quick release plug on my B model Cat that I just move a little lever on the side of the plug n it opens up ?? Quick n easy to take a sample or drain the oil without completely removeing the plug ?? I have allways changed ever 10,000 or even sooner since I bought this 86 model 359 Pete back in 89 ?? I use plain ol Rotella T 15-40 n lube every 5000 ?? I’ve never had a failure in allmost 3 million on the od ?? I do think these oil analise things r good though ?? U can get the self serv kits that u mail in yourself and it gives u some insite on whats going on inside the motor ?? I still do this every 3 months or so !!!

  • Ed Traub

    Bypass filtration works and will save you a lot of money. Do your homework on this and oil samples.

  • Ken Nilsen

    With the new motor I have (2007 family) and the soot load that it produces I now change my oil every 250,000 miles. I change filters and replenish and take a sample every 25,000 miles and change my high efficiency bypass filter every 75,000 miles. I use the number one synthetic oil in America, AMSOIL. I had my overhead run at 500,000 miles and there was no evident wear on the top end.

    If a sample returns with a high soot load then I change the bypass filter no matter what the mileage. This is very cost effective. I get better fuel mileage by running a pure synthetic oil, not a blend, I have lower maintenance costs and peace of mind.

    If you are still using dinosaur oil then yes, you have to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and you will also have to add syrup(also known as lucas) to keep the viscosity of your oil up. If you dig into the numbers for instance for shell rotella you will see it is actually one of the worst performing oils on the market. But hey, if you want a free hat or jacket they’ll give you one for using their low performing product.

  • Ken Nilsen

    Yes, but a sample costs $15 and a basic oil change around $200. Pretty simple math. So who are you what grade math did you fail?

  • Ken Nilsen

    I use an inline sample drain. It is the most effective and easiest to use. It also gives the best sample and always remember to sample hot. If the engine is cold some contaminates with settle in the pan.

  • Ken Nilsen

    You can get a list of contaminates and proper metals levels from the engine manufacturer. If you have a cummins you can get one from them or whoever your engine comes from. Also, most labs when they send you your results will also have that information for you. The lab I use, and I always use the same lab to get good tracking, has all the stats and it is easy to read and keep up with.

  • RevelationsRevealed

    Well, I can say I’ve owned two coast to coast trucks: a 2001 379 with a 550 “Red Head” Cummin’s and a 2005 T2000 with a 325 C15. I change my oil every 50,000 miles with an oil sample at 25,000 in between the changes; up until 1 million miles. I then start changing every 30,000 with a oil sample at 15,000 in between changes. My Pete had over 1,400,000 when I sold it, never being overhauled with only half the allowable blow-by and 10hp over spec’s to the drives. My T2000 currently has 1,407,344, at this comment, never being over-hauled at this moment: oil samples come out great thus far. With two trucks under my belt, both with over 1.4 million miles on them with no over-haul, and changing the oil at no less than 30,000 miles, I can contest that the thinking on oil changes has not evolved as the technology on the engines have.

  • kw6238b

    Which lab is that?

  • ok15

    I have a VOLVO with volvo engine, d12. Is it possible to do an overhaul because of Lucas added in cold winter time? Or because it overheated in the summer and I drove like that for a month? strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.