API Flunks 2% of Licensed Engine Oils


HOUSTON- The American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Committee last week heard the outcome of its 2004 engine oil aftermarket audit program, which checks on the quality of API-licensed engine oils sold in the retail marketplace worldwide. Nearly a dozen licensed products were nonconforming and flunkedAPIs scrutiny in some way, the Nov. 7 meeting was told – including two which were so bad they could cause damage to vehicle engines.

API collected 611 engine oil samples for auditing in 2004, gathering them from retail stores, auto dealers, quick lubes and other retail outlets in the United States and abroad, APIs Kevin Ferrick reported. Of these, 11 were found to be nonconforming, meaning they had the wrong additive treat level, failed the cold cranking limit, were out of viscosity grade, or were otherwise deficient.

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He went on to highlight two licensees, in which the sample collection had uncovered significant nonconformances, as an example of how we typically handle significant deviations. API defines significant nonconformance as possibly causing damage to an engine.

“Each offending licensee agreed to additional requirements to remain licensed, Ferrick continued, including third-party physical and chemical testing of [their] licensed oil. The labs selected had to participate in ASTMs interlaboratory cross-check program, and the lab had to forward the results directly to API. The licensees could select the lab, however.

According to Ferrick, One licensee had met the additional criteria and had retained [its] license. One had been cancelled for failing to meet requirements. The cancelled licensee, he said, initially met the additional requirements and its license had been reinstated. But when it turned around and immediately committed the same offense, the license was again revoked and remains so.

In response to an API member company representatives question, Ferrick said, API did not require the removal of any of the oils of the nonconforming licensee from the marketplace while the additional testing was under way, during the enforcement action or later. However, he pointed out, two years ago an unlicensed oil which was illegally displaying API trademarks was removed from the marketplace in four states. (This violation of API trademarks was uncovered by Lubes’n’Greases magazine, which reported it to API and followed up to ensure the recall action was adhered to.)

APIs Lubricants Committee expressed strong support for the license revocation. It discussed the possibility of making public the names of licensees involved in these kinds of serious violations, in media outlets such as Lubes’n’Greases and on APIs website. No conclusion nor decision was reached, however.

Reports of engine oils being recalled from retail sale are relatively rare. One exception is the quality monitoring program operated by the State of North Carolina, which collects product samples and tests them immediately for viscosity grade and additive treat levels. The state then can then order the rapid recall of those that fail, and make the recall public. In 2004, this monitoring effort forced the removal of 330 bottled quarts and 3,877 gallons of bulk oil from the North Carolina marketplace, according to the state’s Steve Benjamin.

Among the other findings from the 2004 API audit:

Eighteen percent (110) of the engine oil samples were collected in 14 countries outsidethe United States and Canada, including Argentina, Australia, Dominican Republic, France, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Trinidad, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Overall, APIs physical and chemical tests found a high level of conformance to specifications: Less than 1 percent of all samples showed either an additive overtreat or undertreat, an out-of-viscosity grade, or high-temperature/high-shear or gelation nonconformance.

Ten samples failed the cold-cranking simulator limit in 2004, a much-improved record compared to 2003, when 23 failed. Eight samples failed the low-temperature pumping limits in 2003, but only seven did in 2004. No engine sequence tests were run in 2004.

Of APIs 529 licensees in 2004, 28 percent had at least one product sampled for that years audit. Seventy-nine percent of the samples were passenger car motor oil, the rest heavy-duty engine oil. Nearly 30 percent of samples were SAE 10W-30 grade, 19 percent were 15W-40, 17 percent 5W-30, 6 percent 5W-20 and the rest other grades.

Twenty percent of the samples (121) were from bulk oil sites, with 38 percent obtained from quick-lube facilities, 27 percent from auto repair shops, and the balance from service stations, auto dealers and truck facilities. API defines bulk as containers larger than five gallons.

Seventy-one percent of the samples were API SL oils; 20 percent had the C listed first on the API category designation. When a C is listed first on a label it means that the oil is primarily designated as a heavy-duty product.

For 2005, Ferrick said, API plans to collect and test 600 samples, split 70/30 between passenger car and heavy-duty oils. Up to 30 percent of the samples will be drawn from bulk sites. Seven or eight engine sequence tests, split equally between the Sequence III-G and VG are planned. About one-third of the 2005 audit samples have tested so far, and reports provided to API.

In 2006 API again will collect about 600 samples, with the same passenger car/heavy duty split. However, it may increase bulk samples to 50 percent of what’s collected, Ferrick indicated.

As of Oct. 31, API had licensed 528 marketers representing 7,600 products in 50 countries. That compares to 529 licensees representing 6,700 products in 52 countries last year. Nearly half of all licensees are from North America, about one-quarter from Asia and about one-tenth from Europe. The latest generation of API engine oils do not yet comprise the lions share of licensed products, but 1,080 ILSAC CG-4 oils, 1,717 API SM oils and 161 CI-4 oils have signed on.

The number of licensees has plateaued at around 530 for at least half a decade, and the number of countries involved has too. API says it is making a strong push to expand its licensing program worldwide, with major emphasis on China.

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