Article by Tom Johnson
Coolant and oil analysis is a process whereby the owner of a diesel rig—such as a motor home—collects samples, on a periodic basis, and sends them off to a lab to be tested. According to Tom Johnson, retired Oils Engineer from Allison Transmission, Inc. and President of JG Lubricant Services, making coolant
and oil analysis a part of regular RV maintenance dramatically reduces unanticipated failures. Coolant and oil analysis can also:
- Reduce warranty risks
- Improve equipment life
- Improve equipment uptime
- Extend drain intervals
- Increase used equipment resale value
Why Do This?
Testing and analysis reveals evidence of small problems and help you resolve them before they become major problems like excessive wear or impending failure. For example, in the case of engine and transmission oils, qualified labs conducting coolant and oil analysis can detect the early onset of oil oxidation—a chemical breakdown of the oil that results in sludge, varnish, and acid buildup if left unchecked.
Through periodic sampling, you are able to determine coolant and oil condition and the condition of the host equipment (engine, transmission, differential and cooling system). Trending data over time shows how oils and coolant are changing and if these changes are having an adverse effect on your engine, transmission, and cooling system.
Oil analysis testing also detects small losses in viscosity. Viscosity is the “thickness” of the oil and is a measure of the oil’s resistance to flow at a particular temperature. A proper analysis can also find oil contamination problems due to fuel, water, or solids (dirt and sand). It can even detect very small coolant leaks long before you’d notice a loss of coolant.
Any of these conditions (oxidation, viscosity loss, or contamination) can produce wear that could lead to major problems down the road if undetected. If the analysis detects wear in the early stages, and the cause is determined, this may save a major repair bill and improve the overall reliability of your RV power train.
Wear is detected in the analysis by observing the level of “wear metals” (iron, copper, lead, aluminum, etc.) and these are typically reported in “parts per million” (ppm). Labs compare these values against wear metals from many thousands of samples stored in the lab’s database for similar equipment and similar oils. Based on the analysis and recorded values, the lab issues precise comments that explain what was
found in the oil (or coolant) and recommendations on what to do about it (change oil, find and fix leaks, etc.). Catching these minor wear conditions before they get out of hand helps the RV owner stay ahead of potential problems. As an RV owner, you can take advantage of “Predictive Maintenance” instead of reacting to unanticipated random failures that could take you off the road for a lengthy period of time—a critical factor to “fulltimers.”
How Does the System Work?
First, you’ll need to purchase sampling kits and sampling supplies. You’ll need a hand operated vacuum pump (about $25.00) and some plastic tubing. If you’re in an RV club or have RV travel buddies, it would be cost effective for the club or your circle of RV buddies to purchase the sampling supplies. Tubing is available in 54” sections or in bulk (100’ or 1000’ rolls). If you plan to sample both oils and coolants, then two handheld vacuum pumps are recommended—one for oil sampling and one for coolant sampling. This will ensure against oil/water sample contamination.
Johnson recommends you get the complete array of engine and transmission tests. Their coolant analysis kit includes all the testing you’ll need to ensure your coolant is in “tip top” condition. Test kit prices include the prepaid analysis and may also be purchased with return postage included.
The collection process becomes an easy task, once you do the first one. But, if you’re uncomfortable taking samples, get your mechanic to do it for you. Just be sure to use caution to keep sampling equipment and samples clean so there’s little chance of contamination that could throw off results. Remember, you want accurate data about your engine and power train.
Take a Sample…
Start the engine and run at idle for about 10 minutes before you take your oil or coolant sample. While it is idling, remove the cap from the sample bottle and screw the sample bottle onto the vacuum pump as
As shown here in the second photo, attach a section of plastic tubing to the vacuum pump and tighten the brass fitting around the tube tightly.
Next, insert the plastic tubing into the engine or transmission dipstick tube. You need to make sure the other end of this plastic tubing is submerged in the oil or coolant (whichever is being sampled).
Actuate the vacuum pump handle slowly until the oil or coolant flows into the sample bottle. Stop pumping when the sample bottle is about 3/4 full.
Do not fill the sample bottle to the top as this may contaminate the vacuum pump. Remove the tubing from the oil or coolant and remove the tubing from the vacuum pump. Throw the tubing away (never reuse tubing). Remove the sample bottle from the vacuum pump and tightly install the cap. Clean up is easy, clean the pump cavity with a clean paper towel.
That’s it. The whole sampling procedure should take around 15 minutes including engine warm up time.
Ship the Sample…
You will have a label for each sample bottle plus a shipping label. Complete the sample-bottle label with as much information as possible and attach it to the sample bottle. Put the sample bottle into the black shipping container and apply the shipping label to the outside of the black shipping container (use the lab location closest to you). Send it by US mail or UPS depending on the kit you purchased.
Your test results should be ready 24–48 hours after the lab receives the sample. To check progress, you can contact the lab. Since test reports are read by RV owners typically untrained in fluid analysis, the results should be presented in easy-to-understand, non-technical, and jargon-free format. Pay close attention to any “Comments Section” as it should include feedback on what was found and recommendations from trained analysts on how to respond to the conditions found.
How Often Should I Take Samples?
It’s important to sample fluids in a timely manner. Sampling just before a scheduled service appointment is best since it shows you if the oil or coolant is still good or if it’s reaching the end of its useful life. The following chart is a general guide to sampling recommendations and frequency for RVs based on odometer reading.
Oil and coolant analysis includes tests that are highly critical, very specific, and designed to find the smallest problems long before they become “big issues.” Think of it as being similar to a blood test. The same logic applies. Blood samples are drawn to measure such things as sugar content, cholesterol content, etc. The doctor uses the blood sample data to diagnose potential problems before they develop into major health issues. During the blood sample analysis, limits are applied to the data to determine if values are normal or abnormal and corrective action can be taken. The same process and logic applies to your oil and coolant samples.
Website Owner’s Comment… This article was written at my invitation by Tom Johnson, President, JG Lubricant Services. Visit their website or call their Sales Department 877-971-7799 to purchase analysis kits and sampling supplies.
The following is specific to JG Lubricant Services…
What Tests Will JG Lubricant Services Run On My Samples?
A specific series of tests are conducted on each sample and each test is performed to ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) standards and procedures. The Advanced Oil Analysis Kit includes the following tests:
The Coolant Analysis Kit includes the following tests:
magnetic and non-magnetic precipitate, odor and foam
Data from the above tests gives the lab a “complete picture” of how the oil or coolant has changed with use and how the host equipment is responding to these changes. You find out if the host equipment is unaffected or if early stages of wear are beginning to show up.
What Will The Analysis Cost Me?
An oil or coolant analysis will cost the RV owner $20.00 to $30.00 depending on whether or not return postage is also purchased. This is “cheap insurance” when you consider the cost of major engine, transmission, cooling system repairs, or problems on the road that cut into your trip expenses.
Regarding the Reports
Go to JG Lubricant Services’ website and click on “Track My Samples” or “Check Your Reports.” This will give you access to your data through their database. You’ll just need to complete the online registration. Or they can email your report if you prefer. Reports can be accessed on-line for viewing, downloading, and printing.