Group Pushes Fair-trade Rules for Lubes


An association of businesses and regulators is scheduled to vote next month on a proposal aimed at curbing unfair trade practices in the lubricants industry. Among other things, the changes recommended by the National Conference on Weights and Measures would require warning labels on containers of obsolete engine oils and require transmission fluid marketers to document performance claims.

The proposal has been endorsed by the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association and, reportedly, the American Petroleum Institute. Conference representatives said, however, that it may not affect much of the nation, at least for some time.

The National Conference on Weights and Measures includes state-level weights and measurements regulators and industry representatives. Members are scheduled to meet in Pittsburgh in mid-July to consider extending the National Institute of Standards and Technologys Handbook 130 to cover lubricants.

The handbook, whose full title is Uniform Laws and Regulations in the Areas of Legal Metrology and Engine Fuel Quality, sets standards for aspects such as pricing and packaging for a wide range of commodities. The proposed amendments would become part of one section, Uniform Engine Fuels, Petroleum Products, and Automotive Lubricants Regulation. Despite its name, the section to date has covered only fuels.

The amendments set a number of standards concerning the formulation, packaging and labeling of finished lubricants. For example, labels on motor oil packages would have to display the products viscosity grade, and oils would have to meet performance claims as described in a variety of SAE and API specifications.

Packages containing one gallon or less of motor oils that do not meet active API service categories would have to bear cautionary statements included in SAE J183. The statement for API SA oils advises that they contain no additives, are not suited for most vehicles built after 1930 and could damage modern engines. Statements for SB and SC oils say they are not suited for engines built after 1963 and 1967, respectively.

The proposed amendments would also require packagers and blenders of transmission fluids, upon request by state regulators, to provide documentation backing up any performance claims on their products label.

ILMA officials said the association supports the changes because they would help promote fair trade practices in the lubricant market. They noted thatILMA has an ongoing campaign this year to encourage members to act ethically, for example, in ensuring that their products meet standards requirements and performance claims.

This [proposal] provides a level of enforcement that the industry does not have now, Executive Director Celeste M. Powers said. It goes along with the themes weve been promoting of high ethics and taking the high road.

The associations legal counsel Jeffrey L. Leiter added, Weve had complaint after complaint from our members about cheating – complaints that companies were making misrepresentations about the additives in their products, that they were shorting additives or even that their products had no additives. Weve told people that they can bring a complaint to the ethics committee, but folks generally seem reluctant to do that.

In fact, the rules being proposed by the conference are already law in a few states, including California. The amendments were drafted by the conferences Laws and Regulations Committee, which is headed by Dennis Johannes, of Californias Division of Measurement Standards.

Obviously California thinks this is a good idea because weve already adopted it, Johannes told Lube Report. [Incorporating lubricants into Handbook 130] is something were doing for other states and because we think its good to have uniformity.

Although NIST is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, rules in Handbook 130 do not carry the weight of law except in states that adopt them. Some states adopt sections of the handbook by reference. In those that do so with the regulation on fuels, petroleum products and automotive lubricants, the proposed amendments would become law next January, assuming the conference votes to adopt them next month.

Other states vote from time to time to specifically adopt sections of the handbook, whenever new rules are brought to the legislatures attention. Still others use the handbook as a starting point for writing their own regulations, while some ignore its rules altogether.

Really, I wouldnt expect to see much immediate change, Johannes said. Some of those that adopt the section by reference have already adopted these rules on their own. Other states will make changes as problems arise that they want to address.

A spokeswoman for NIST, which serves as administrator for the conference, noted that the regulation on fuels, petroleum products and automotive lubricants has been relatively slow to spread across the country.

That is one of the regulations that states approach most cautiously, said Kathryn M. Dresser, coordinator of the institutes Laws and Metric Group. Very few adopt it by reference. Most track it and will generally incorporate parts, if not all of it, into their own laws. But that is a process that occurs over time.

A hearing on the lubricants proposal is scheduled for July 12 at the conferences meeting in Pittsburgh. A vote is scheduled for two days later. The proposed changes may be viewed online at

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