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Fluid Analysis

Your main engine(s) are one of the most expensive pieces of equipment on your boat and are the costliest to replace. They are also the easiest to maintain and protect. The key to preventing costly repairs or replacement is periodic and preventative maintenance. Timely engine checks, oil and coolant changes could offer peace of mind and a safe boating season. A more proactive method of insuring the health of your boat engines is to perform infrequent but periodic engine oil analysis and coolant analysis.


Oil Analysis

Making oil analysis part of your maintenance strategy can identify the four biggest engine killers before they cause major problems, saving you thousands of dollars a year in unnecessary maintenance and replacement costs.  Our oil analysis service uses a nationally recognized lab using industry-best scientific methods, providing you the state of your oil and engines and possible ways to improve your maintenance methods. Why waste valuable wrench time when an effective oil analysis program can optimize your boating budget.

Maintenance strategy including engine and lubricant condition analysis will minimize failures and save valuable time and money by:

  • Identifying contamination

  • Identifying wear and its possible sources

  • Moving your maintenance practices toward a more condition-based approach


The Four Biggest Engine Killers

External Contamination

Fuel Dilution




Killer #1 – External Contamination

Boat engines are as susceptible to contamination as over-the-road fleet vehicles. This is even truer in the windy Bay Area and Delta waterways where boats are typically close to dry land, parking lots or levies. Many contaminants such as dirt are highly abrasive and can significantly shorten engine life.

Oil is most often contaminated by dirt when there are issues with the air intake system – it’s either been improperly installed or has failed. As a result, upper end components – pistons, liners, rings and valves – begin to wear first. This is evident in elevated ICP results for iron, chromium, nickel and aluminum. Elevated levels of lead, copper and tin indicate bearing wear.

Fluid analysis identifies dirt by the presence of silicon or aluminum. The key here is to establish appropriate alarm limits for flagging these elements as many lubricants typically contain 3 – 15 ppm silicon as an anti-foam additive. Providing new lube references before you begin testing used oil samples gives the laboratory a baseline to compare them to and ensures that flagged results are indeed cause for maintenance action. When silicon levels exceed these pre-set limits and there are also increasing levels of iron, lead, copper and tin, you will know there is enough dirt circulating through the system to damage engine components. Taking maintenance action early allows you to avoid catastrophic failure later.

Read: Effects of Coolant Contamination on Engine Oil

Killer #2 – Fuel Dilution

Fuel dilution is the amount of raw, unburned fuel circulating within the engine. In case of diesel engines for instance, not all of the diesel fuel injected to the cylinder is expended during the combustion process. Inevitably, some fuel works its way past the piston rings and into the crankcase where it “dilutes” or mixes with the engine's lubricating oil – the result is fuel dilution. More than 14% of the 383,789 engine samples that our lab has tested this year had fuel dilution levels high enough to flag. Not only does fuel dilution decrease engine oil's viscosity and lubricity, it can alter the performance of anti-wear additives which are designed to form a protective layer on metallic surfaces that guards against wear. Biodiesel blends also attract these additives leaving less available to protect engine metals. The resulting friction-related wear causes immediate engine component damage and can lead to premature engine failure if not detected quickly. Taking action at initial severity levels can greatly reduce unnecessary repairs and replacement costs. Our test lab confirms fuel dilution by gas chromatography (GC) based on a variance in the oil’s viscosity. GC separates the components of a mixture from one another by vaporizing the sample into a carrier gas stream that is passed through a column containing a substance that selectively adsorbs then releases the components to be measured. Because  #2 diesel fuel typically has a viscosity of around 1.7-2.1 cSt at 40°C, which is thinner than a typical 15W40 engine oil with a viscosity of around 14.7 cSt at 100°C, fuel dilution reduces the engine oil's viscosity. When the oil's viscosity varies by more than one (1) cSt from the known starting viscosity of the oil when new, the lab confirms fuel dilution by the new GC method reporting the result as percent by volume. However, if lubricant grade is not included with the sample, fuel dilution will be confirmed by GC if viscosity is below 13.3 cSt for a diesel engine oil and below 9.8 cSt for a gasoline engine oil. If viscosity is above the oil's mid-point for the grade, fuel dilution will be reported as <1.0 %.

Killer #3 – Soot

Fuel in a diesel engine is injected during the compression stroke. The high pressure ignites the fuel immediately allowing it no time to properly mix with air. Combustion is incomplete and soot is created. Engine designs of the past expelled most of the soot created by inefficient fuel combustion through the exhaust, but EGR engines re-circulate exhaust gases back into the cylinder at a lower temperature to reduce NOx emission. Retarding ignition timing and reducing the amount of oxygen in the cylinder produces less NOx but inhibits combustion and creates excess soot. If not adequately dispersed within the oil, soot particles begin to agglomerate, or gather into clusters increasing viscosity and allowing deposits to form on metal surfaces. Thick, sooty oil can plug filters and increase operating temperatures which can cause lubrication starvation and ultimately, metal on metal contact. The soot then becomes a harsh abrasive that accelerates wear in cylinder liners, rings, piston skirts, journal bearings and valve trains.

Killer #4 – Coolant

In 2009 in just one transportation fleet the lab identified 233 coolant leaks at a severity 3 or 4 – more than 6% of the total number of samples submitted. Elemental Analysis by ICP (inductively-coupled plasma) detects any sodium or potassium – carrier salts for coolant inhibitors – present in the oil, which may indicate the beginning stages of a coolant leak. If copper, lead and/or tin are also present, chances are bearing wear has begun.  If testing identifies a coolant leak, correcting the problem at a Severity 1 or 2 can prevent premature failure. You may only have to replace a leaking oil cooler or a damaged head gasket or EGR valve gasket. But if the leak were allowed to progress, the coolant would eventually attack the softer metals of the engine such as the copper and lead in main and rod bearings. Now you’re not only replacing the oil cooler and gaskets but the bearings and possibly the crankshaft as well.

Sample report:

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Coolant Analysis

Over 40% of engine failures are due to a problem with the cooling system. This vital system is one of the most neglected and least understood systems of the engine. Regular coolant testing and routine maintenance can achieve maximum system performance and identify potential problems before they become catastrophic failures.

There is more to coolant analysis that just testing coolant formulations. Analysis can identify problems within the cooling system that can be detrimental to engine performance or lead to premature engine failure. Coolant analysis can detect:

  • Metal corrosion

  • Combustion gas leaks

  • Contamination

  • Electrical ground problems

  • Overheating

  • Chemical breakdown

By performing regular coolant analysis drain intervals can be extended and we can identify minor problems before they become major failures. Extend the life of the engines, lower maintenance costs, and improve reliability with basic coolant analysis. The following tests monitor coolant maintenance levels to ensure proper engine metal protection, glycol levels for freeze and boil point control, nitrited coolant for prime metal pitting protection, acidity/alkalinity of the fluid, and visual contaminants.


Visual Inspection identifies outside contamination sources or coolant degradation. Oil and fuel contamination can destroy rubber seals and changes in color may indicate changes in chemical composition or possible mixing of formulations. Foaming causes loss of heat transfer. Odor helps confirm the source of contamination and/or degradation sources. Non-magnetic precipitate can be an indication of inhibitor fallout, an outside contaminant or microbial growth. Rust may or may not be magnetic. Magnetic precipitate is an indication of ferrous corrosive wear.


A lubricant's tendency to foam is determined by blowing air through a sample at a specified temperature and measuring the volume of foam that remains after a settling period. Foaming can result from excessive agitation, improper fluid levels, air leaks, contamination or cavitation - the pitting or wearing away of a solid surface as a result of the collapse of a vapor bubble. Foaming can cause sluggish hydraulic operation, air binding in oil pumps and tank or sump overflow.


pH is a measure of the coolant's acidity or alkalinity. Whereas a coolant's neutralization number is related to the quantity of acid or base-forming materials in a solution, pH indicates their intensity. Coolant pH range should remain between 7.5 and 11 to provide adequate corrosion protection.


Nitrite is an inhibitor for cast iron, steel and liner cavitation protection. Excessive levels can lead to solder corrosion, precipitate formation and water pump failure.


Glycol is a test used to check for contamination from a glycol product such as antifreeze or water/glycol.


Specific Conductance is a coolant's ability to resist carrying an electrical current between dissimilar metals. Excessive levels can be due to improper source water, high metal corrosion or over-treatment with SCAs.

Dissolved solids

Total Dissolved Solids such as inhibitor chemicals, silicates, contaminants and water hardness compounds can lead to water pump failure. TDS levels should not exceed 6000 ppm.

Carboxylic Acid

Acid Number is the amount of acid present. Values higher than that of the new lubricant is an indication of oxidation or contamination.

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