Why Oil Analysis Should Be Part of Your Preventative Maintenance Program (Video)


Regular engine oil testing can serve as an affordable insurance policy for your construction equipment, helping to backup manufacturer warranty claims and make more informed equipment maintenance and disposition decisions.

In this episode of The Dirt, we hear from Shelly Eckert, business consultant for Chevron Lubricants, who explains how to properly collect an engine oil sample and interpret the results.

Beyond oil health, lab results can detect contaminants and identify abnormal wear on engine components. Over time, those trends can help optimize service intervals and extend the life of your machine. Eckert says, in most cases, contractors can start an oil analysis program for less than $20 per sample.

To learn more about the importance of engine oil testing and how it can prevent breakdowns and save on maintenance costs, check out the latest episode of The Dirt.

Equipment World serves up weekly videos on the latest in construction equipment, work trucks and pickup trucks – everything contractors need to get their work done. Subscribe and visit us at equipmentworld.com!

In This Episode:

00:00 - Engine Oil Testing

00:39 - Why Test Your Engine Oil?

02:42 - What Does Engine Oil Analysis Test For?

03:56 - Why You Need to Test Your Oil Regularly

04:52 - What Is the Turnaround Time on an Oil Test?

05:50 - Can You Access Historical Oil Analysis Data From the Labs?

06:40 - How Much Does an Oil Test Cost?

07:36 - How Do You Take an Oil Sample for a Test?

11:47 - How Does a Contractor Interpret Oil Analysis Results?

13:56 - How Do You View Oil Analysis Results?

14:30 - How Do You Get Started With Oil Analysis?

17:47 - Final Thoughts



Bryan Furnace (00:00):

This Equipment World video is brought to you by Chevron Delo 600 ADF ultra low ash diesel engine oil. It's time to kick some ash.


Today we're here to talk about oil testing. I think fluid testing is one of those things that there's still a lot of unknowns in the industry and we tend to shy away from it because it kind of feels like it's this add-on service that no one really needs. In reality, there's a lot of benefits to fluid testing and it can materially impact your business. Without going into more detail, we're going to talk to Shelly Eckert with Chevron, who's going to break down fluid testing and why it is so important for your business.


Why is fluid testing a bigger deal than just learning when it's time to change your oil?

Shelly Eckert (00:45):

Well, if you think about it, a lot of us out here will refer to the engine oil as the bloodline of the engine. So if you want to go to the doctor and see what your cholesterol level is, you have to go and give blood, right? Well, if you want to know what the health is of the engine, you got to draw the oil sample and send it into the lab. The way I look at it, it's a cheap insurance policy to start with. You can use the oil analysis results to back up any warranty claims, show that you're doing maintenance and taking care of the equipment

Bryan Furnace (01:15):

Because none of us have ever gotten in a dispute with a dealership over whether it was my fault or the dealership's fault that the engine may have crapped out on me in the middle of my job?

Shelly Eckert (01:24):

No, that never happens.

Bryan Furnace (01:24):

Never happens, never.

Shelly Eckert (01:25):

Never happens.

Bryan Furnace (01:28):

Other than we have a record of me doing regular maintenance, what else can fluid testing do to show me what's going on inside the engine?

Shelly Eckert (01:35):

Last thing you want to do is be reactive and have a piece of equipment go down unexpectedly. You don't have the parts ready, you don't have a place to fix it quite yet. You have to haul it back to the shop because you're not doing oil analysis and not being able to do proactive and preventative maintenance. That's the goal to get around that.

Bryan Furnace (01:53):

For a lot of contractors, I don't know that they really understand the analysis that's going on beyond just what condition your oil is in. If I understand it correctly, you can get into some real diagnostic stuff just from the results of an oil analysis. Is that correct?

Shelly Eckert (02:07):

That is correct. I'll give you an example, and this is on highway versus off highway example. We were doing a drainable study one time, and he was supposed to be setting samples in every 5,000 miles. And what happened was that all five samples came in at the same time, and as they were going through the laboratory, the condition of the sample was getting worse. And so I picked up the phone and called the vice president of maintenance and said, "It looks like you're going to blow a rod through this engine." And he said, "Yep, I just did yesterday."

Bryan Furnace (02:36):

Oh, wow.

Shelly Eckert (02:38):

So that's one reason to do oil analysis.

Bryan Furnace (02:41):

And so what are you able to detect in oil analysis that I, in the shop, I'm not able to pick up on just doing regular oil changes?

Shelly Eckert (02:48):

You can see wear patterns, making sure that the oil is being kept clean, free of coolant leak, free of a fuel dilution, make sure that the engine's not running hot and oxidizing that oil, increasing the viscosity, reducing the fuel economy of benefit. And of course then all of the engine parts are made by different metallurgy. So we're looking at the wear metals to determine what we are going to recommend to review at the shop level.

Bryan Furnace (03:13):

So if I've got a rod or a bearing that's starting to go, through oil analysis, we can figure out, oh, there's a little bit of metal shavings in here and it looks like that's coming from one of your bearings. You've got a bearing going out?

Shelly Eckert (03:24):

Yeah, that's correct. That's exactly what I'm getting at. However, to get to that point and looking at reports, you have to create a good solid oil analysis program, and that starts with getting the equipment list, outlining the components that are going to be sampled. Get that list to the laboratory so that they are aware. Because from one engine to another engine, there's going to be different limits, which are typically driven by the OEMs, or sometimes it's statistically driven by how much data the labs have been accumulating by make and model.

Bryan Furnace (03:55):

But expound on how are we creating a library? What is that doing for me by actually having a history of the machine rather than just, oh, I think something's going wrong, here's an oil sample?

Shelly Eckert (04:04):

There are times in which somebody grabs a sample because the engine has failed and they want to go into the lab to find out why. And we call that an autopsy.

Bryan Furnace (04:14):

Yeah, it's pretty accurate.

Shelly Eckert (04:17):

You can't really figure it out once everything's gone wrong, right?

Bryan Furnace (04:20):


Shelly Eckert (04:20):

These guys have gotten a lot better. It used to be that you would do a report and you would mail it. And then it turned into emailing the reports and then online websites so that you can run your own reports or the lab will work with you and create reports so that you're looking at the entire fleet. Therefore, you can make buying decisions, which engine is outperforming another engine, for longevity, for performance, what's costing the most to repair? And you can use all that from oil analysis.

Bryan Furnace (04:52):

Now, let me ask you this. What kind of turnaround time is it on getting an oil sample back? And the reason I ask is could I potentially use this as a tool when I'm going to purchase a new piece of equipment? Is the turnaround time quick enough that within a couple of days I can get those results back before I go spend 60 grand on a used piece of equipment?

Shelly Eckert (05:10):

It takes typically 24 to 48 hours.

Bryan Furnace (05:13):

So a couple days? So this could be a tool beyond just my regular fleet. This could be a tool that I use to know what I'm getting into on a used piece of equipment before I go make an investment?

Shelly Eckert (05:22):

That's a very good question. The answer to that is yes. So let's say that the seller of the equipment changed out the oil and then the sample was taken. The lab can tell you that this looks like a brand new sample.

Bryan Furnace (05:33):


Shelly Eckert (05:34):

It's about being able to arm yourself with warranty information, right? It also arms yourself with when should I trade a piece of equipment? Because you can look at the whole fleet and say, "Hey, this engine's failing at 10,000 hours," or whatever, and figure out how long it is before you need to trade.

Bryan Furnace (05:50):

If I understand correctly, the labs are also creating, and have been creating for some time, this giant library of all the different kinds of equipment that are coming in and being tested. And so even if you don't necessarily have historical data on your piece of equipment or the piece you're buying, you can tap into their library to get a decent feel for what's going on?

Shelly Eckert (06:12):

I've done that hundreds of times.

Bryan Furnace (06:14):

So this is a very powerful tool that the industry right now is largely blind on?

Shelly Eckert (06:20):

That's right. So the labs can go in and they can pull all of the data, they scrub all the customer information, and then you can run statistics on that data or even provide it to the OEM without any customer information so that they can scrub that data and find out if they've got a design problem. So there's a lot of power to it.

Bryan Furnace (06:39):

And how much on average would you say it is to run an oil sample? Are we talking 15 bucks? Are we talking 50 bucks?

Shelly Eckert (06:46):

Some of that is going to be determined based on what level of testing you are doing. If you go straight to the lab, it's going to be more expensive than if you were to go through Chevron LubeWatch program, which is a branded program. And because we have so many samples that go through the lab, we have-

Bryan Furnace (07:04):

Volume discounts?

Shelly Eckert (07:06):

... volume discount, yep. So on a general engine oil sample, less than 10 bucks.

Bryan Furnace (07:11):

Oh, so I can go out and get real time information on a piece of equipment, call it on the ridiculously high side, I can get that done for less than 20 bucks?

Shelly Eckert (07:20):

Less than 20 bucks, typically.

Bryan Furnace (07:22):


Shelly Eckert (07:23):

Typically. That's going to vary from lab to lab, Bryan, just so you're aware.

Bryan Furnace (07:26):

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And for the viewers, absolutely, this is not a 100% of the time it's going to be under $20, but this is a huge tool that you have at your disposal and it's affordable.


So we've taken the cost issue out of the equation in my mind. The next big hurdle as I think through this as a contractor is now I'm envisioning myself lying on my back under my machine while I'm trying to do an oil change, and I got rags and grease everywhere, and now I'm trying to take this little bottle and I'm trying to get oil, dump it, get oil, dump it, get oil, dump it, and then get oil without contaminating. This sounds like a giant pain in the you know what. In reality, how long does it take and how difficult is it to take a real oil sample?


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How long does it take and how difficult does it take a real oil sample?

Shelly Eckert (09:26):

So again, it goes back to setting up a good solid oil analysis program before you even start it, right? There are sampling tools. My preference, which is industry standard, is to use sampling valves. They're on the engine block or whatever you're taking. I've got a few examples because I like my little-

Bryan Furnace (09:42):

You have a sample sampling valve.

Shelly Eckert (09:44):

Sampling sampling valves. And I got multiple. So there's a variety of different [inaudible 00:09:51] in the market.

Bryan Furnace (09:51):


Shelly Eckert (09:52):

So that's the first priority is using a sampling valve because it's consistent and you're taking a sample from the exact same place every time. The second way is using a vampire pump.

Bryan Furnace (10:04):

That sounds intimidating and looks intimidating.

Shelly Eckert (10:08):

I'm old school, it's a sampling pump, but a lot of [inaudible 00:10:12] a vampire pump. So you usually just take, which I happen to have a Chevron LubeWatch kit also in my office.

Bryan Furnace (10:19):

Nice. Excellent. So is this what you would get from Chevron, is this little kit?

Shelly Eckert (10:25):

Yeah, I'm going to put it back together kind of. Give you a better look at it.

Bryan Furnace (10:29):

Yep. So it's just a little black container with I'm assuming a sampling bottle inside?

Shelly Eckert (10:34):

Yep. Black container, mailing container, sample bottle. And I know that you don't see it, but there is actually on the bottle, it says this is the fill line. So to fill it up to here.

Bryan Furnace (10:47):

Perfect. You got to dummy proof it for us in the field. We're a little dense.

Shelly Eckert (10:51):

No, it's okay. It comes sealed because it's a clean bottle. And I'm not going to open it because I'm going to probably take it as a sample for myself eventually. So basically you just take the cap off and you would screw it in here, and then you would take tubing and you stick it down the top of this into the bottle about halfway, and then you take the other end of it and put it into the engine from the dipstick, weed it through the machinery, right to the sump, and then you just suck it out. Hence, the reason why it's called a vampire pump.

Bryan Furnace (11:25):

And that's it?

Shelly Eckert (11:26):

That's it. It's not that difficult. And then you fill out the paperwork or you can use an app to log a sample or you can use labels. Then you just stick this in here, put the cap on, and off it goes to the lab.

Bryan Furnace (11:40):

So in my mind now, we've taken care of price. We've taken care of difficulty of pulling samples. My third big hurdle for a guy in the field is, okay, now two days later, I get this packet of paper with a bunch of fancy scientific stuff on it and graphs and charts, and I'm not a graphs and charts person. I dig in the dirt for a living. How in the world am I going to interpret these things to know that this amount of tungsten and this amount of copper mean that I have a bearing out? How does that work? Who's going to help me interpret this stuff?

Shelly Eckert (12:12):

When you're reading a report, the first thing that you start with is you look at what the diagnostician put on the report, the guy that's reviewing the data.

Bryan Furnace (12:20):

So he's going to put his own notes in there of, Hey, this is what this means?

Shelly Eckert (12:24):

That's correct.

Bryan Furnace (12:25):

Perfect. So I don't have to interpret any of this. It's all dummy proof for me?

Shelly Eckert (12:29):

It's done for you, right?

Bryan Furnace (12:31):


Shelly Eckert (12:31):

But then you also look at what's being flagged. And over time you'll learn, right? But I'm not a big fan of just looking at one report at a time because that's just looking at one sample in time.

Bryan Furnace (12:43):

There's no trend. It's a snapshot.

Shelly Eckert (12:45):

It's a snapshot, right? When you diagnose samples, you are looking at the trend analysis. And another big, big, big piece of oil analysis is having the right hours on the engine and the right hours on the equipment because number of hours changes the perspective of a diagnostician.

Bryan Furnace (13:02):

If you think about that, that makes sense because if we're talking a brand spanking new machine, you're probably going to see a lot more wear in the beginning as the machine's getting broken in.

Shelly Eckert (13:10):

That's correct.

Bryan Furnace (13:11):

And then it's going to taper down. And then you actually start getting into real world wear.

Shelly Eckert (13:15):

That's correct.

Bryan Furnace (13:16):

And again, that's also going to let them reference that big library that they have internally at the correct hour mark rather than this is an 1800-hour machine and we're comparing it at 2,500 hour machine.

Shelly Eckert (13:26):

That's right. If it's a piece of equipment that's supposed to be going out to 3000 hours and it's sampled 1000 hours, the amount of wear that's tolerated at 3000 hours versus 1000 hours is completely different. So the time on the equipment is extremely important. And then that empowers just the overall fleet reports because you are graphing and looking at wear patterns based on the time on the oil

Bryan Furnace (13:49):

I 100% agree, I think trending is the more powerful tool over time, rather than just getting a quick snapshot of your equipment. Is it based per lab or how is it that I can go maybe online and see all of my results? Or is it something where I have to save all of these packets of paper?

Shelly Eckert (14:06):

So yes, it advanced to a website that has online reporting tools. We use multiple third party companies to provide the Chevron LubeWatch program, two of them. And then we pull all that data together so that we can have it all together. But we do that because we want to have access to the labs all across the country, so it's easier to get samples into the lab too.

Bryan Furnace (14:26):

So we've addressed all of my big major hurdles. My final hurdle is where do I even get started on this?

Shelly Eckert (14:35):

That's when you have to have a solid oil rep in the field. What we do is, it's part of, again, setting up the oil analysis program from the beginning. Getting your equipment, getting the sampling established, giving them sampling procedures, because there could be multiple ways that they have to take the samples based on if some of the equipment does have the valves and some of it does not, right? And then setting you up with the laboratory to order the kits, because these do not come from us. They come from the labs.

Bryan Furnace (15:03):

And so if I'm starting today, Shelly, this afternoon, after we get off of this call, what is a resource I can go to?

Shelly Eckert (15:10):

First of all, you have to be a Chevron customer really to get a Chevron kit.

Bryan Furnace (15:14):

I'm not a Chevron customer. I go to O'Reilly's and I pull that jug off the shelf and I do it like grand pappy did. So how do I get started even with Chevron? What is step one for me to get into this world?

Shelly Eckert (15:25):

You could either contact your local Chevron marketer who can set you up. Now if you're a national account, then you can contact your Chevron rep and they'll set you up. It's that simple.

Bryan Furnace (15:35):

Okay. Now, not to take Chevron out of the picture, but if I'm not a Chevron customer, are there just independent labs that I can go find and pursue? Or that's kind of the protocol is just find an oil testing lab somewhere?

Shelly Eckert (15:48):

Yes. I mean, I typically stay with the two most common, which one is ALS Tribology, and the other is Polaris Laboratories. The two of them are the ones that support the Chevron LubeWatch program, and they're the monsters for oil analysis in the field. There's also the Caterpillar Labs. They know their equipment. You can go get to the Caterpillar dealer and get kits from them as well. You can even get a sample kit at NAPA if you want. Really, we're in dire need.

Bryan Furnace (16:11):

So if you're going with those, you're going to get quality samples, you're going to get quality reports. They've got the online tools. And I'm assuming this isn't necessarily a subscription service. I can just go order a kit from them, pay for the testing, get those results. And if I want to call it good there, I can call it good there.

Shelly Eckert (16:28):

These are typically sold in packs of 10. I think Polaris might be 12. Don't hold me to that.

Bryan Furnace (16:33):

So you may have some extra bottles. If you decide to can this thing after the first report, you may have some extra bottles, but I'm not on the hook for a $100 a month service for the next two years.

Shelly Eckert (16:44):

No. No.

Bryan Furnace (16:44):


Shelly Eckert (16:45):

There's also two ways to do the program. You can either prepay for the kit and the testing upfront, or you can pay for the kit material, and then as you send samples in, you can pay for the testing. It's more cost-effective if you do prepay.

Bryan Furnace (16:58):

And just, I already know the answer, but to reiterate to the audience, I don't have to be a 50 plus equipment fleet. I don't have to be a big, huge outfit. I could literally be me and my backhoe, and I can put my backhoe on this oil analysis program, pay as I go, no subscription, no catch. This is literally a very powerful tool that is very easy to access, and it is not costing much money at all?

Shelly Eckert (17:27):

That's right. I've been around oil analysis for 29 years. It needs to get empowered out in the field.

Bryan Furnace (17:34):

It does. Agreed. Especially after this conversation, I am in 100% agreement, this needs to be a regular thing for everybody. Even if you just have a backhoe on the farm, this is huge.

Shelly Eckert (17:45):

That's right. That's right.

Bryan Furnace (17:47):

Well, as always, thank you to Shelly and Chevron for coming on the show to give us some more wisdom and some more insight as to how fluid testing can really impact your business in a very positive way and save you money in the long run. So as always, like everything else, I hope this has been helpful. I hope it helps you in your business. We'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.