API Audit: One in Five Motor Oils Off-spec


More than one out of five API-licensed engine oils was off-spec last year, according to the American Petroleum Institutes 2001 worldwide engine oil quality audit. API collected and tested more than 600 samples of licensed engine oils, including both bulk and bottle samples. Sixteen percent were found to have marginal deviations, and 5 percent (30 oils) had significant deviations.

According to API, significant deviations are so far outside compliance limits that they could potentially raise short-term or long-term engine operability concerns.

On May 23, API staff presented the 2001 Aftermarket Audit Report to APIs Lubricants Committee at its spring meeting in Houston.

API tested 602 samples, meeting its auditing goal of 600. Of this total, 516 (86 percent) were bottles and 86 (14 percent) were bulk samples. The bottle samples were collected from retail outlets not further segmented. Of the 86 bulk samples, one third were collected from quick lube facilities, another third from auto repair shops, and the rest obtained from service stations, auto dealers and truck facilities.

In 2001, API licensed 6,500 products, an 18 percent increase over 2000, despite the fact that licensees increased only by 2 percent, from 547 to 561. The large jump in the number of licensed products may be the result of companies adding SL products without removing SJ products.

The 602 audit samples represent about 9% of the 6,500 products licensed by API. The percentage of licensed oils subject to audit has declined over the years; in 1995 the audit level was 17 percent. APIs original auditing goal was to make an attempt to secure samples of all brands and viscosity grades of oils currently licensed by API.

In the 2001 tests, only 2 percent of API C service category oils and 3 percent of SL oils were out of compliance, but a whopping 16 percent of SJ oils were.

Low-temperature problems have turned up in several marketplace oils over the last several years. APIs data for 2001 indicated 1 percent cold cranking simulator and pumping noncompliance but a significant 3 percent foaming nonconformance. The viscosity of less than 1 percent of the oils was out of grade.

Formulation evaluations showed that 2 percent of the audit samples were additive overtreats and 3 percent were undertreats. Additive undertreats are the more serious issue.

Audit results are not broken down by country, region, passenger car vs. heavy duty, or class of retailer, so quality comparisons among these categories arent possible. An out-of-spec oil could have been manufactured by any of APIs 561 licensees in 49 countries. Over half of the licensees (302) are in the United States and Canada, while 20 percent are in Asia.

Five engine sequence tests, which place great stress on an oil, were conducted. Of the three Sequence IIIFs, the single SAE 5W-20 oil tested failed wear measurements for three of 12 camshaft lobes. Two SAE 10W-30s passed the Sequence VG, which measures sludge and varnish. The oil industry would like to remove engine tests from the audit battery, but the auto industry insists on their continued inclusion.

API Publication 1509 permits API to pursue a number of remedies for nonconforming oil, including “temporary suspension of the authority of the licensee to use the API Mark, termination of the authority of the licensee to use the API Mark on an individual product or on all API-licensed products, and requiring the licensee to remove noncomplying

API declined to provide specific information about 2001 enforcement actions. An API spokesperson said, however, that “licensees have changed suppliers; put new quality control procedures in place to prevent possible mixing of products; removed products from licenses; run additional tests on samples; and reformulated products. These actions and responses are typical of those that we have received over the last five years. API has even asked for product recalls and cancelled licenses. Both of these have occurred in the last two or three years.”

APIs annual aftermarket audit is conducted under the authority of its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System, using funds from assessments paid by its 561 licensees. At approximately $500 per physical and chemical audit, roughly 15 percent of the annual $2 million licensing fee income was expended in 2001 for this function, $175,000 funded five engine tests, and another $1 million underwrote APIs administration of the licensing system. The balance is used to maintain reserves and fund new category development and testing (matrix) programs, thereby eliminating API member company special assessments.

API plans to continue more of the same, across the board. Six hundred audit samples are scheduled for 2002, to include 120 SJ and 300 SL passenger car oils and 180 diesel engine oils. Up to 25 percent of the samples will be from bulk sources. API plans to conduct up to 20 engine tests, split evenly between Sequence IIIF and VG.

North Carolina Oil Inspections
North Carolina is the only U.S. state that supports an engine oil inspection program, under the aegis of the Standards Division in its Department of Agriculture. North Carolina has been inspecting fuels since 1933 and added automotive engine oil ten years ago, in 1992.

North Carolina picks up several thousand annual samples, roughly two thirds from bulk sources. Any facility that offers an oil change or sells a packaged engine oil can have a sample picked up from its facility. Samples are usually tested (for viscosity at 100 degrees C and 40 C, ASTM D445, the viscosity index, ASTM D2270, apparent viscosity using the cold-cranking simulator, ASTM D5293, as well as visual and reflux distillation testing, as needed, to monitor water content) within 48 hours and results provided to inspectors within 24 hours after completion of testing. In 2001, 3,562 samples were collected.

Oils found out of compliance can result in an immediate sealing of a bulk container or a recall of quarts from retail shelves. North Carolina regularly makes enforcement data available to anyone who asks for it. In 2001 approximately 700 retail quarts were removed from North Carolina shelves and 3,500 gallons of bulk oil did not meet industry specifications. Annual cost of the North Carolina oil inspection program is $ 157,000.

Winston Sutton, Standards Division director, says, Our program enjoys support across the state. We plan to continue without significant change.

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