Motor Oil Buyers, Beware


U.S. motor oil watchdog Petroleum Quality Institute of America has posted the sad results of its latest tests: four of six private-label oils failed to meet their labeled specs.

PQIA purchased randomly selected samples of six private-label brands of engine oil in South Atlantic states in June, and sent samples to an independent laboratory for testing. PQIA President Tom Glenn acknowledged that he was surprised by the poor results.

On its label, one of the samples, U.S. Economy 5-30 manufactured by GMD Inc. in Chicago, says the product is designed for use in older model automobiles requiring SA specifications and where economy is a major consideration. Tests showed the sample was not API SA oil, which contains no additives.

The U.S. Economy oil contains an additive package typically seen in heavy duty diesel engine oil, Glenn reported. Although this could mean a consumer is actually getting better oil for his vehicle than he would if using an API SA, in the unlikely event he actually needs a bottle of unadditized base oil, the label was misleading. And while the 5-30 on the label suggests a viscosity grade of SAE 5W-30, PQIAs tests clearly indicated it was not SAE 5W-30 oil.

Its disheartening to see the market penetration of SA and SB oils, Glenn told Lube Report. In some C-stores and gas stations, thats the only choice you have.

Another sample tested, Sheetz Premium API SM ILSAC GF-4 5W-30 manufactured by Pinnacle Oil of Indianapolis, failed to meet the NOACK volatility limits. In an effort to see if the off-spec oil was an isolated example, said Glenn, he purchased another Sheetz 5W-30 sample with a different batch number at a different location, but it too exceeded the maximum volatility limit.

Two of the samples, OReilly 5W-30 marketed by OReilly Auto Parts and Road-Tech 5W-30 marketed by Salado Sales, failed to meet the specifications for API SM and ILSAC GF-4, as the oils were labeled. The OReilly oil sample exceeded the volatility limit, and the Road-Tech sample exceeded the cold crank limit. But, Glenn noted, in both cases, the test results fell within APIs expanded ranges.

In its aftermarket engine testing, said Glenn, API allows slightly expanded test result ranges to accommodate test method reproducibility. However, these expanded ranges are not part of APIs published specifications. API needs to provide more transparency on expanded ranges. They should be built into the specs, Glenn said. Specifications and expanded ranges should be the same. Its confusing.

Two oils that tested on-spec were Sams Clubs Certified Performance Engineered 10W-30, manufactured by Warren Oil, and Pilot Premium 5W-30, manufactured by Pinnacle Oil.

The Pilot and Sheetz oils, both made by Pinnacle Oil, were labeled as API-licensed with starbursts and donuts, but neither oil appeared, as of Aug. 10, in the directory of licensed products on the API web site. On Aug. 11, APIs Kevin Ferrick told Lube Report, API inadvertently left the Sheetz product off the Pinnacle Oil license, and the Pilot license expired because of some delays related to the renewal process. I expect both licensing issues to be rectified soon…. Pinnacle is a trusted licensee today, and I expect them to remain so into the future.

Asked to comment about PQIAs findings, Pinnacle Oil Executive Vice President Harji Gill said, “Pinnacle Oil takes product quality very seriously. We are working closely with API and our customer to investigate the potential claim raised by PQIA, and will take any appropriate actions if required. Pinnacle Oil manufactures motor oils that are API and ILSAC licensed, and we stand behind the quality and performance of our products.”

PQIA will head to the Midwest for its next round of samples, said Glenn. There are far more private labels than there are majors, but we will again include majors in the next sample collection.

Glenn, who is also president of consultancy Petroleum Trends International and publisher of Jobbers World newsletter, said PQIA is an independent organization whose mission is to serve consumers of lubricants by reporting on the quality and integrity of lubricants in the marketplace. … We applaud API, ILMA and other organizations for their efforts to monitor lubricant quality, [but] PQIA differs from these quality programs in that we work only to protect the interests of lubricant consumers and end users by publicly reporting all test results.

Details on Metuchen, N.J.-based PQIAs test results are available at

Editors note: Industry consultant Tom Glenn is paid to write a monthly column for LubesnGreases magazine, Lube Reports sister publication. LNG Publishing Co. has no other business affiliation with him or his companies.

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