|An Eye into Your Engine|
Part 2: Best of all, the cost for all this is moderate.
By Craig Anderson - January 2004
Ferrography deals only with ferrous (metallic) byproducts that are suspended in oil. Here a technician places a sample of oil on a slide and subjects it to a magnetic field. He or she can then look at the size of the deposits and determine if the results are within acceptable limits.
Once a lab has conducted all three tests, a technician will correlate the results and interpret them for you, usually providing a detailed report that includes specific (and easy-to-understand) explanations and remedies. That can be invaluable, especially if you happen to be buying a used boat. But unless you’re looking for specific engine problems, the key to getting the most out of oil analysis is to establish wear and contamination trends, and the best way to do that is by having your oil analyzed on a regular basis—usually at the start and end of each boating season. The process is quick: Spectrographic analysis of a single oil sample typically takes about a minute, and you needn’t bring the sample to the lab. Most places will let you send in a sample by mail, and you’ll probably have your results back within a week.
Many test labs will give you a disposable tube for collecting an oil sample from your engine, plus the bottle to put the oil in and a mailer for the bottle. And many engine companies offer quick-connect fittings to attach to your engine to make the process even easier. That’s important for reasons beyond convenience, because whichever method you use, cleanliness is of the utmost importance. Anything that gets into the oil after it leaves the engine—grease from the engine exterior or a rag, or even oil from your hands—can cause erroneous analysis results. Best of all, the cost for all this is moderate, ranging anywhere from $12 for a simple test to around $60 for a complete analysis.
Oil analysis is available from a variety of sources, including laboratories (look in the Yellow Pages under “Laboratories, spectrographic analysis”), engine manufacturers, and engine distributors and dealers. Most Caterpillar distributors offer Scheduled Oil Sampling (“S-O-S”), which is designed to encourage boaters to set up long-term programs for their boats, and the system works even if you don’t have a Caterpillar diesel. (Most other distributors have similar programs.) These Cat distributors sell sampling kits that include instructions, a pump for removing the properly sized oil sample through a dipstick hole, and ten containers with prepaid mailers for around $120. And remember that oil analysis works well on gasoline engines and marine gears, too.
Crude oil may be an amazing substance, but in its own way, oil analysis is just as remarkable. What else can you name that is so easy, inexpensive, and informative and can make your boating experience trouble-free?
Craig Anderson is a freelance writer in Victoria Park, Florida.
This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.