When you go to an annual checkup at your doctor’s office, there are some routine screening tests you can expect to have – perhaps a cholesterol or glucose test. Through a pinprick on your finger, a small blood sample can assess your risk for a variety of diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

This is essentially what a fluid analysis can do for your equipment. It will help you gain valuable insight into the condition of the engine, transmission and hydraulic systems without having to deal with long wait times and white-coat syndrome.

A fluid analysis is a data collecting practice that can play a role on any farm whether the equipment is new or high-hour. A fluid analysis program involves pulling small samples of the equipment’s engine oil, transmission-hydraulic oil and coolant using a vacuum pump and hose inserted through the dipstick, oil fill port and oil level plug or sampling valve.

Simply get a kit from your local dealer and fill a small sample jar, labeling it for the specific machine. This kit usually includes mailing envelopes. From there, you can send your samples directly to the lab and, usually within 48 hours, you’ll have your results. It is strongly encouraged to use a traceable delivery service so you know the samples arrived on time.

Upon receiving your samples, the lab will analyze the engine oil, transmission-hydraulic oil and coolant to identify the overall condition of the fluids along with any contaminants. Each lab should operate under A2LA ISO 17025, which is the highest level of accreditation for testing and calibration laboratories.


The results are accurate, repeatable, traceable to a standard and supported by the ISO quality system. The resulting reports can give you a heads-up on a wide range of equipment conditions, from ineffective air filtration to deteriorating bearings, so you can address performance or wear issues prior to a costly failure.

For example, as engines wear their internal components also shed small amounts of metal such as iron, chromium, nickel, aluminum and copper, which the analysis identifies in parts per million. The type of metal indicates the likely source of the metal. Piston rings commonly shed iron, chromium and lead, whereas bearings will lose copper, aluminum and tin.

Other materials can identify different issues. The presence of sodium or potassium in an engine oil sample can indicate coolant from a leaking head gasket; silicon can come from dirt ingested through ineffective air filters or leaks between the filter and the engine.

The reports define if the amounts found are within normal ranges or excessive. The reports also include maintenance recommendations based on what has been flagged in the analysis. For example, if fuel is detected in engine oil, the report will recommend checking fuel injector performance and changing the oil, depending on the amount of fuel found.

The reports are highly accurate and a valuable resource for making equipment management decisions. And while one sample can be helpful, it’s best to pull fluid samples on a regular basis to identify any trends that might be occurring, regardless of the age of the equipment.

And just like with your own health, when it comes to equipment longevity, prevention and early detection are key. Through a fluid analysis, you help avoid downtime by identifying issues well before they become problems in the field. Routine fluid analysis also provides valuable records that can justify higher equipment resale values.

In fact, fluid analysis has become a critical part of qualifying certified pre-owned equipment. If you’re looking to purchase a pre-owned machine, be sure to ask for the results of the fluid analysis test, too. This information will not only help you make the right buying decision, it will also help you keep the equipment in good working condition down the road.

Now that you understand generally what a fluid analysis is and what it can do for you, a good rule of thumb is to always start with the end in mind. Think about what your goals are for your equipment and then talk with your dealer’s service team to learn more about when to take samples and how many are needed for diagnosis. PD

Rob Brockel is a fluids and filtration product marketing manager with CNH Industrial Parts and Service.