Survey Finds Labeling Problems with ATFs


Misleading labels are one of several factors interfering with the proper use of adequately performing automatic transmission fluids, according to the results of a survey released yesterday by the Petroleum Quality Institute of America.

Among the problems it cited was the frequent use of terms such as universal and multi-purpose, leading fluids to be used in transmissions for which they do not provide adequate performance. PQIA said its survey found strong sentiment that the ATF market in the United States is also hampered by the plethora of ATF specifications, insufficient knowledge of ATFs on the part of consumers and even installers, and the presence of unlicensed and off-spec products.

PQIA called for the creation of an industry council, which it would lead, to promote better labeling and education of ATF installers and consumers.

The industry recognizes that there are significant issues around the quality and integrity of automatic transmission fluid in the U.S. market and that action should be taken to address them, the organization concluded in its report.

PQIA said it e-mailed the survey April 28 to subscribers to its newsletter, TITLE. The company closed the survey two weeks later, having received 218 responses, 82 percent of which came from lubricant manufacturers and marketers, lubricant distributors and consumers. Other respondents are employed by lubricant additive companies, ATF installers and ATF retailers. PQIA noted that its subscribers are more informed about ATFs than the general public, but it argued that the results are still illuminating.

PQIA said todays ATF market is more challenging than in the past because of the fragmentation of transmission designs and specifications for the fluids they use. In 2000, it said, 77 percent of the aftermarket ATF sold in the United States met General Motors Dexron III and Fords Mercon specifications or Chryslers ATF+4 standard.

That made it relatively easy for lubricant marketers and installers to inventory and sell ATFs since close to 80 percent of the aftermarket demand was served by two types of transmission fluids, the report stated. Today Dexron III/Mercon fluids account for less than half of aftermarket consumption, and demand for them continues falling, replaced and displaced by a splintering number of OEM-specific ATF requirements, including ATF+4, Mercon V, Mercon LV, Dexron VI, ATF T-IV, SP-IV, Matic S and Matic D, Toyota ATF-WS, Honda DW, Diamond SP-IV and others.

Many of these fluids do not provide adequate protection for transmissions for which they were not formulated, so their proliferation increases the likelihood of installers or consumers choosing a product that could harm their vehicle. Forty-three percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement, The number of ATF specifications in the market leads to misapplication, and an additional 44 percent agreed.

PQIA said the number of products is a source of confusion for consumers. Sixty-six percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, Most consumers do not know the original equipment manufacturer recommended ATF for their vehicle. Eighty-three percent concurred that consumers do not look at ATF labels. Installers were generally deemed to have a better grasp, but 35 percent of respondents identified installer knowledge of ATFs as a large concern.

There seems to be widespread sentiment that the level of confusion is exacerbated by the use of terms such as universal and multi-purpose, even for fluids that do not meet performance requirements in some transmissions. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that misleading ATF labeling is a widespread problem. The survey found much greater support for phrasing such as licensed for and approved for use in.

Labeling was not the sole source of issues flagged by the survey. In some cases, respondents indicated, the fluid itself is the problem. A large portion, 66 percent, strongly agreed or agreed that off-spec ATFs that could cause damage to a vehicles transmission are a major industry concern. Quality issues were said to be most significant at fast lubes and independent repair shops. PQIA detected a dichotomy, however, saying the survey found high concern over labeling but low concern over product quality.

An overwhelming majority of respondents, 81 percent, said they felt the industry can and should do more to assure the proper application, quality and integrity of ATFs in the market. PQIA said it is ready to tackle that challenge, recommending creation of an ATF quality improvement leadership council, which it would lead and which would also include lubricant and additive manufactures and distributors, installers, consumers and industry associations. The council would conduct additional surveys, work to improve the language on ATF labels and ATF application descriptions and develop education efforts for installers and consumers.

More information on the full survey can be found at the PQIA website.

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