Installers Seek Voice on GF-4


After a bad experience with GF-3, U.S. quick lube operators are getting more involved in the next passenger car motor oil upgrade.

The Automotive Oil Change Association says its efforts have already begun to yield fruit; it recently claimed partial credit for a one-year delay in the adoption of GF-4. Looking ahead, the group says it will continue urging those developing the new motor oil specification to ensure that it protects existing cars. It also pledges a campaign to warn consumers beforehand of any drastic changes that come with GF-4.

U.S. and Japanese automakers are still working with the oil and chemical additive industries to draft GF-4. Earlier this year automakers wrote a lofty list of wishes for the specification: They wanted oils to perform better at cold temperatures, protect engines better in extreme conditions and to help improve fuel economy.

The toughest goal, however, was to lower limits on phosphorus content, in order to avoid poisoning the catalytic converters in emissions control systems. Representatives from all of the industries involved have warned that phosphorus reductions could change motor oils so fundamentally that they would not protect engines in cars manufactured before GF-4 goes into effect. This concern for backward compatibility drove automakers this summer to delay their schedule for GF-4 by one year. They had planned to adopt the specification next spring and have it hit the market by the fall of 2003.

AOCA, which represents more than 1,200 quick lube operators, issued an Aug. 2 news release stating that automakers delayed GF-4 [b]ased on concerns first raised by the association. AOCAs legal counsel, Joanna Johnson, said the organization has been following GF-4 closely because its members encountered problems with the implementation of GF-3, named API-SL upon its adoption, which hit the market a year ago.

There were all kinds of problems because of distribution issues and a lack of information delivery, Johnson said. It was basically a surprise package. Cars arrived at service stations all over the country and the stations didnt have GF-3 oils or know about them. Were trying to prevent that from happening with GF-4.

The Dallas, Texas-based organization appears to have support for its efforts to make a place for itself at the GF-4 table. The news release said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated its desire that GF-4 be backward compatible, and that the agency has asked automakers to work with AOCA and the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association to meet that goal.

AOCA officials are emphasizing that they will not be satisfied with just a statement that GF-4 is backward compatible; they want proof. The organization has complained that some automakers claiming to have proved the backward compatibility of GF-4 have, in fact, tested prototype oils on new cars. AOCA maintains that tests on older vehicles would be more appropriate.

To date, the auto manufacturers have not been willing to share test data related to GF-4, which frankly makes us wonder whether it actually exists, Executive Director Steve Christie said.

As GF-4 takes shape, Christie said, AOCA will undertake a campaign to alert consumers to any drastic changes brought about by the upgrade – for example, if the new oils turn out not to be backward compatible, or if they cost significantly more than existing oils.

Consumers deserve to know how these new standards affect their vehicles and their pocketbook, he said. He also suggested the auto industry should look to its engines, rather than motor oils, to meet new mandates and performance goals.

The automakers have asked motor oil to do just about all that a lubricant can do as far as improving mileage and emissions. Now they are going to have to go back and revisit their engine emission system designs.

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