Where is my sample? I sent it in at least a week ago and haven't heard anything.

Chances are we don't have it yet. We do a pretty good job keeping up, and unless there was a holiday or something and we're just inundated with samples, we try to run it within a few days of receiving it.

Aw, come on. Are you sure you don't have it stashed away somewhere?

Trust me. We don't make money unless we run your sample, so we don't have any reason to leave them sitting around in back somewhere. If you receive more kits from us, then we either got your sample or we got your online payment. We automatically send a couple kits when we put you into the system. We only charge your card after we do the analysis, so if your card has been charged then we did your sample but the email report didn't go through. Check your spam filter, and if it's not there, give us a call.

You know, I thought the post office looked kind of suspicious when I took the sample in. Since you don't have it yet, maybe it's lost. Should I yell at the post office?

Feel free. They are pretty good about delivering, though it can sometimes take a while. Be sure to check your tracking number...you'd be amazed at the number of people who don't do this simple step first.

But I need to yell at someone. How about you? Can I call up and yell at you?

Knock yourself out.

Seriously. How long should I wait before I give it up for lost and send in another one?

Give it at least a month. They don't actually get lost very often, and they do usually find their way here eventually. Sometimes they go to another lab and then to us. Sometimes they get held up in quarantine while the post office figures out whether it's hazardous. (For the record, it's not: You can print off a letter that explains so here.) And sometimes, we think the pony must die en route to Indiana.

Is there any way to avoid the post office hassle?

Sure, put your sample in a box. Postage will cost a little more, but it might be worth it. Or send it UPS or FedEx.

Do I need to have one of your kits to send in a sample?

No. You can send it in any package that won't leak. Notice the key words here: won't leak. Any clean and dry container with a screw-on cap should be okay. Bad choices for the mail include Tupperware, film canisters, pickle jars, and aspirin bottles. Believe me, nothing ruins my day like opening an oil sample and getting oil all over my clothes.

How about tape? Will it help if I tape the hell out of it?

Apparently everyone loves tape. We get so much tape on oil sample containers that we should be in the used-tape business. But you know what doesn't work very well? Scotch tape. Don't do it. It's really not any good. Our apologies to the Scotch tape people. Now electrical tape...that's tape we can respect.

I don't think you understand my deep, unyielding love of tape. I am going to tape that container so well, the oil couldn't get out if it tried.

You and everyone else, brother.

I'm a little confused about how this kit works. I see a black bottle, a white bottle, some gray stuff, a Ziploc bag, and a slip.

Put the oil in the white bottle, put the bottle and the gray absorbent material in the bag, then put the bag and the slip in the black mailer. That way, if your sample leaks, it's contained in the bag and doesn't get all over your slip or check. The bank really hates it when we send them oily checks. Also, make sure the lid is on tight! We can't test your oil if it all leaks out by the time we get it.

This oil slip paper sucks. My pen won't write on it.

I know. Use a pencil.

How much oil do you need?

Our bottle holds 3.5 oz, or a little less than half a cup. You can get away with less, though we need at least 2.5 oz to do all of our tests.

I took a sample three months ago and forgot to send it in. It's been on a shelf in my garage ever since. Can I still send it in? Will the results still be good?

Should be fine.

Well, when I took the sample this time, I forgot to catch it as it was coming out, so I had to dip my sample out of the drain pan. Is that okay?

Depends. Was the pan mostly clean?

No, it had a bunch of oil in it already from about 15 other oil changes.

Then no, don't send it in. Your sample will be contaminated.

What about the oil left in the filter? Can I use that instead?

Sure, just make a note on the slip that the oil came from the filter. If something really bizarre shows up, we'll take that into account. It shouldn't change much in the analysis, though.

Well, I also didn't drive the car for 15 minutes before sampling. Does it matter?

It's fine. We recommend driving for 15-20 minutes (on the highway, preferably) before sampling to cook out any fuel from starting the engine. But it's not a problem if you didn't. Just make a note on the oil slip.

What if I don't have your kit when I take the sample? What should I store the oil in?

Just put it in anything that's clean and dry, like a dry plastic water bottle. Storing it won't hurt anything.

I think $28.00 seems kind of steep for an oil analysis. I know other labs do it cheaper. Why should I pay you $28.00?

Because a person - not a computer - sits down and writes the comments for each and every sample we do. We look at your results and tell you in plain English how your engine is doing. Plus, if you call us you always get a live person, and we're happy to talk to you about your results. Plus, each report is infused with love. Can't you feel it? Feel the looooove!

Uh, whatever. $28.00 still seems steep.

Then you are just the candidate for our discount program. Click here to read more about it.

So do I need to set up an account to get started, or what?

All you have to do to start is send in a sample. If you've got one of our kits, just fill out the little slip that comes with it, and we'll set up your account when we get the sample. If you don't have one of our kits, you can print out a form from our website to include with the oil.

I don't want to use this black mailer you sent me. I march to my own drummer. Can I just use this address on the bottle and send it in something else?

Sure. Just be sure to send it to the correct address. We are at 416 E. Pettit Ave., Ft. Wayne, IN 46806.

I don't want to include my credit card number on the slip. What do I do?

We have a secure area on our website for payments. Go to Services/Pay and you can enter your credit card info there.

Can I ask for a pump when I request my kit?

You can, but we'll write back and ask you to pay for it. Pumps are not free. You can order one for $35 under Products/Vacuum Pump.

Ok, now for the technical questions. What is a TBN?

A TBN (total base number) measures the amount of active additive left in a sample of oil. The TBN is useful for people who want to extend their oil usage far beyond the normal range.

Do I need to send in a separate sample for a TBN?

No. We can run your TBN on the same sample of engine oil you send. It's also not necessary to send in a sample of virgin oil for a TBN. You're welcome to do so, of course, and many people do this to see where the TBN starts out. If you do send in the virgin oil sample, the cost for that sample is the same as for your used engine oil sample.

Can I get a TBN on my ATF?

Well, you could, but it wouldn't mean very much. The TBN is based on the level of calcium sulfinate and magnesium sulfinate in the oil, and transmission oil doesn't have much of it. We can, however, run a TAN (Total Acid Number) on your transmission oil.

How long should the oil stay in the engine before I sample it?

We like to see at least 500-1000 miles to get good data. If the engine has a problem, it may very well show up with fewer miles than that, but more miles are preferred.

I see a question mark on the report. What does that mean?

It means there are signs of contamination, but not enough to say for sure. We usually use a question mark in the antifreeze category; since we don't test for glycol directly, we use potassium and sodium to look for coolant. When one or both are present but at very low levels, we'll call your attention to it, but not call it a problem outright. Sometimes we'll also use a question mark when the oil behaves strangely and it seems like something is present that shouldn't be, though we're not sure what it is.

What about "TR"?

That means a trace (of whatever) was present - a very low level.

I think the dealership is ripping me off. Can you test the oil to see if it's really synthetic?

No. We do not test the base stock of the oil. But what we can do is compare your used oil with what it should be to see if the additives match. If we don't already have a virgin sample on file, you can send one in. The cost is $28, just like for used oil samples.

Lead shot up in my last report. You said I might have a particle streak through the bearings. What is that?

A particle streak occurs when a very small piece of dirt gets lodged in the bearings and spins around, gouging out a streak of lead, before becoming dislodged. A particle streak will cause a temporary increase in lead, and then once the dirt leaves the system, lead drops back down. To see a picture of a bearing that has experienced this phenomenon, click here).

Does it matter if I take my sample at the beginning, middle, or end of the drain? I forgot this time and didn't get the sample till almost all the oil had drained out. Is that why metals went up?

It doesn't really matter. The optimal time is the middle of the drain, but the oil really does a good job holding everything in suspension. We don't suggest the beginning because there might be a little dirt around the drain plug. We don't suggest the end just because you might run out of oil and not have enough to fill the container. But if you catch the beginning or end, it doesn't usually make a difference in wear. Just let us know on the oil slip when you send it in.

I'm confused. I got some results, but they're addressed to Oscar Huff. That's not me, and this is not my engine.

What you are looking at is a sample report. Oscar is my old dog, and he's dead, and he never did an oil sample in his life. Look for an attachment to your email. Those are your results.

What's the best oil to use?

Ah, the million dollar question. We are an independent lab, so we don't make recommendations. It has been our experience that oil is oil, and either petroleum or synthetic-based oil will work well for just about any engine.

Come on, you're holding out on me. I should use synthetic, right?

Buddy, you should use whatever you want. Synthetic oil won't guarantee a longer engine life any more than my eating organic food will guarantee I'll live until I'm 90. We here at Blackstone generally use regular petroleum-based oil because honestly, it works just as well for us.

Can you analyze my transmission fluid and differential fluid?

Yes. The kit is the same and the cost is the same. We also sell pumps for drawing samples.

The Post Office refused to take my sample and said this is hazardous material. Is that true?

No. Click here to see a letter that explains how our kit (and the oil in it) meets postal regulations.

What's up? You found higher-than-average metals in my oil but you said I could go longer on the oil next time. You people need to stop smoking the wacky weed. Why would I run the oil longer when my metals are already higher than average?

Our recommendations are only recommendations, so you should run your oil however long you want to. If we said to go ahead and run it longer, then we didn't think your metals were all that high, and in our opinion running a few more miles won't hurt anything. But everyone has their own comfort level with metals, and if you want to change it, please do so.

What's the matter with you people? I am running extended oil changes and you found high metals in my oil. You said I should change it. But there's no way in hell I would change out this expensive synthetic just because metals are a little high!

Ahem. As we said in the above question, everyone has their own comfort level with metals. If we recommended changing the oil out, it's because we thought metals were high enough that they were making the oil too abrasive to run the oil longer. But it's your engine, buddy. Run the oil however long you want to and tell us to stick it in our ear. We can take it.

Why are my molybdenum, boron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc levels different from universal averages?

We do not separate out the various oil brands and grades when we calculate universal averages, so in effect, the universal averages are a mix of all different types of oil out there. Therefore, the additives that are present in your sample will not match those in the universal averages column. Click here to see what all the elements mean and where they come from.

I was a horse's behind when I filled out the slip, and I didn't put down the miles on the oil, the miles on the engine, the right engine type, or the right oil type. Can I give you that info now and have you redo the report?

Well, yes, we'll do it, but repeat offenders make me grouchy.

But not me, right? I'm special. You wouldn't get mad at me!

Uh, right.

Blackstone Labs. Not your everyday oil lab.

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