Finished Lubricants

Need To Know


Labels on motor oil bottles provide consumers with important information to describe the product, specify its contents and use and, of course, build and leverage brand awareness. Because of this, you can be sure marketers spend many hours crafting the language and selecting the images on the limited real estate that labels offer. But there is one statement frequently seen on labels that makes you wonder if time forgot about it: Always consult your owners manual for specific recommendations. Although this may help to limit the manufacturers liability, does it really help consumers select oil?

Consulting your owners manual used to be a relatively easy process. If you had a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air,for example, you would pull a 33-page owners manual from the glove compartment and turn to page 16, where it would say, For maximum engine protection under all driving conditions, oils designated For Service MS or For Service DG are recommended. In addition, it included a simple chart to select the correct SAE viscosity grade under different temperature ranges and suggested the appropriate viscosity grade when multi-viscosity oils were used.

But times have changed. The glove compartments are typically much smaller now than they used to be, and the owners manuals are getting much larger. In fact, some of these tomes now exceed 500 pages and would not fit in the glove compartment. Further, most original equipment manufacturers dont provide a printed version with the vehicle. Instead, theyre online. This is a good medium considering that hard copies are often lost or become damaged over time, but youre still looking at navigating through a massive document and supplements to find what youre looking for. And unfortunately, even then it can be hard for most people to understand.

One example illustrating these challenges is seen in the 2018 owners manual for the popular Chevrolet Malibu. The index in this 420-page manual points to the Service and Maintenance section on page 365, where you find a sub-index sending you to page 375, Recommended Fluid and Lubricants. Here you find a table with a line item for engine oils stating, Engine oil meeting the [General Motors] Dexos1 specification of the proper SAE viscosity grade. ACDelco Dexos1 is recommended. See Engine Oil 283. On page 283 is a bullet point stating, Use engine oil approved to the proper specification and of the proper viscosity grade. See Selecting the Right Engine Oil in this section. While the first paragraph creates an infinite loop with page 375, its followed by specifications for the Malibus LFV 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter L4 turbo engines and LKN 1.8L L4 hybrid engines, including different viscosity grades for each as well as possible alternative viscosities. Its no wonder that some drivers become confused.

The owners manual for the 2018 Toyota Camry states on page 394 of 572 to use Toyota genuine motoroil or equivalent. Similarly, the owners manual for a 2018 Nissan Ultima recommends Nissan API SN SAE 0W-20 genuine motor oil. If the above motor oil is not available, use an equivalent motor oil that matches the above grade and viscosity. I, for one, cant recall seeing the equivalent to a Toyota or Nissan genuine oil on a product label.

But the purpose of this column is not to disparage OEMs or their owners manuals. In fairness, the technology of todays cars and the lubricants they require are far more advanced, complicated and diverse than in the past. And its understandable that some OEMs steer their customers to their genuine oil. Further, the information is there for those willing to sort through the manuals and take the time to familiarize themselves with the particulars of their vehicle, lubricant industry terminology and motor oil labels.

Instead, opportunities to leverage technology can be identified to make it easier and more accessible for consumers to confidently select the appropriate motor oil for their vehicle without consulting the owners manual, and in the process steer them to a wider range of acceptable choices.

Although such technology is available to consumers on the websites of some auto parts stores, theres opportunity for more. As an example, when checking one of the leading auto parts stores website to see what engine oil to use in a 2018 Chevy Malibu with a 1.5-liter engine, there were 17 exact fits, but the first six were molybdenum based additives, followed by four SAE 5W-30 and two SAE 0W-20 motor oils.

Another stores website displays 295 results that fit the vehicle, some of which do not explicitly state that they meet Dexos1 or Dexos1 Gen2 requirements. And interestingly, the website for a third leading auto parts store states that it is imperative that you check the owners manual to ensure that you purchase the proper motor oil.

So, I guess until something better comes along, its back to the owners manual. But who knows? Maybe someday I can ask a device in my car what oil to use. I wonder what the OEM would program it to say.

Tom Glenn is president of the consulting firm Petro­leum Trends International, the Petroleum Quality Institute of America, and Jobbers World newsletter. Phone: (732) 494-0405. Email:

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