Top Preflight Tips: 3

One of the easiest and most important things you can do to keep your aircraft healthy is to keep track of your airplane’s oil consumption. Why: Oil consumption is a barometer to the health of your engine, and sudden changes in consumption can signal significant problems that if missed, could be the beginning of a very bad day.

Defense: Every time you fly, check the oil level in your airplane engine. Use a small pad of paper, kept in your baggage compartment, to note when you add engine oil. Keep one column each for date, hobbs time, oil level, and oil added — a space for comments is also a good idea.

Properly checking the oil involves pulling the dipstick, wiping the stick clean and then reinserting the dipstick into the engine to obtain a reading. Using paper towels is not advised. Patterns and lint, which appear on many types of paper towels, can distract your eye and hide potential warning signs. Better: Always use a lint free cloth or towel that is white or some other solid color. The reason for wiping the stick clean is simple: some of the more high-tech oils stick well to just about anything, including your dipstick. If you fail to wipe the stick clean and just go with the level on the stick, you could actually be several quarts low on oil.

Important: Every time you wipe the stick on your clean cloth or towel, any shiny material could be an indication of serious wear and imminent (or present) engine problems — if you can see metal shavings from the dipstick, chances are the engine isn’t in good enough shape to safely fly. If there is any doubt, seek out a shop that can perform an oil analysis. Your mechanic will be able to suggest one for you.

BOTTOM LINE: By trending your oil consumption against the hours flown on the airplane and properly checking your oil, you will be able to find problems before they become expensive or dangerous. At the very least, the minutes you spend doing this could add years to the life of your engine.