5 Things Insurance Investigators need to know about Engine Fluid Analysis

5 Things Insurance Investigators need to know about Engine Fluid Analysis

What is Engine Oil Analysis…

For several decades the Railroad, Airline, and Automotive industries have used engine oil analysis as a proactive maintenance strategy to chart engine wear to prevent mechanical failure in their fleets. Physical and spectrographic analyses continued to be used to examine the properties of engine oil to determine the presence of contaminants and a variety of suspended elements. These techniques give insight into the current condition of a mechanical system.

How can this type evaluation be useful in an insurance investigation? When investigating an automobile claim with a failed engine system, the question that often needs to be

Vehicle Fluid Kit

Vehicle Fluid Kit

answered is: Was failure caused by poor maintenance or vandalism? Engine oil analysis is an inexpensive and effective tool used to supply valuable information about the internal condition of the major components of automobiles and large equipment at the time of a loss.   The benefits of Engine Oil Analysis to your investigation will: 1) reduce your claim’s cycle time, and 2) provide facts so an appropriate resolution can be made.

How It Works…

Engine and Transmission Oils are analyzed to identify the cause of failure to the engine system. Armstrong’s analytical approach is to conduct a forensic examination of the sample by visual and microscopic evaluation. Then utilizing Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and Gas Chromatography (GC), Armstrong can identify the physical and chemical properties of the oils. For example, identifying the presence of water, fuels, glycols (anti-freeze); as well as viscosity, soot, particulates, and oxidation. Next, a wear metals analysis utilizing Flame by Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy is conducted.

What Are Wear Metals…


Flame Atomic Absorption

Overtime, the friction of the moving parts in the engine and transmission will create microscopic particles. These suspended particles called “wear metals” are retained in the lubrication system. Identifying the wear metals present and their relative concentration can establish the extent of wear (normal or catastrophic) and the type of problem(s) occurring in the engine or transmission system. The various engine components are made of different elements: lead, tin, copper, aluminum, chromium, etc. When the level of each identified wear metal in a system is Flame Atomic Absorption determined, it can help locate the source and the component that is causing the problem, i.e. the pistols, bearings, valve stems, crankshaft, etc.

Identifying the level of wear and any contaminants present, a investigator will have a better understanding how the vehicle was being maintained at the time of an incident.

How Engine Oil Analysis Helped…

An individual reported his car missing. Unfortunately or fortunately, the car was recovered near his home burned. Both the police and the insurance company considered their prime suspect to be the car owner. The insurance SIU conducts a thorough investigation, including engine oil analyses. The results were indicative massive wear and engine failure.

Due to high cost of engine repairs, many owners find clever ways to collect from their insurance companies rather than pay for repairs; therefore, the analytical results gave support to the presumed motive for the car owner destroying his car.   However, the car owner reported the car was serviced just the week prior to the incident. Through interviewing the service station, it was revealed over 3,000 miles had been added to the car’s odometer since the service date. The investigation continued and proved the car was indeed stolen and coincidently used in a multi-state drug run. When criminals were finished, they burned the car to destroy the evidence. In this scenario, oil analysis supported the claim of innocence of the car owner and steered the investigation in the right direction. For the Full Story, click here.

What Else From The Engine Can Be Analyzed…

With a similar analytical approach to oils, Armstrong analyzes fuels and other automotive fluids for identification and contaminants. Fuel samples such as Gasoline (gasohols), Diesel, Biodiesels (biodiesel blends), and other fuels (Jet Fuels, 2-cycle engine fuels, etc.) are examined visually and microscopically and analyzed by GC, FTIR and specific spot tests.

* One common reason for diesel engine failures is the presence of DEF in the fuel system. DEF is an additive to the exhaust system to reduce emission from the diesel engine. It is detrimental if added to the fuel system.

Comprehensive results of an engine fluid analysis will prove to be a vital tool in your investigation of an automobile loss. Contact us today and we’ll be glad to answer your questions, or send a convenient Armstrong Vehicle Fluid Sampling Kit to you and your team, today.

How To Get Samples To Armstrong…

The process is quite convenient. First, use an Armstrong Forensic Laboratory Vehicle Fluid Sampling Kit, or similar collection equipment, and draw a fluid sample. Collecting a proper sample is just as important as the analysis itself. The more information reported to the lab to how and where the sample was collected from the vehicle will be beneficial to interpreting the analytical data.