Star Brite Still Not Right


Despite an agreement with API to stop selling mislabeled engine oil, unlicensed Star brite brand engine oils are still for sale in Bi-Lo Food Stores in North Carolina. Lube Report was able to purchase four viscosity grades of the products in different Bi-Lo stores there on April 16, May 12 and as recently as May 29.

In all cases, the egregiously mislabeled products display the American Petroleum Institute’s starburst symbol – the flagship legal mark for current gasoline engine oils – and are identified as meeting category SA/SB, long obsolete. Some of the unlicensed products also display the API donut symbol, another protected trademark.

Lube Report notified API on June 4 of these continuing violations, and API dispatched personnel to North Carolina to investigate. API confirmed that it found mislabeled Star brite product on the shelves of some Bi-Lo Food Stores and took steps to ensure these products were immediately removed. API added that it is currently working with Bi-Lo to ensure that all of the mislabeled Star brite products are removed from all of the stores.

API did not provide details on any further action that it might take against Star brite, nor when its enforcement against the offending oil was initiated.

Star brite products, blended by Kinpak Inc. of Montgomery, Ala., were the subject of a recall by the state of North Carolina in January. Since that recall, which brought Star brite to the attention of API almost four months ago, the mislabeled products appear to have been available to consumers continuously.

API was notified on February 18 about the violation of its legal marks, and two weeks ago told Lube Report that Star brite agreed to cease using the API mark(s) on any of these products and has agreed to destroy any remaining products that display the API mark(s).

Reached yesterday, Peter Dornau, president of Kinpak, said, To my knowledge the mislabeled product was removed and we got them all back in the plant. I don’t know where the product in Bi-Lo came from. I know that Bi-Lo charged us back. Not sure what happened. I’ll check into it and let you know exactly what I find out. Dornau promised to call back later, but did not do so yesterday.

In early January, the Standards Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a stop-sale order on certain lots of Star brite SAE 10W-30, 10W-40 and 20W-50 engine oils sold in Bi-Lo Food Stores. These Star brite products had failed North Carolina’s oil inspection and were labeled substandard because they did not meet viscosity standards.

On Feb. 19, Lube Report revealed that the recalled oils also illegally displayed API’s starburst trademark; all were labeled as meeting API category SA, SB. At the time, North Carolina said that, as of January 31, over 10,000 bottles had been removed from stores in four states, including North Carolina, and returned to Kinpak Inc. for reblending.

Nevertheless, Lube Report’s May 12 purchase of Star brite oils included two different products with lot numbers matching those in North Carolina’s Januaryrecall. Lube Report informed state officials on May 28 of its findings, and an inspector was sent to the specified Bi-Lo store; he found none of the recalled product, but reported that Star brite SAE 30, 10W-40 and 20W-50 were for sale. Lube Report confirmed that these products all display the API starburst and are labeled as meeting SA, SB.

API licenses the use of its starburst symbol only for the most current engine oils, API SL, which also meet the stringent ILSAC GF-3 engine oil specification. Only paying licensees are allowed to use the trademark, which is shown in most new car manuals to advise drivers on the correct oil for their passenger cars.

API service categories SA and SB are obsolete and according to SAE Standard J300, are not suitable for use in most gasoline-powered automotive engines built after 1930 for SA oils and after 1963 for SB oils. SAE warns these oils may cause unsatisfactory engine performance or equipment harm. No passenger car manufacturer has recommended them for more than 40 years. They have never been licensed (nor can they be) by API’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System.

Could the Star brite quarts be mistakenly labeled, and actually contain oil meeting API SL? Lube Report contracted with an independent testing laboratory for a spectrochemical analysis of three Star brite oils (SAE 30, 10W-40 and 20W-50) purchased May 29 from two Bi-Lo Food Stores in Greensboro, N.C.

The analysis found only trace amounts of certain chemicals or metals in each oil. Each oil tested zero for phosphorus, a widely used antiwear agent normally found in current oils at levels from 800 to 1,200 parts per million. Three otherchemicals (iron, silicon and calcium) showed only trace amounts, 7 ppm in one case and 1 or 2 ppm in the others. All other metals and chemicals tested at zero.

It appears as if this oil has not been additized at all, an expert who looked at the results said. In these tests you generally find a significant amount of calcium – thats your TBN – at several hundred parts per million. You’d find a significant amount of phosphorus … and zinc and magnesium as well. But there’s nothing here.

Yesterday, API said it has sent samples of the Star brite products to a lab for analysis.

For a decade auto manufacturers have recommended, in their owner’s manuals, that consumers only use engine oil which displays the starburst on the container. Any starburst-labeled oil will satisfy new car warranties of the members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, including General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and Toyota as well as the six other Alliance member companies.

Ellen Shapiro, director of automotive fuels at the Washington, D.C., based Alliance, told Lube Report, Alliance members are concerned about these obvious violations of trademark, and are confident that API is taking steps to remedy the problem. She added, API told us progress has been made, and we will continue to keep in touch with it to monitor developments.

Repeated attempts were made to contact Bi-Lo Food Stores. Those calls were not returned.

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