Fechino Files: Equipment Oil Testing and Why It Is Important

Words: Steven Fechino

Steven Fechino

Equipment has changed since I began in the trades. When I was younger, okay, a kid, a lift had big tires in the front, steered from the back, looked like a farm tractor that was running around backward and had a short forklift on the back that was actually now the front. The engines were also commonly gasoline and were just a ton of fun to get started on some days. Well, nobody ever said that they wanted to go to work and see if they could start the lift, so today, we run the more durable diesel lifts and take precautions to keep the $80,000.00 used-priced lifts operating at peak performance.   

One way we can better care for our lifts is to take an extra step when we do our six-hour servicing of the lift and get the fluids tested. The test, in a nutshell, will basically indicate what contaminants are present in the oil or the coolant (separate tests) and generally identify the beginnings of wear or part failure within the interior of the engine. The test can give you information that is not typically able to be known otherwise. 

When you own your own equipment, it does not take long for it to become five years old; in our fast-paced world, it takes about five minutes. So, oil and coolant testing of the older stuff, in my opinion, is more important. This month, we will look at oil testing and a bit of why it is important. 

Oil testing is actually an inclusive test, where it tests for water in the oil, coolant in the oil (actually different than water), fuel, dirt, debris, and metals. 

When an engine has water in the oil, it turns yellowish and milky and is something we can detect, but it is something that, when in small amounts, can be tough to spot because our diesel engine uses almost double the oil that our trucks use. Therefore, dilution may mask it. Water in the oil can be from leaking shifter seals, caps not properly screwed on or normal condensation from changing temperatures that we have this time of year when we shut off a hot engine at the end of a cold day. Water is tested in parts per million (ppm). Testing for water can be done using the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry test and is not a backyard mechanic test. 

Coolant in the oil is worth checking, but it also can already be signs of trouble when operating the machine just prior to service. A blown head gasket, failure in an intake gasket or cracked cylinder sleeve (coolant surrounds the cylinder and assists in engine cooling) or engine head deformation (warping) is commonly identified with coolant in the oil. Again, a small leak in that quantity of oil might be masked, and the testing can eliminate the risk of upcoming equipment failure. Many mechanics say that dirt and debris are the biggest cause of engine failure. They are correct in saying so, but when coolant arrives in the oil, the oil will change viscosity, turn into a goo and can wear all of the internal moving parts in a quick fashion, creating an acid etching effect on parts. 

Fuel that is found in the oil can indicate that the rings are becoming worn; you will also see quite a bit of white smoke from the unburned fuel. This is probably not the most common, but it is important to check because the fuel will thin the oil, making it ineffective. A sprung bearing could result from fuel in the oil, and this means that you will have a total engine rebuild headed your way. 

Dirt and debris, we all know a little sumptin sumptin about this. Dirt just eats the sides of the pistons and cylinders and accumulates in every nook and cranny. Filters are so simple to check and so simple to change; there is hardly ever an excuse to have a dirty filter. Wear is everywhere. One of the tests that indicates the amount of dirt and debris is called a Mass Spectrometer, and it is used to measure the amount of concentration of foreign material in the oil. 

Visually checking engine oil is part of the oil change, and testing the oil should be a part of the oil change, at least on older equipment. This is the time of year when everything is harder on an older diesel engine because of temperatures. Glow plugs are all or nothing; one goes out, they all go out, so please use heat guns instead of either to start that cold engine in cold weather. 

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