Are All Oil Analysis Programs Created Equal?

by Contributor oltwodogs on ‎04-09-2010 03:01 PM

Kevin Benz

A few weeks ago, we discussed extended oil change intervals for standby generator sets. Many of the responses included the importance of performing scheduled oil analysis. So this led me the question, are all oil analysis programs the same?

As an owner or operator of a generator set, you have many choices for obtaining oil analysis services. Options include oil companies, independent oil labs and OEMs. Obviously, my bias will be toward the OEM but let’s walk through some of the Pros & Cons of each. Then I’d like your opinion.

Some oil companies will offer you oil analysis with the purchase of their products and have a very intense emphasis on analyzing their product – oil. For this reason, programs offered by oil companies invariably place heavy emphasis on such things as viscosity and additive levels – basically the same tests they perform at their blending plants. Blending oil is their particular expertise; however, oil companies are not experts in establishing oil specifications to achieve maximum component life; that is the concern of most engine manufacturers.

PROS: Analysis could be included with the purchase of the oil
CONS: Heavy focus on oil, viscosity and additives – but lack true understanding of engine

Often, an independent oil lab will aggressively pursue you claiming that because they are "professional" labs, they somehow provide more accurate oil analysis than the OEM or oil manufacturer. However, independent oil laboratories lack the proprietary wear data and engine profiles that only your engine manufacturer can access. Because of this they can only give a standard interpretation based on generalized component information.

PROS: Unbiased, Technology-rich environment
CONS: Capable of oil analysis but not condition of the internal wear parts

Most original engine manufacturers can analyze the oil and the condition of the internal wear parts. They have comprehensive knowledge of all components and can interpret the data to provide the most meaningful recommendations concerning your engine. With synthetic materials being used more frequently, this becomes even more important. Here are some analysis types OEMS may offer above and beyond basic oil analysis:
  • Wear Metal Analysis (Copper, Iron, Chromium, Lead, Tin, Aluminum, Molybdenum, Silicon, and Sodium)
  • Oil Contamination Analysis (Fuel Dilution Detection, Water Detection, Glycol Detection)
  • Oil Condition Analysis (FT-IR: Soot, Sulfur Compounds, Oxidation, Nitration)
  • Oil Cleanliness Analysis (ISO Code, Particle Count)
  • Data Analysis (Evaluation and Recommendation)

PROS: They designed the engine and know exactly what metallurgical specifications were designed into each part and each component
CONS: While very familiar with their own engine design, they have only the same level of knowledge as independent labs or oil companies when it comes to other manufacturer’s equipment

Do you agree with the points above? Would you add anything to the Pros/Cons? When you selected a company to provide you with scheduled oil sample services and oil analysis, did you ask yourself, "What information from the used oil sample would best identify the current component condition?" Please post your feedback below.

by New member vanukepe
on ‎04-13-2010 11:36 PM

The most important quality for whatever entity is performing the oil analysis is COMPETENCE.  By reading the vendor technical manuals and technical bulletins any owner/operator can get a very good idea of what needs to be measured and how often.  Even if one doesn't know the details of the metallurgy of a particular engine design, one can still get a good idea of what is going on by trending results. 


Relative to having the vendor do it, in this area the regional service organizations for the various diesel engine vendors sub it out to oil analysis specialists in any case.  All that does is add to the cost charged to the end user.  No matter who takes the sample, it still needs to go to a certified lab in any case.


A good maintenance program for emergency generators should include at least annual sampling of coolant, lube oil and fuel oil.  Trending those results should provide a pretty good indicator of overall engine conditions. 

by Regular Contributor
on ‎04-14-2010 06:19 AM

In the great scheme of things Oil analysis is cheap! We send our samples to various providers and compare findings typically they have been all alike but it's a good idea to compare IMHO


by Visitor TimW
on ‎04-14-2010 06:25 AM

Agree to the above, one option is to use a consultant such as By doing this you have a team of professionals reviewing the entire process and trending the results.

by Contributor kshansen
on ‎04-17-2010 11:29 AM

I can only talk for the ones I have been exposed to, the OEM and Oil Company both had good things to offer. The "Independent lab" we now use to me seems to be lacking on several points. I don't have access to the cost structure of each of these so can't make judgment on that end of the deal.


The OEM seemed to offer a bit more specific advice as to where a problem might be when a sample was out of the normal range. Independent lab to me seems very vague.


The Oil Company lab we used for a few years had many options on how to view reports. They would let you do graphs to compare several units of the same type so you could better see how one in question compared to the many. They also would let you view the data as say total parts per million or graphed as a funtion of hours of use. This made it easy to judge if a high reading was really a problem or more a result of an extended service interval.


Another point I liked about the Oil Company system was the ability to fill out and print labels for samples on the computer. I feel this helped eliminate some problems with the lab reading different peoples hand writing. One simple mistake entering a number will create a new file and make it hard to compare results.

on ‎04-21-2010 02:34 PM

The common thread to all of the stated options (Oil, Independent, OEM) is the actual processing of the sample and generating the laboratory data. Elemental analysis, particle count, TBN, ferrography, what-have-you is essentially the same across the board. The instruments come from the same source and are operated in the same manner. The rubber and the road meet at the actual interpretation of the data, and then evaluating it with simple-to-understand statements and straight forward recommendations.


To my knowledge, there is only one OEM/Dealer Network that maintains an "in-house" fluids analysis program. Other OEMs and their dealers contract with independent labs for lab data and interpretation/evaluation services, which is typically disguised by a private label on the report. The interpretation/evaluations are done by a person, or probably even a computer, that can be, literally thousands of miles distant. The power of the in-house OEM option is the immense support behind the in-house OEM Program professionals. OEM factory support is typically only a phone call away. Also, these dealers typically maintain a close-knit relationship with each other which serves as another valuable resource.  Another extremely important element to the in-house OEM option is the local support that is available to the user. A local person with a local phone number that understands the added-value a local business partnership in fluid analysis will bring to the profitabiltiy of a company. And profits is what it's all about!

by Visitor pervin
on ‎07-13-2010 04:54 PM

Most oil analyses I have seen are generally the same (as stated above) though the report format seems to differ significantly between vendors. What I have done is take the analysis from several vendors and made up my own standard trending report. I then submit that to the techs at our various sites in a standard format.


To me the more important issue is the "chain of custody" (how the sample is collected and handled prior to analysis). Because I deal mainly in Landfill Gas applications, it is very important to match the engine hours as close as possible each time. A difference in TBN of .5 can have drastic rsults with regard to oil contamination and premature wear.

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