By Kathy Huting

Maintaining a tractor’s lubrication system is essential to preventing equipment failure. Lubricants help to ensure that all moving parts of a machine are running smoothly, from the transmission to the brakes.

While many farmers understand the importance of purchasing quality lubricants, few consider the value of testing those lubricants as an alternative to simply replacing them.

“I would say more don’t than do,” said Jacque Powers, director of marketing and communications for POLARIS Laboratories®. Powers said that while POLARIS Laboratories® provides ample lubricant testing services for owners of farm machinery, not many utilize the service.

“Many don’t realize how much money oil analysis can save them,” Powers said.

Replacing engine oil and other lubricants can be costly, and Powers recommends having the fluids tested as an option to extend the life of the fluids, and ultimately, the machine.

Farmers typically have the option of either working with their equipment manufacturer or directly with an oil analysis company. Some manufacturers cover the cost of the test within a warranty program, and farmers should consult with their dealers for further information.

Regardless of the route a farmer takes, Powers strongly suggested farmers consider getting their oil tested. She explained the process as follows:

Step 1: Complete Registration Form
During this step, a farmer provides as much information as possible to Polaris in order for the data analyst to provide the most in-depth analysis and actionable maintenance recommendations. The questions range from “When was your oil last changed?” to describing the environment in which the machine operates.

Step 2: Farmer sends sample and form to the laboratory
Farmers send the lubricant sample with the form in the kit.

Step 3: Analysis
Upon receipt of the sample, Powers said that POLARIS Laboratories® will typically return the results to a farmer within 24 hrs. The company offers an online system called Horizon® where farmers can receive the results of their tests with comments from the analyst immediately. Farmers without internet access may receive the results via fax or mail.

Step 4: Feedback
Farmers also have the opportunity to explain how they used the information provided in the tests by reporting the actions they took following the analysis.

Benefits of oil analysis and understanding the results

Oil analysis lets farmers identify small problems before they become major failures. The test report provides detailed information on contaminants and metal presence in the oil, in addition to other factors like viscosity and oxidation levels. Your oil analysis company will interpret the test results and provide recommendations as to the maintenance action that should be taken. Farmers can then communicate with the data analyst for further explanation or analysis.

“We test for 24 wear, contamination, multi-source and additive metals. Elevated levels of sodium and potassium could be an indication of a coolant leak, which can do some real damage. Early detection through oil analysis can prevent that damage,” Powers said.

Farmers can then use the information to make a decision on whether or not a specific part needs to be replaced, which can prevent greater, long-term damage to the entire machine.

Identifying these small problems early on in a machine’s life can significantly increase the machine’s longevity and delay a farmer’s need to replace the whole machine. The data provided in the oil analysis report can also help a farmer determine if a lubricant is suitable for continued use and potentially save hundreds of dollars in unnecessary oil changes.

Preventative maintenance and the early identification of problems are both key to extending a machine’s life, and farmers should consider oil analysis testing as a regular part of their machinery maintenance program.