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Old 11-06-2021, 13:59   #1
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"critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Hello Cruisers Forum friends, I am under contract to buy a 1999 boat with a single-screw, 300 HP Caterpillar 3208T engine with a V-Drive. As a part of the survey I asked for the transmission fluid to be tested during the oil analysis as I read that this is good practice.

Unfortunately, the seller replaced the fluid just before the test. I thought that this would invalidate the results, BUT with just ~4 hours of engine time on the transmission, the transmission fluid analysis has come back with a "critical" level of lead. Plus some silicon.

The report reads:
Silicon (D5185 method): 20.30 (Caution)
Lead (D5185 method): 31.60 (Critical)​
All other values are normal. I'm sure glad that I had the transmission fluid tested, but as a non-mechanical person I'm not sure what this means! Or what to do now! The report states "possible clutch wear. change oil, resample in 250 hours to monitor trends" but of course they just changed the fluid. There was no indication of clutch slippage or any other problem during the sea trial.

I've gotten so much fantastic information by lurking on this forum, I wonder if it would be possible to throw myself on the mercy of the readers and ask for help. I need to figure out how serious this is and what steps I should take now, as a potential buyer with days before the final acceptance deadline.

Also: if I go through with the purchase there is a long delivery voyage ahead as the next step. Obviously I don't want a breakdown to be part of that voyage.

Can anyone with more experience share how they would react to this report? I would be so, so grateful for your thoughts.
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:08   #2
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Don’t automatically assume the lab results are valid. Have the oil re-tested. Labs make mistakes often.
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:19   #3
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Seems a bit sketch to me that they changed trans fluid before the sale. Were there any other questionable things noted in the survey?

Labs do make mistakes, but not commonly. This is exactly why you have experts (surveyors, labs) to provide their reports. Would use the results to negotiate the price down w/the high possibility of trans issues in the future.
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:19   #4
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

This is just a guess as I don't do oil analysis.BUT lead is a component in plain bearings & I'm guessing that it's chewing up a bearing & throwing out lots of lead into the oil.
You mite get a better answer from a person with oil analysis experience but my guess would be to price a tranny rebuild into the deal especially after just 4 hrs of use on the oil it reaches critical level of lead.


Edit: posted same time as BillO, still re-enforces his point.
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:37   #5
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

I agree with Compass, lead is used in sleeve and thrust bearings and I bet that V-drive transmission has quite a few of both. Silicon is also used in bronze bearings but I'm confused why you didn't have a high copper result as well.
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:44   #6
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Thanks this is great stuff and a big help.

The boat is nowhere near me. So if I negotiate a discount that includes a transmission rebuild, I'd still have the problem of actually doing a transmission rebuild. It sounds like I would need to do it now (?), meaning I have to figure out how to do it in a distant place or get the seller to do it. If I am hearing you correctly it sounds like I probably need to do it now -- before a long delivery voyage. Do I have that right?
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:45   #7
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

That' a tough one. For one thing oil analysis on engines are mostly relevant if you have a history of them for comparison. I dont know about transmissions.

It seems like odd indices to me... aren't most transmissions ball or roller bearings? So why lead or silicon? You might see lead from plain bearings... I doubt a tranny would have those except to shift lever shafts... ?

Is it possible this stuff was in the tranny fluid by the manufacturer... did the oil analysis company think this was an engine oil test not tranny oil?
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Old 11-06-2021, 15:53   #8
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Quote:
Originally Posted by niftyc View Post
Thanks this is great stuff and a big help.

The boat is nowhere near me. So if I negotiate a discount that includes a transmission rebuild, I'd still have the problem of actually doing a transmission rebuild. It sounds like I would need to do it now (?), meaning I have to figure out how to do it in a distant place or get the seller to do it. If I am hearing you correctly it sounds like I probably need to do it now -- before a long delivery voyage. Do I have that right?
To clarify my earlier comment, my suggestion to re-test comes from years of experience managing an EPA lab which certifies private commercial labs. They all make mistakes even on simple analytical equipment. Tranny rebuilds are not inexpensive and certainly not something acceptable to any seller based on one sample analysis. Given the sample results omit any other contaminant typically found in engine oil, this one is particularly suspicious
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Old 11-06-2021, 17:06   #9
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

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Originally Posted by S/V Illusion View Post
Tranny rebuilds are not inexpensive and certainly not something acceptable to any seller based on one sample analysis. Given the sample results omit any other contaminant typically found in engine oil, this one is particularly suspicious

In general, a single survey report is acceptable to renegotiate the original offer, so would see no reason why a report from a reputable lab would be less valid. Besides the seller not liking the results, they have no legitimate reason to say they are erroneous.

When we did lab testing and people disagreed w/our published results, we sent another sample to a reputable agreed upon lab. Those results would stand as "final". (fyi during 13 years in charge of research, we never had to retract our test results.)

Don't know if that similar retesting would work here or how you would word the stakes, but could toss it out if the seller questioned the test results.
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Old 11-06-2021, 17:29   #10
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

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Originally Posted by Bill O View Post
In general, a single survey report is acceptable to renegotiate the original offer, so would see no reason why a report from a reputable lab would be less valid.

When we did lab testing and people disagreed w/our published results, we sent another sample to a reputable agreed upon lab. Those results would stand as "final". (fyi during 13 years in charge of research, we never had to retract our test results.)

Don't know if that similar retesting would work here or how you would word the stakes, but could toss it out if the seller questioned the test results.

I would argue you have a misconception about what the survey is for. It is NOT "acceptable to renegotiate the original offer" with a single survey report.

Most contracts are worded so that the survey is intended to find undisclosed defects and flaws. And most are worded so the buyer can then request that the seller remedy said flaws, if they are serious in nature or obvious defects that render the boat unsafe, unusable, or in other ways not as advertised. Or the buyer can walk.

Under most contracts the seller has the option to repair it to the buyer's satisfaction, offer a cash adjustment to price, or refuse to address it if they feel the request is not "seriously defective or unsound."

The buyer can negotiate the proposed amount or reject the proposed solution (or lack there of), and the boat along with it. Or they can move forward on the deal and accept the seller won't deal with those issues.

But most contracts are not written so the buyer can just renegotiate the sale terms if they "don't like" the survey. Most of them do not have room for a buyer to demand money off the price at all, though the buyer is certainly within rights to suggest a new price, that the seller is within rights to reject it out of hand without more detail.

Asking for large sums off on a boat based on a survey without specific demands from line items found in the survey and a rationale for why they are "seriously defective or unsound" instead of normal wear and tear is a recipe for blowing up the deal.

--

Now back to the OP, this does sound like it might a serious thing, but I don't know enough about fluid analysis to say. If I were your seller, I'd ask for a re-test before agreeing to any major repairs or dollar adjustments.

A re-test may be wise, and if the results are bad again seek info on what that really means form the lab or the surveyor. It may not be as bad as it looks or sounds. Also, see if there was any corroborating suggestions in the he sea trial, e.g. rough shifting, noises and grniding, etc.

Armed with that information, you're then prepared to say something like "The survey and oil analysis indicates the transmission is almost certainly worn out, and may need a serious repair. This is a deal breaker if you can not address it. My research indicates replacing that transmission will cost about $X,XXX with parts and labor in your area."

That's put it in the seller's hands to look at the problem or come back with a proposed adjustment.
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Old 11-06-2021, 20:06   #11
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

[QUOTE=Evenstar;3424657
Under most contracts the seller has the option to repair it to the buyer's satisfaction, offer a cash adjustment to price, or refuse to address it if they feel the request is not "seriously defective or unsound."

The buyer can negotiate the proposed amount or reject the proposed solution (or lack there of), and the boat along with it. Or they can move forward on the deal and accept the seller won't deal with those issues.[/QUOTE]

Well I did a simple statement, but it sounds like overall you are in agreement that things can be renegotiated. After reading your blog article on your deal gone south, can see why you might be sensitive to a generalized statement about survey reports.
Surveys are done to help protect people from issues they don't see up front. They may not find all the issues, but the reports are very helpful for the buyers to make a better decision about their purchase.
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Old 11-06-2021, 22:20   #12
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill O View Post
Well I did a simple statement, but it sounds like overall you are in agreement that things can be renegotiated. After reading your blog article on your deal gone south, can see why you might be sensitive to a generalized statement about survey reports.
Surveys are done to help protect people from issues they don't see up front. They may not find all the issues, but the reports are very helpful for the buyers to make a better decision about their purchase.

We're definitely in agreement on the value of a good survey, I am 100% behind getting them.



Our bad deal was...educational...with a buyer doing vague hand waving about huge amounts of money based on a survey with massive technical inaccuracies and loads of speculation and no specific lists of items to fix. Literal mistakes like miscounting the number of life rafts clouded the one issue that we fixed after the deal broke. If you read the whole article you know what I'm talking about, I don't need to re-write it here.
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Old 12-06-2021, 03:47   #13
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

Dear Niftyc,
A lot of sensible things has been said above, here is my slant on the subject.
1. If the fluid was changed just before the survey, chances are it hadn't been changed for a long time. When you change fluid (if you don't flush) parts of the old fluid may still be there, contaminating the new fluid.
2. All the hard working bearings will be either ball or roller bearings to which this contamination could hardly be connected.
3. If there is any problems in terms of wore out bearings, with the V-gearbox, it will get hot in operation. I do not measure the temperature of my gearbox, but our fellows in this forum, and the surveyor, could indicate what would be the normal running temperature.

I would make another sea trial (2 - 3 hours), check the temperature and see which level it will stabilize at. If that is a "standard" level, don't worry about it at all.
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Old 12-06-2021, 04:45   #14
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

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Dear Niftyc,
A lot of sensible things has been said above, here is my slant on the subject.
1. If the fluid was changed just before the survey, chances are it hadn't been changed for a long time. When you change fluid (if you don't flush) parts of the old fluid may still be there, contaminating the new fluid.
2. All the hard working bearings will be either ball or roller bearings to which this contamination could hardly be connected.
3. If there is any problems in terms of wore out bearings, with the V-gearbox, it will get hot in operation. I do not measure the temperature of my gearbox, but our fellows in this forum, and the surveyor, could indicate what would be the normal running temperature.

I would make another sea trial (2 - 3 hours), check the temperature and see which level it will stabilize at. If that is a "standard" level, don't worry about it at all.
I must agree with this approach.
If you really like/want this vessel, another sea trial and inspection needs to be done. Without more specific info like the vessel location, vessel type, model number of the drive, hours on drive, it is somewhat difficult to suggest specific remedies.
With above information, locate a manufacture representative mechanic who knows this drive and pay him the day's wage to inspect/ sea trial with you and possibly internally inspect the unit. Retest oil as well. How is it being drained? sucked out from top or drained from bottom?
It is common to change fluids out in preparation to selling a vessel. Oil analysists are only as good as history, so another one would be the minimal.
When mention of a long transit home, again, that means? Never being near a qualified mechanic, offshore, or simply conscious?
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Old 12-06-2021, 05:17   #15
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Re: "critical" lead level in transmission fluid for boat under contract

I’m a dummy on the subject. HOWEVER I have run maintenance groups, never assume the “new off the shelf” part is working.

With that in mind, if I were going to do a retest I would ALSO run a test on the fluid they refilled the tranny with. Hopefully they have a bit left over.

I assume the lead should NOT be in the new fluid, yet it is a possible source.
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