Licensed Oils’ Numbers Up, Quality Up


Participation in the American Petroleum Institute’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System is climbing, after several years of little or no growth, a recent staff report revealed. APIs 2005 audit of engine oils in the marketplace also showed gains in quality versus past years, with only a tiny fraction of licensed products falling short of their claimed performance level, and no significant deviations with the potential to cause engine damage.

At its May 2 meeting in San Francisco, the API Lubricants Committee heard an update from EOLCS administrator Kevin Ferrick. From 2000 to 2004, he noted, the number of API licensees had plateaued around 520. In 2005, however, the number of licensees increased to 545, and the number of countries with at least one licensee climbed to 57, from 52 the year before. The major geographic area contributing new licensees is Asia, going from 136 to 149 participants, while the number of licensees from other geographic areas stayed roughly the same.

The number of licensed products increased by a record 25 percent, reaching 8,339 products, Ferrick reported. Much of the increase was attributed to newly licensed API SM oils.

API granted 20 emergency provisional licenses after disruptions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last fall, based on documented base oil and additive supply issues. It also issued two additional such licenses in early 2006, based on further base oil shortages. These emergency provisional licenses are nearing their end and no more are currently anticipated, Ferrick reported.

At the end of April, 1,240 ILSAC starburst oils and 2,009 API SM oils for passenger cars engines had been licensed. On the heavy-duty diesel side, there were 890 CI-4 and CI-4 PLUS products. First licensing of the new CJ-4 heavy-duty engine oils will begin Oct. 15, Ferrick later reminded Lube Report. Marketers may claim their products meet the new specification before then, but must wait until that date to indicate that products are API-licensed.

For its ongoing Aftermarket Audit Program — the watchdog program that collects and evaluates licensed engine oils from marketplace outlets — API collected 559 samples in 2005. Thats a bit shy of its target of 600 samples a year, and below 2004s actual audit of 611 samples. Ferrick attributed this decrease in part to the difficulty of obtaining samples from bulk tanks, rather than just picking up packaged quarts. Bulk samples in 2005 rose to 30 percent of the total samples — a 50 percent increase over 2004s 121 bulk samples.

API wants bulk oils to be 40 percent of the samples drawn in 2006, and 50 percent of all audits in two years. In 2005, more than 80 percent of bulk samples were passenger car oils and the rest heavy-duty oils. Quick-lube facilities and service stations contributed a bit less than half of the bulk samples, with auto repair shops and dealers also contributing about half. Only three truck facilities contributed samples.

By the May meeting, auditing was complete on 92 percent (514) of the samples gathered. Less than 1 percent of these were found to have additive overtreats or undertreats. Testing also found that 1 percent of samples were out of viscosity grade; 2.1 percent did not meet high temperature/high shear claims; and just over 1 percent failed the low-temperature pumping and NOACK volatility requirements. Also, cold cranking simulator testing found 3.7 percent of the samples out of compliance, about twice the number in 2004.

The good news is that there were no significant deviations, which API defines as having the potential to cause engine damage, such as deficiencies in additives such as calcium or phosphorus. None of the deviations noted above rose to the level of license cancellations or removal of product from the marketplace. API enforcement actions consisted of violation notification letters and acceptable corrective actions from companies notified.

A number of nonconformance items may be related to base oil issues, and that comparison of elements could have been somewhat hampered by the market switch to API SM, with first licensing on November 30, 2004, API consultant David Smith suggested.

Except for the planned increase in bulk sampling, the audit program is to be unchanged for 2006. Intertek Caleb Brett continues as the contractor for both worldwide sample pickup, through its Pittsburgh Applied Research Center subsidiary, and for conducting the audit tests at its San Antonio laboratories. Seven or eight samples will undergo engine sequence tests (split between the Sequence IIIG and VG) on top of the usual chemical and physical tests.

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