Market Topics

Engine Oils Sentries


In April, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association revised and stiffened its 20-year-old Code of Ethics, after an intensive effort led by its then-president, Jim Taglia of Nor-Lakes Services Midwest. ILMAs current president, Allegheny Petroleum Products Jim Kudis, was elected in October and picked right up where Taglia left off, citing his number one issue as our ethics effort.

ILMAs next step is creation of an inter-industry task force to improve the quality level of lubricants in the North American marketplace – including, it says, a product testing program that will monitor automotive engine oils manufactured by ILMA members. The proposed vehicle for this quality monitoring effort is the American Petroleum Institutes Aftermarket Audit Program (AMAP). Staff members of both trade association have met and agreed that it is workable, with the details to be worked out, Kudis said.

Expansion of AMAP beyond API-licensed oils will not be a simple matter, though. APIs Lubricants Committee cautiously approved moving ahead with a cooperative ethics initiative with ILMA last May, but members expressed a number of concerns. As Jim Newsom of Shell Oil Products, chairman of the API Lubricants Committee, noted succinctly, The idea of policing all lubricants is a huge undertaking.

Such concerns may explain why just two programs, both in the United States, exist to evaluate the quality of engine oil worldwide.

One, located in the nations capital, began in 1994; one, based in a small city 200 miles north of Detroit, debuted 11 years earlier.

One is part of a powerful trade group; one is entirely private.

One exists to ensure compliance with technical specifications and a licensing agreement; one to place quality issues on the record.

One looks at samples from its own licensees only; the other draws samples from the entire engine oil universe.

One shields the actual brands and products that have been examined, and shares a glancing summary of its data with the public; one distributes detailed test results to anyone who pays for a subscription to its reports – naming specific brands and companies sampled as well as revealing technical data and deficiencies uncovered.

One subjects its samples to physical and chemical tests for viscosity and additive levels, and even pays for engine sequence tests on a handful of samples; one puts its samples through more than 30 bench tests, but no engine testing.

Both programs collect roughly the same number of samples each year (600 vs. 650). But one completes its annual audit report sometime in the year following the audit; the other issues a report within two months after sample collection.

So, to quote an immortal line from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Who are these guys? Well, both are known by acronyms. The first in each point above refers to AMAP, the APIs Aftermarket Audit Program; the second is IOM, the testing program run by the Institute of Materials.


AMAP is a monitoring and enforcement program designed to ensure compliance with APIs Engine oil Licensing and Certification System, EOLCS. The program obtains samples of oils – just those licensed by API – from retail shelves and tests each one to ensure it lives up to its licensing and labeling claims. A Memorandum of Agreement between the oil industry and auto industry spells out the obligations of each industry to this program.

Specifics of AMAP are prescribed in API Publication 1509. A small number of oils, up to a dozen, are subjected to engine tests. (In 2004 no engine sequence tests were conducted, as the industry was bringing new tests on line.)

2004 was the 10th audit year under EOLCS, beginning with 301 samples in 1994 and about 600 annually thereafter. There were 611 samples tested in 2004. Roughly 60 percent of the oils sampled in 2004 were SAE 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30 and 10W-40 – the leading multigrade weights for gasoline engine oils. Twenty percent were SAE 15W-40, the major heavy-duty grade, and the rest were not identified by viscosity grade. Eighty-two percent of the years samples were collected from U.S. and Canadian licensees, with the remaining 18 percent coming from the 50 other countries around the world in which there is at least one licensee.

Both packaged (80 percent) and bulk oils were sampled in 2004. For 2005, API aimed to increase the bulk samples to 30 percent of the total.

In early 2004 API contracted with Pittsburgh Applied Research Corp. to pick up samples and with PerkinElmer Laboratory in San Antonio to conduct physical and chemical and bench tests. This was the first contractual year for these two organizations; API offered no comment about why it changed contractors.

API supports this testing program with royalties it collects each year from licensees: a flat fee for each participating company ($850 for API members and $1,050 for nonmembers) plus a volume-of-sales fee ($0.0015 per gallon for all volume exceeding 1 million gallons annually). Together, these royalty fees bring in about $2 million a year to API, roughly one-quarter of it from the flat fee and the balance from the volume-of-sales fee.

When the program began, API Publication 1509 earmarked the flat fee for program administration and the volume-of-sales fee for monitoring and enforcement, but in 2002 the document was revised to eliminate any reference to how fees should be used. This opened up AMAP to other purposes – such as the ILMA initiative. Today, sources say, more than half of EOLCSs $2 million income supports API staff, one quarter is directed to AMAP, and the balance is assigned to other uses, such as the matrix testing currently underway for the next heavy-duty engine oil, PC-10.

Another early modification was the hoped-for auditing volume. The 1994 edition of 1509 ambitiously stated that an attempt will be made annually to secure samples of all brands and viscosity grades of oils currently licensed by API. That goal was never approached. In 2004 the number of licensed products was 7,500; the 611 products sampled that year represented a little over 8 percent of the total.

The licensing program has never had an independent audit of its finances – over $20 million has been collected in the past decade – or of its engine oil tests, enforcement process or outcomes. API staff alone knows the number and effectiveness of its enforcement actions over the past decade. Its Lubricants Committee has program oversight and receives summary program data annually, but the public (and most licensees) never know which oils have – or have not – been audited, subjected to an enforcement action or penalized.

API declined to provide a future perspective, but is said to be hoping to gain greater recognition in Asia and especially China. Kevin Ferrick, who runs APIs engine oil licensing program, confirmed, We do have an interest in expanding licensing in that region. The methods for doing that are still being considered.


Midland, Mich., population 40,000, boasts the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies, Dow Chemical Co. and Dow Corning Corp. In addition to these two industrial power-houses, a unique organization catering to the lubricants industry also makes its home there: Savant Group.

Savant is an independent laboratory and research center specializing in ASTM and custom tests on engine oil, transmission fluids and other lubricants (see Novembers issue, page 36). And part of Savant is the Institute of Materials, IOM.

IOM claims to be the only publicly available source of accurate and comprehensive data on the physical and chemical properties of engine oil in todays marketplace. It purchases 650 engine oil samples each year from retail markets in North America (38 percent), Europe (15 percent) and Asia (46 percent) based on market share, population and geographical location. The oils are tested, and the results published by IOM in the worlds largest independent compilation of engine oil test data.

Samples are gathered all year by people and organizations throughout the world that IOM has worked with for many years. The samples are blind-coded by IOM, and coded reference oil samples are intermixed for quality control purposes. The samples are then sent to qualified laboratories where a battery of over 30 bench tests are run on each oil. An electronic error-detection program performs statistical analysis and automatically identifies suspicious data for retesting. As a final measure, each piece of data is reviewed by at least two quality inspectors prior to release.

2005 was the 22nd year of sample collection and, as of this writing, IOM has a total inventory of 9,767 oil samples, with data from each one available for comparison with other samples across the engine oil spectrum and two decades of collection.

Information from IOM databases is available by subscription or on a pay-as-you-go basis. An annual subscription to the North American Database covering 250 oils and including a primary report on each oil as well as a spreadsheet on all 250 oils costs $6,190 for an electronic version, or $7,740 for a print version. Alternatively, customers may pick and choose oils or test results of interest for $4 per test per oil or $105 per oil for all 30 tests.

Electronic availability of all the data allows users the flexibility to evaluate the data in multiple ways. All samples are identified by company name, brand name, sampling detail such as collection point, viscosity grade, and specification claims, and test results. Full transparency of the data along with multiple and flexible data analyses are the primary program goals.

IOM data has been used by trade groups and technical societies such as ILSAC, SAE and ASTM, to assist in industrywide decision-making.

A Technical Advisory Board performs program oversight. This board consists of IOM executives and independent industry consultants. It provides technical guidance, communicates industry trends and preferences, and conducts periodic reviews of the data.

Rebecca Cox, IOM vice president of operations and finance, promises an online version of the database beginning in 2006. Customers will be able to use the IOM website to search, select and download data instantly, she says. Test data will become available as soon as it is approved, giving quicker access to the data. The online feature will also give users more flexibility with their purchase choice of oils and tests.

Our goal, she sums up, is to provide an unbiased resource of information for the industry to use so that strengths can be capitalized upon and weaknesses will surface for improvement. Were a market-driven program with a wealth of data and a deep reservoir of experience. We know how to do engine oil monitoring.

Related Topics

Market Topics