Oil analysis. You get such a comprehensive amount of information from such a simple test that I don’t know why we haven’t done it before. We’re well into our preparations for taking Eagle Too back to the Bahamas for a spring cruise, and one of my concerns is that she’s spent most of the last 18 months gently resting in her slip. Before heading out across the Gulf again, I wanted to make sure that we can totally rely on her propulsion system. So I decided to do an oil analysis on her engine.
Wearing rings, a leaking head gasket, tired bearings: all these problems and more can be identified by analyzing the trace elements in the engine’s oil. Just as routine bloodwork can help you understand what’s happening inside your body, a chemical analysis of your engine’s oil can indicate imminent problems lurking below the surface, waiting to blow up in your face at the most inopportune time.
The process consists of nothing more than running the engine to warm it up, and then drawing out a couple of ounces of oil to send to a lab for analysis. After doing some research online, I decided to use Blackstone Labs. Their standard analysis included all the tests I wanted to have run, their reviews were pretty good, and their price of $28 seemed very fair.
One of the things I liked about Blackstone is that they provide a free sample return kit. Just hit their site and fill in your info, and a few days later a package shows up with everything you need to ship back your oil for analysis. When I opened the package, I found a small white poly bottle for the sample, a plastic bag to put the filled bottle in along with a provided absorbent pad, and then a mailable black plastic bottle to contain it all, with a pre-paid postage label already applied.
I know that the Post Office can have an issue with mailing liquids, and Blackstone’s ‘bottle inside a bag with an absorbent pad inside another sealed bottle’ is supposed to mollify their concerns. They even provide a form you can download and take to the Post Office with you that explains the law regarding mailing engine oil, just in case the Postmaster still doesn’t want to accept the shipment. But after reading that it could still sometimes take several weeks for the samples to make it back to Blackstone due to the Post Office treating them as hazardous material, I decided to go a little rogue in order to beat the system. After taking samples of both our engine oil and transmission fluid and bottling them in the provided containers, I then packed them in a well-padded Priority Mail box with tracking for return shipment. This meant that unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of the pre-paid return shipment labels Blackstone had provided, but it also meant that by conveniently forgetting what was inside the box and saying “no” when asked if I was shipping anything liquid or hazardous, they would quickly make their way to their destination.
Less than a week after dropping the samples in the mail, I received an email with our completed oil analysis results. I was delighted with the findings. Everything looked perfectly normal. No coolant in the oil, no excessive metal wear products. Just the readings you’d expect from a healthy, happy little diesel engine. And so for a little bit of effort and a minor expense, we’ve received a great deal of reassurance that our trusty little Yanmar has a long life ahead of it.