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Making your fleet more adaptable with oil analysis

Jan. 18, 2024
The benefits of routine engine oil analysis for a fleet not only include better PM benchmarks, but trade cycle and operating insights.

Experts know that changing, maintaining, and monitoring their lubricants are essential to keeping their fleet of trucks efficient and meeting quarterly goals. Right now, the industry standard procedure is routine oil changes, determined by a combination of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) recommendations and the expertise of experienced technicians. But this technique, though effective, still leaves plenty of room for serious problems — like contamination, dilution, or degradation — to go unnoticed for the duration of the oil change interval, which can have a major impact on uptime and profitability. To prevent premature wear or even equipment failure, fleet managers can develop an oil analysis program.

How oil analysis works

The oil analysis procedure is simple and works just like getting a blood test when visiting the doctor. During an oil change or preventative maintenance (PM) interval, a technician removes about four ounces of engine lubricant (or any other oil) and submits it for analysis. Once received, a lab will analyze the sample, testing key properties like viscosity and fuel dilution, checking for contaminants, confirming the proper additives, as well as checking for oil degradation via oxidation, total acid number (TAN), and/or total base number (TBN). All these numbers are recorded and checked against the lab’s set limits and subsequent submitted samples, providing a clear timeline of the lubricant’s lifecycle.

Advantages of oil analysis

There are some immediate, and intuitive, advantages to this system: 

By checking on the oil periodically over the course of the vehicle’s drain interval, you can spot issues well before they begin to affect the performance of the truck, allowing you to perform preventative maintenance on your own schedule and terms, in your own facilities, and with your own technicians, rather than incurring the expenses that come with unplanned stops and emergency maintenance. Again, like getting your blood tested at the doctor’s office, you’re able to identify (and treat) potential problems long before they begin affecting your productivity or quality of life. 

Read more: Simplifying engine oil sampling

Many of the contaminants that oil analysis identifies may go undetected if you stick to a traditional oil change cycle. And those, however small, can cause a variety of problems that will add up to major maintenance issues. A tiny coolant leak, for example, is undetectable by the naked eye and can easily be missed during a PM, yet this can lead to a greatly reduced lifetime for the vehicle. By identifying these contaminants early, even when they are only a few parts per million, you can entirely prevent significant problems later, saving on downtime and costly repairs. 

But the true advantages of oil analysis happen over time.

The longer you participate in an oil analysis program, the more valuable it becomes. If traditional oil changes are the only way you are monitoring the state of your fluids, it’s easy to end up with oil drain intervals that are far more conservative than they need to be. For example, if older trucks, or trucks with heavier payloads, tend to need oil changes more often, then the entire fleet is constrained to standards established by a few outliers, and overall uptime is lost. More detailed data, collected over time, can optimize your fleet’s capabilities with specific maintenance plans divided by whatever metric is deemed most appropriate by your fleet leaders. This allows fleet managers to find competitive advantages through efficiencies and cost savings.

Oil analysis also plays a key role in your fleet’s trade cycle. The data provided by years of regular analysis makes it simple to note an increase in iron and other wear metals in the lubricants, allowing you to cycle out your trucks at that appropriate mileage, time-period, or whatever other benchmark ends up being right for your fleet.

Finally, this program allows you to implement new technology, features, and strategies with confidence. If you’re trying a new engine part or driving in a new region, you won’t need to worry about unexpected consequences that will remain hidden until your next scheduled maintenance session. You’ll be able to check in at established intervals, noting with great detail how it impacts oil life, contamination, and other operating metrics that you can use to inform long term decisions.

Overall, oil analysis empowers fleets to optimize, or even maximize, fleet capabilities by truly honing in on specific challenges and developing individualized solutions to bring your team’s maintenance to the next level. These insights can inform so much more than how often you change your oil — it can help give guidelines for specific operating conditions of equipment, duty cycle, city versus highway driving, terrain travelled, and even how particular drivers or equipment perform.  

With this information, you can create guidelines for vehicle operation and recommended driving speeds, and even help decide how you incentivize driver performance. The more you implement this data, the more you will extend the lifespan of your fleet and lower the cost of ownership. You’ll be able to lead your team with the confidence that your vehicles are running on optimal schedules, backed by carefully recorded data, and ready to adapt to whatever industry challenges wait around the corner.

About the Author

Michael Miltenberger

Michael Miltenberger is a lubrication engineer at ExxonMobil.

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