When Mike Patry's mechanic told him he couldn't find anything wrong with his tractor's engine, Patry asked the mechanic to keep looking.

As it turned out, the mechanic eventually found a leak in the fuel pump that could have spelled more serious trouble had the problem gone undiagnosed. As it was, the problem was repaired and Patry had a trouble-free season farming his 1,700 acres near Colwich, Kan.

Patry knew to keep the mechanic on the job because a routine engine oil analysis had turned up fuel in the oil.

Regular testing of engine oil and tractor hydraulic fluids is an easy way to help prevent equipment failure or at least diagnose potential problems, says Dale Hanson, manager, lubricant technical services for Country Energy, LLC.

Used oil analysis can provide a better picture of what's going on inside a tractor, truck, combine or gasoline or diesel powered equipment on the farm, and Hanson says the test is a simple, inexpensive way to diagnose problems before they get too far. "The test provides a detailed diagnosis and analysis of what's going on in any given piece of equipment," he says. "It can measure small amounts of contaminants which may forecast problems."

This analysis not only diagnoses the condition of equipment and indicates excess contamination, Hanson stresses, but it also can assist in determining optimum drain intervals.

Testing on a regular basis also helps establish a base line, or historic trend for that particular equipment and abnormally high rates of contamination can be more easily identified. As a result, action can be taken before catastrophic damage occurs if abnormal levels are found.

Once a test comes back, it identifies contamination and possible sources. Other testing is done to identify wear materials and which parts may be affected. The information related to the customer allows the best possible maintenance planning and prevention.

Patry regularly performs the tests on his equipment to comply with requirements of a warranty program. The program warrants his equipment, but only if routine maintenance procedures are followed, something Patry has no problem with. "It keeps me on a schedule," Patry says. "When I go to sell my equipment, I think it will be worth more if potential buyers know its history and that it's been taken care of."

Hanson agrees with Patry's assessment and adds, "If a farmer has the documentation showing regular testing, it can erase some of the concerns that come with buying used equipment."