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.

How to Combat Insurance Fraud Simply and Efficiently

How to Combat Insurance Fraud Simply and Efficiently
How to Combat Insurance Fraud Simply and Efficiently - Armstrong Laboratory

How to Combat Insurance Fraud Simply and Efficiently – Armstrong Laboratory

  • Simple testing kits can reduce the time and expense of investigating fraudulent insurance claims.
  • Special Investigative Units using these kits combat fraud efficiently and effectively.
  • Armstrong Forensic Laboratory, Inc. provides a wide range of services to assist the investigative industry.

“Property/casualty insurance fraud amounts to about $32 billion a year, according to industry estimates” (iii.org, 2017). The Insurance Information Institute (III) notes this accounts for nearly 10% of the industry’s losses. The team at Armstrong Forensic Laboratory (www.aflab.com) spend each and every day reducing those numbers. They are a premiere resource for any Special Investigative Units (SIUs) battling fraud.

The simple, quick kits provide easy-to-understand snapshots of the conditions before the investigated incident. The Vehicle Fluid Analysis (VFA) kit, for example, is a quick and inexpensive tool for any claim investigator. The kit allows anyone to determine the condition of a car engine prior to the incident. That information often helps an insurance company determine whether there is possible fraud by bringing to light the true facts. An easy process and quick resolution make this an invaluable tool for any vehicular investigation.

Thousands of Vehicle Fluid Analysis kits are utilized every year; the investigators who use Armstrong return again and again. The value of the tests are immeasurable, especially to Special Investigative Units. These teams are the ultimate line of defense against fraudulent claims, and are often hindered by time constraints, limited resources, and the burden of making some of the hardest decisions in the industry.

SIUs work hard to determine all of the facts of an incident scene. Often, the short turn-around from claim to payment challenges the team. Sometimes, the investigation will appear to cost more than the payout, so it would seem counter-intuitive to delve into the problem. Both of these issues have a simple solution: Armstrong Forensic Laboratory. Reports will arrive from the labs within the “good faith” timeframe so a complete picture can be pieced together. The cost-effectiveness of the kit improves an investigation’s efficiency. The Armstrong Forensic Laboratory Kit Programs provide fast response times and accurate results with easy-to-read reports and clear-cut, court-ready evidence to support the SIU determination.

Fire debris, paint testing and vehicle fluid kits are a few of the services offered by Armstrong Forensic Laboratory, Inc. The ability of these tests to reduce investigative costs cannot be overstated. These simple kits are usable by anyone. It is important to your business and your customers that you have these tools at hand. Contact AFLAB today at 817-275-2691 or email Kits@AFLab.com to ensure your SIU is fully prepared.

Learn more about Armstrong’s convenient Kit Program.

Report suspected Insurance Fraud

Learn more at the National Insurance Crime Bureau

Chain of Custody and Its Importance

The Chain of Custody, or Evidence Transmittal Letter, is a very important document that must accompany your evidence when submitting samples to the laboratory for analysis. This is especially true if the case goes into litigation. It is also very important for other types of regulatory

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Improved Vehicle Fluid Evidence Containers

Worried about shipping fuel samples?  Now you don’t have to!  Our new and improved sample containers are one ounce plastic jars, which are perfect for shipment of vehicular fluids to the lab.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) document 49 CFR §173.4 “Small quantities for highway and rail” states that class 3 materials (fuels) may be shipped via ground shipping, and is limited to a sample size of thirty (30) mL or one (1) ounce.  The full document can be found here 49 CFR §173.4.  Each of our kits come with prepaid FedEx and UPS ground shipping labels.  As long as you use one of our kits, you never have to worry about whether your sample is in compliance with DOT regulations.  Insider tip from the lab:  write “laboratory sample” on the outside of the box before you send it in.  You are not required to do so, but it does make shipping evidence easier on both you and the shipping company.

Improved 1 oz. Sample Container

Bonus feature!  Even though they look small, the one ounce jars will still fit your vampire or vacuum pump.  No need to purchase a new one!  Does your kit still contain the larger two ounce plastic jars?  That’s ok, too!  Just be careful not to fill past the “fill range” line imprinted on the jar near the top, and your evidence is well within compliance.  Don’t have a vacuum pump?  Call to order one from us.

Improved Sample Containers Fit Vamp Pump

If you have any questions, or would like to request a kit with the new and improved containers, please call us at (800) 644-4175 toll free, email us at Kits@AFLab.com, or simply fill out the ‘Sample Kit’ request form on our website.

We will respond as quickly as possible, and may be able to ship your kit the same day!

Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was created to coordinate development of a quality infrastructure for forensic science standards development.  There are about 20 people on the Standard Development Organization (SDO).  Some time later, NIST created a multi-level organization to conduct its assigned responsibilities.  This group is called the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science.  It consists of five Scientific Area Committees (SACs) which report to a Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB).  Each of the five SACs oversee discipline-specific subcommittees.  Three Resource Committees provide input to the FSSB, SACs, and SAC Subcommittees.

Only about 550 of the world’s greatest experts on these topics are on these committees.  We are very proud to say that Dr. Andrew Armstrong is on the Fire Debris & Explosives Subcommittee of the Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis SAC.  Currently, OSAC is working diligently to improve old American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standards, and to create new standards.  These changes and additions are voted on by ASTM E30, Committee of Forensic Science.  Any changes are sent back to OSAC to vote on whether they accept, or reject the proposed changes.  Additionally, they are working on improving Quality Assurance/Quality Control guidelines, and on improving specific report language.

For more information about OSAC, NIST, any of the five SACs and their subcommittees, you may visit https://www.nist.gov/forensics/organization-scientific-area-committees-forensic-science.  There you will find more details about the improvement of these standards and guidelines that are based on sound scientific principles.  Stay tuned for the latest in this developing area!

Questions?  Feel free to contact us at (800) 644-4165 or (817) 275-2691 DFW Metro, or simply fill out the ‘Ask An Expert’ form on our website.  Dr. Armstrong, and his entire staff at AFLab is more than happy to take your call!


Springer, Sabrina. “OSAC Home.” NIST. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017. <https://www.nist.gov/topics/forensic-science/osac-home>.

Plan Your Next Continuing Education Event With Armstrong

Armstrong offers FREE Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) approved continuing education courses!  Our client reviews speak for us!

“Great course, thank you!”

“It was all very helpful”

“The white paint transfer example was the most helpful part”

“Evidence collection and the chain of custody were helpful”

“The live demonstration was helpful to me”

“The visual demo was most helpful”

“Great class!”

“I enjoyed seeing the live action sample collection”

“Course material was clear and included pictures”

“I really enjoyed this course and the presenters were both professional and likeable”

“Live paint sample demonstration was very helpful”

Call us today at 817-275-2691 to schedule your very own Lunch & Learn continuing education class, or to ask when we’re hosting another public class!