White foamy substance on oil dipstick?
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    White foamy substance on oil dipstick?

    I have an Ariens 17.5HP riding mower that is used as a put-put to haul things around the yard, get the mail, etc. The oil looks normal when I check it prior to starting the engine but if I check it again after running a few minutes the oil seems to have a foamy "head" on the dipstick. I suspect it is condensation from being run for relatively short periods in cold weather.

    I tried taking a photo of the dipstick but the foam seems to disburse rather quickly. In the photo below you can see a small patch where the dipstick is bent in a zig-zag. If I check the oil immediately after stopping there is about a 1/4" band of white foam at the full mark. The engine oil is full and recently changed which is why it doesn't show very well on the dipstick.

    To aid warming when running during the winter I have installed my DIY cold weather kit on the top of the engine. Is this foam something I need to worry about and if so, is there anything that I can do to get rid of it other than changing oil again? Will running the engine a long time and getting it really warmed up get rid of what is already there?

    Thanks!

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    Keeper of the GTT Cookies dieselshadow's Avatar
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    What kind of oil are you using? A high detergent oil will cause foaming as well as a poor quality oil. Sometimes an additive package isn't all that well suited for air-cooled engines.

    You definitely need to remove some of your tape. You can easily overheat the top end of the engine by starving off so much air. Personally, I'd leave it off completely.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieselshadow View Post
    What kind of oil are you using? A high detergent oil will cause foaming as well as a poor quality oil. Sometimes an additive package isn't all that well suited for air-cooled engines.
    I'm using John Deere Turf-Gard 10W-30. I use it in my JD X500 and all my other small engines.

    You definitely need to remove some of your tape. You can easily overheat the top end of the engine by starving off so much air. Personally, I'd leave it off completely.
    Really? I can easily do that. It still seems to get lots of air. I only have it there for the winter. The engine gets run in 15-30 degree temperatures for less than 10-mins. Today it was around 35 degrees. When I didn't have any tape on there the engine stayed ice cold all the time.
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    Keeper of the GTT Cookies dieselshadow's Avatar
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    When you say ice cold, where are you measuring the temp? Running any engine for short periods of time in the winter is bad, period. Not much you can do about that other than getting it up to operating temperature by running it under a load for a period of time. Your other option is to change the oil more often to rid the engine of built up moisture.
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    I'm guessing condensation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieselshadow View Post
    When you say ice cold, where are you measuring the temp? Running any engine for short periods of time in the winter is bad, period. Not much you can do about that other than getting it up to operating temperature by running it under a load for a period of time. Your other option is to change the oil more often to rid the engine of built up moisture.
    I agree. Unfortunately the way this engine is used it just doesn't get to run for very long at a time. While there is typically some warmth on the valve cover, the sides of the engine are usually still cool to the touch.

    I guess I'll just have to change the oil mid winter to keep the condensation under check.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gizmo2 View Post
    i'm guessing condensation.
    👆👆x2.
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    If the foam dissipates quickly, I doubt it's condensation. IME you'd be more likely to see condensation on the stick BEFORE you run it. If you think there's moisture (water) in your oil, take a piece of flat iron and heat it above 212* . Drip a few drops of the oil on the iron (steel, whatever) and watch and listen to the reaction. If there's a snap-crackle-pop sound and you see what looks like bubbles popping in the oil when it hits the hot metal, then yes you have water there. It will boil off into steam when it gets above the boiling point. Get your metal hot and ready while the engine is running, then kill it and do the test when you are seeing the foam.
    JMO and YMMV

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    Quote Originally Posted by jgayman View Post
    I have an Ariens 17.5HP riding mower that is used as a put-put to haul things around the yard, get the mail, etc. The oil looks normal when I check it prior to starting the engine but if I check it again after running a few minutes the oil seems to have a foamy "head" on the dipstick. I suspect it is condensation from being run for relatively short periods in cold weather.

    I tried taking a photo of the dipstick but the foam seems to disburse rather quickly. In the photo below you can see a small patch where the dipstick is bent in a zig-zag. If I check the oil immediately after stopping there is about a 1/4" band of white foam at the full mark. The engine oil is full and recently changed which is why it doesn't show very well on the dipstick.

    To aid warming when running during the winter I have installed my DIY cold weather kit on the top of the engine. Is this foam something I need to worry about and if so, is there anything that I can do to get rid of it other than changing oil again? Will running the engine a long time and getting it really warmed up get rid of what is already there?

    Thanks!
    Hiya,

    This is the key indicating most likely there is nothing wrong since the "foam" disperses very quickly.

    What you have to keep in mind is that oil gets slung around by design in small air cooled engines as oil is not just a lubricant, it's a coolant. It cools hot components by transferring heat to the cooler case by being sloshed all over, all this sloshing beats the oil into a foam. Oil makers add anti-foaming agents called surfactants into the oil to quickly break the surface tension of the foam.

    The reason you see the foam for a small amount of time when you check the dipstick right away after shutting down the engine as that the dipstick resides in a chamber that traps some of the foam. If you read the owners manual most likely they say to let the engine sit for at least 30 seconds to a minute before you check the oil level after running.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The reason you don't see this in automotive engines is that you normally don't run at high RPM right before you shut it down to check the oil, also, the sump is much deeper by design and keeps the oil away from rotating components as much as possible. The design of the oiling systems may include windage trays, scrapers and even knife edge crankshaft counterweights to keep oil off components and increase performance and power.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomd999 View Post
    Hiya,

    This is the key indicating most likely there is nothing wrong since the "foam" disperses very quickly.

    What you have to keep in mind is that oil gets slung around by design in small air cooled engines as oil is not just a lubricant, it's a coolant. It cools hot components by transferring heat to the cooler case by being sloshed all over, all this sloshing beats the oil into a foam. Oil makers add anti-foaming agents called surfactants into the oil to quickly break the surface tension of the foam.

    The reason you see the foam for a small amount of time when you check the dipstick right away after shutting down the engine as that the dipstick resides in a chamber that traps some of the foam. If you read the owners manual most likely they say to let the engine sit for at least 30 seconds to a minute before you check the oil level after running.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	oil level.PNG 
Views:	12 
Size:	59.5 KB 
ID:	289858

    The reason you don't see this in automotive engines is that you normally don't run at high RPM right before you shut it down to check the oil, also, the sump is much deeper by design and keeps the oil away from rotating components as much as possible. The design of the oiling systems may include windage trays, scrapers and even knife edge crankshaft counterweights to keep oil off components and increase performance and power.
    ^^^^^^^^Yeah. What he said. Far more research went into his eloquent explanation of lubrication technology.
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