The Dos and Don'ts of Resolving Oil System Contamination

By Pratt & Whitney Customer Service

If your engine’s chip detector indicates oil contamination, it could be a minor anomaly or an issue requiring engine removal. These tips will help ensure you take the right action.



An engine chip detection alert typically indicates that debris of some kind has been detected in the oil system. “Sometimes, operators will just wipe off the chip detector and put the engine back into service right away, but we advise against that,” says Serge Côté, Technical Specialist, Customer First Centre (CFirst), Pratt & Whitney Canada.

Instead, you should send the chip in for analysis when there’s an alert. Serge also suggests sending the filter for analysis at the same time to provide a more complete understanding of what’s happening in the oil system. The chip detector only identifies magnetic debris, but there could also be plastic, carbon or stainless-steel debris in the system.

“All debris is not the same, and it’s therefore not dealt with the same way. The action you will need to take depends on the size and type of material. That’s why you need to keep the chip and send it to the lab for analysis.”
– Serge Côté, Technical Specialist, CFirst


Even if you decide against sending it for analysis, Serge emphasizes that it’s important you don’t throw out the chip. If future alerts occur, being able to compare results will help identify whether they are unrelated events or a sign of ongoing deterioration.



Sending a chip for analysis is not the same as taking an oil sample for the purpose of engine trend monitoring. The latter, which uses P&WC’s advanced oil analysis technology, is a preventive measure done to help identify potential issues in advance, well before they occur. This predictive engine maintenance service is handled by P&WC’s internal lab and is up to 100 times more sensitive than other oil monitoring technologies, so it can be a valuable tool in proactive engine health management.

Analyzing a chip with debris, on the other hand, is a reactive step. Analysis is conducted by a P&WC-approved external lab and usually takes less than 24 hours. They will send back a full report covering details such as the size, material type, quantity and weight of the debris.

A full list of approved labs is available through the MyP&WC Power customer portal. Once registered and logged into the portal, customers can use the search bar at the top to find GEN-123 under Service Information Letters.

“Based on the lab report and the history of the engine, we’ll help the customer make the right decision,” notes Serge.



Without submitting the chip for analysis, some operators might respond to a chip detection alert by taking unnecessary action. For example, flushing the oil system or even pulling the engine for an inspection following an alert are costly endeavours that may not be needed.

More specifically, debris falls into two categories: allowable and non-allowable, as defined in the engine maintenance manual or EMM. The procedure to be followed differs in each case.

“If we’re not sure, we’ll assume that it’s non-allowable debris, based on a safety-first approach,” Serge adds.

“If you send the chip to the lab for analysis, it may be identified as allowable debris, enabling your engine to stay on wing. Whatever you do, don’t improvise. Follow the engine maintenance manual and make the right decision based on what it says and the recommendations of our Customer First Centre.”
– Serge Côté, Technical Specialist, CFirst


Whenever operators have an oil system event, they should keep CFirst in the loop, notes Serge. CFirst will document the event in its records. Even if you decide to take care of the issue on your own, it’s a good idea to copy CFirst and validate your findings and actions with them. This will provide them with helpful reference information if another alert happens in the future.

To help keep your system in good condition and minimize the likelihood of alerts, be sure to follow the advice in 5 Quick Tips for Servicing Your Engine’s Oil System.