One of the easiest ways to gain a clear understanding of the health of your car’s internal engine components is via oil analysis. Oil analysis involves taking a small sample of oil during an oil change and sending it into a lab in order to find out what kind of particulate it contains, the oil and additive properties your oil contains, and what kind of contaminants are present. These attributes combined can tell you how well your oil protects your engine and what internal engine components might be showing wear. The biggest benefit to oil analysis is that it can give you clues that allow you to preempt problems with repairs before they happen without having to open up your engine. This can be a huge cost saver in instances such as worn rod bearings or main bearings as when components like these fail, they do so catastrophically and often take other expensive components like your rods and your crankshaft with them.
The most telling and arguably the most concerning are the levels of particulate in your oil, and as such, most automotive enthusiasts seeking an oil analysis are primarily after this information. Common materials that are found include copper, aluminum, iron, chromium, nickel, and lead. Depending on the levels of these materials, you can ascertain the likelihood that certain components are wearing. This is particularly effective when you can match the results of your oil analysis with other minor symptoms your car might be experiencing. Combining this information can help you detect everything from piston ring wear to turbo component wear.
So how do you perform an oil analysis? It’s pretty simple actually. Many companies make oil analysis kits, which allow you to collect a small sample in a jar during an oil change. You simply take this jar of oil, ship it to the respective company who supplied it, and they will analyze if for you. Most often, you prepay for the kit which includes the cost of the analysis. The turnaround time is usually around a week at which time the company will send you a data sheet with the breakdown of their findings. You can get oil analysis kits inexpensively on Amazon or from one of the many labs out there (such as Blackstone Labs). It’s also worth noting that some companies will analyze your oil filter a well so be sure to use a good oil filter wrench so you don’t cause damage during removal if you intend to have a filter analyzed.
There are a couple final things we should mention. The first is that oil analysis isn’t strictly limited to your engine. You can perform an oil analysis on any component in your drive train that has oil, including transfer cases, transmissions, and differentials. The second is that if you notice heavy levels or certain particulate in your engine oil, it’s not necessarily cause for panic. Many labs advise you to retest your oil as depending on the construction of your engine, you may just be experiencing normal wear. Typically, if there is a problem with a critical component, it will tend to get worse rather quickly and this will show up in consecutive oil tests.