Sampling oil correctly and regularly can highlight potential problems in off-road vehicles before they become serious, says a technical expert from a leading lubricant manufacturer.

Andy Brown, of Fuchs Lubricants, says sampling can help reduce costs by unearthing issues with an off-roader before it breaks down completely and so minimise downtime. But he warned that oil samples must be taken correctly in order to produce the most accurate results.

Fuchs Lubricants offers the CENT sampling service to its customers, producing clear, precise feedback in the form of graphs and reports along with suggestions for remedial action.

The state-of-the-art production management tool indicates wear trends, additive levels and sources of contamination.

In 2016, Fuchs Lubricants carried out around 27,000 sampling reports from across all industry sectors the company is involved in. Many of those reports were for off-highway vehicles.

Andy Brown said: 'If you examine the condition of the oil through sampling, you can see problems before they escalate and become bigger issues.

'Customers send the sample to us and we look at viscosity, additive levels, wear levels, oxidation, and contaminants such as coolant ingress, dirt ingress and soot levels. All of these things can tell us the condition of the oil and the condition of the engine, gear box or hydraulic system.

'When samples are taken over a period of time, you can start to trend results and see things like bearing wear, cylinder wear and coolant contamination. For example, if there is a lot of dirt in the oil maybe the air filter hasn't been changed, or perhaps they've got a split somewhere in the air in-take system.

'It's a powerful tool because downtime can be so costly. You can spot a problem and replace something for a nominal amount rather than leaving it and having catastrophic problems.

'The way sampling is done is massively important and it's the bit that is easy for people to get wrong. For example, we had an occasion when a bus company was concerned that their vehicles were generating excess soot out of the exhaust.

'We carried out analysis on samples they gave us which confirmed their initial fears and that led to a full investigation involving the engine manufacturer, the bus manufacturer and the filter manufacturers.

'But I asked the bus company how they had taken their samples and they had no idea. It turned out that the samples had been taken after a weekend when the buses had stood idle and were cold. The engineer had opened the sump and taken the first bit of oil that came out. This was the worst-case scenario as when oil has sat for three days, a lot of particulates will drop out and go to the bottom.

'You need to take a sample either when everything is running and circulating ' so nothing is dropping out ' or as soon as possible after it is switched off. When the bus engine oil was sampled properly, there was no soot.

'The analysis side is easy but you can get completely the wrong answer if you haven't sampled it properly'

The sample needs to be representative of the rest of the oil. Generally, this will be after it has passed through the engine but before it gets to the filter, as the filter will remove contaminants. A vampire pump can be used with a tube which is fed into the correct position. And, crucially, the same sampling technique must be used every time.

Andy Brown added: 'If you haven't got a strategy of how to take samples and four or five people are doing it you'll get one person is doing it one way, someone else a different way, sometimes in the evening, sometimes in the morning … you end up with a random set of results.

'If you've got a process but it's not right, you can get some consistent results but they are actually wrong.

'But sampling is very much worth doing ' if it's done properly'