Coolant in Oil Article from Blackstone Labs
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This is a discussion on Coolant in Oil Article from Blackstone Labs within the General Maintenance, Troubleshooting & Accidents. forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; Some good information from Blackstone Labs taken from their newsletter: Spotlight on... the Silent Killer by Jim Stark After analyzing ...

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    Coolant in Oil Article from Blackstone Labs

    Some good information from Blackstone Labs taken from their newsletter:

    Spotlight on...
    the Silent Killer

    by Jim Stark

    After analyzing engine oil for 20 years, I can safely say the thing that kills more engines than any other is anti-freeze seeping into the oil. We call it the “silent killer” since there is normally no indication this dreadful contaminant is about to strike until after the damage is done. Neither you nor your mechanic can see it in the oil. The dealer won’t know it’s there. We like to say engines speak before they fail, but in this case, you aren’t likely to hear much of anything until you hear just about the worst sound an engine can make. Oil analysis is the only way of knowing this sneaky killer is closing in on you. We can see it in the oil at a trace level (it shows up as potassium and sodium) long before any harm is done.

    We call people daily to let them know anti-freeze contamination is about to ruin their day. A typical reaction is, “What? That engine is running fine!” And they are right — the engine will, in most instances, run perfectly well until a bearing spins, oil pressure drops, and the engine destructs to the point of no salvation.

    Some engine configurations are more susceptible to the problem than others: V-6s and V-8s for instance, are perhaps more prone than other engines. But no engine is immune (except air-cooled engines!). One would think that after 100 years of building engines, the automakers would get it right. To my knowledge no one has, though some do better than others.

    The Problem With Design

    The engineers who design engines do a marvelous job of building lighter, more efficient and faster engines. But for every step forward in the process, there are compromises. Building lighter engines necessitates working with new alloys for the various parts that are bolted together. Gaskets are used to seal between the parts. To get an engine perfectly right, they have to use parts that expand and contract with heat at the same rate, and gaskets that are hardy enough to seal well even after they age and suffer millions of heat cycles. You can imagine the engineers tossing in their sleep while wrestling with this dilemma.

    A classic example of the problem was a Jaguar in-line 6-cylinder engine I once owned. I loved that engine with its long, high-end torque curve and mellow growl. It was probably the first duel overhead cam design that managed quiet chains in the days before belts were used. But for all its wonderful assets, there was this one drawback: they used an aluminum alloy head on a cast iron block. If you managed 50,000 miles on a head gasket you were a very fortunate person.

    With an in-line design, the anti-freeze contamination usually develops at the head gasket. With the V-designs, a more common source of the problem is intake manifold gaskets. The manifold gasket supports the air/fuel system mechanism and straddles (and is bolted to) the heads. You can imagine the complexity of the problem of heat cycles. Block expansion forces the heads up and away from the crankshaft. The lowly intake manifold is not in a position to move in concert with the expansion. It would be like trying to ride two horses standing on the two saddles.

    The result of this set-up is that intake manifold gaskets fail with great regularity. Anti-freeze starts seeping into the oil. It often takes quite a long while before the problem manifests itself in a failure, but it can also happen quickly. Since there are usually no obvious symptoms of the problem other than a gradual loss of coolant, the unwary engine owner usually drives the engine to oblivion.

    Another common question we hear is, “How long until it fails?” Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict how long an engine with an antifreeze problem will last. Many variables factor into the equation: the type of engine, how it’s driven, the environment it’s operated in, and — the most unpredictable of all — Lady Luck. Some people can limp along for ages with a slight trace of coolant that never turns into anything serious. Others turn up a trace and then WHAM! Faster than you can say “spun bearing” the engine fails.
    Don’t quote me on this, but if I had to estimate the severity of the problem in car and truck engines today — judging from our oil samples — I would suggest 1–2 % of the cars and trucks in the road today are in the process of failing from anti-freeze contamination of the oil. Fortunately, most antifreeze problems can be detected early with oil analysis, and in most cases we can save the engine before a failure. We would like to save all of them. But we can’t save anything until see the oil from it.


    http://www.blackstone-labs.com/newsletter.html
    Vanitas vanitatum...et omnia vanitas

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    Administrator Trainrex's Avatar
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    I agree and disagree with that. Definately a good read, and definately true but.....
    Damage is not always done when antifreeze enters the oil. I have changed many many bad head gaskets in my day, and very few times have had an engine failure afterwards. I changed one on a 91 Integra about 6 years ago for a friend, and the engine is still strong 100k later. Yes it can do damage, but not always.

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    thats what theyre saying though.

    if you catch it early on youll most likely be fine.
    Vanitas vanitatum...et omnia vanitas

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    Moderator GV27's Avatar
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    The engine in my Alfa is quite prone to head gasket leaks (the all-aluminum design was cutting edge......50 years ago!) so I know a thing or two about this. Yes, a coolant leak left to go long enough can kill the bottom end bearings and yes, if the engine is allowed to keep running it can potentially cause a catastrophic failure.

    But think about the source: this guy is in the business of selling oil analysis. He overstates his case a bit.

    What happens is that oil floats on water, so if you get a lot of water down in the pan it can displace enough oil that the pump only pumps water and the bottom end bearings end up bathed in water, don't get the lubrication they need and fail.

    But this takes a significant amount of coolant! And there are other ways to spot it. One way is to look at the oil itself. How? The dipstick of course, dipstick (sorry, couldn't help it!)! The water and oil will get sloshed around a lot together and will partially emulsify together. This is what you're looking for. Look for brown "gunk" high on the dipstick before you wipe it to check the oil level. It doesn't take a lot of description - if you see anything but nice, smooth, transparent oil on the dipstick, you've got a problem.

    These leaks often go both ways and you can end up with oil in the coolant. Look for "mayonnaise" of emulsified oil on top of the coolant in the overflow reservoir and under the radiator cap - both sticking to the bottom of the cap and in the little bay of coolant below the cap. Again, not much description needed. Anything but nice clean coolant is bad.

    Chris
    "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me." -Jesus

    1990 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce
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    yes, the bias/sales pitch is pretty obvious in it.
    Vanitas vanitatum...et omnia vanitas

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    Registered User perfusionista's Avatar
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    The result of this set-up is that intake manifold gaskets fail with great regularity. Anti-freeze starts seeping into the oil.
    I don't recall ever seeing an engine that had an oil/water junction at the intake manifold gasket.

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