You pay good money for an oil change. Does it meet Industry standards?

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has evaluated results from its annual motor oil testing program and determined that almost one in five samples of bulk motor oil purchased from the marketplace in each of the last five years have failed to meet API motor oil performance standards.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has evaluated results from its annual motor oil testing program and determined that almost one in five samples of bulk motor oil purchased from the marketplace in each of the last five years have failed to meet API motor oil performance standards.

API purchased and tested more than 1,000 motor oils dispensed from bulk tanks over the last five years and nearly 20 percent of the bulk oil samples tested failed to meet API standards. API compared the test results against thousands of licensed oil formulations to determine the identity of the oils and to verify that the oils met the performance level claimed.

To understand how and why this is happening, we spoke to Kevin Ferrick, API’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System manager.  “API has launched a new phase in its Motor Oil Matters (MOM) program that will provide the information necessary to consumers to ensure they receive the high quality motor oils that they expect for their vehicles,” said Ferrick during a telephone interview with The remainder of the interview follows:

AR: Here’s the scenario Kevin — you take your vehicle to one of the “Quick Lube” shops for an oil change, and you trust that the oil they’re using meets industry and manufacturer standards. Your survey indicates that 20 percent of bulk oil samples failed to meet API standards.  What does this mean for the average consumer?

FERRICK: “In simple terms it means the average consumer, but not all of them, are getting the quality oil they expect. The API has set oil quality standards for the Industry for years, and to be fair, there are a lot of great oil manufacturing companies that are making quality products, and these oils are doing a great job of protecting today’s cars and trucks, but when you find that actually one in five oils that are coming from bulk tanks (like the kind you find at oil change shops) and dispensed into your vehicle by a hose might not meet the standards for their vehicle I think they would be alarmed, and then they would start asking the obvious questions like “How do I know that the oil coming out of that dispenser nozzle is really the right oil for my car or truck?”

AR: So where is the problem?  Is this a case of shady deals being cut by shops who may want to save a few cents per gallon on the oil they purchase and resell to consumers?

FERRICK: “Unfortunately, there may be some companies out there that are making lower quality oil, but are telling the shops that perform the oil changes that their products are licensed, API quality level products. I would hate to think that some companies are deceptive about it, but it’s possible. If I were going to point a finger at anything I would probably say that API needs to do a better job of telling people that they should be a little more careful, and they should ask a few more questions about the quality of the product that’s going into their cars. And then I would also say consumers have become a bit complacent about the process of using the recommended oil for their cars and trucks.  We all have owner’s manuals in our cars and trucks, but how many of us really open it to see what’s the right grade and viscosity for their vehicles?  So we at API are telling consumers it’s important to follow and understand manufacturer recommendations. And the other thing is not only should you follow them, when you go to the location that is going to change the oil for you, you should be asking specifically what oil is going into your car or truck, and you should demand that they put in writing what they just installed. This is very important as for many, if you have a car under warranty, you need to maintain a record that you had an oil change, that the oil used met warranty standards of your vehicle’s manufacturer.”

AR: Please tell our readers a bit more about API. I know you represent more than 550 members across refining, production, and marketing of petroleum products. Are the big oil companies– the Shells and the Exxons– members of API?

FERRICK: “Yes they are. Ironically, API’s prominent role has been to set standards for all facets of the industry, and engine oil is no exception, as we’ve been setting engine oil standards for more than 65 years, and we’ve been licensing oil that meets our standards for the last 20 years, while at the same time testing products in the market to make sure they meet our standards.”

AR: The auto parts industry has been subject to counterfeit parts hitting the market.  I’m talking defective and unsafe brake parts, airbags, etc. Is this a case of companies bypassing API’s standards and cutting special deals with oil change facilities that use bulk oil products so they can save a few cents on the oil they purchase and resell?

FERRICK: “Of our 550 members, only a few are certified to manufacture and sell engine oil. The vast number of companies we license are not members of API. These are companies that are committed to making quality products and have certified to us that their products meet our licensing standards. So they are awarded the license, and they understand that as a licensee, they are subject to being audited and tested by API to ensure they deliver what they claim. So when a company says they sell API licensed products, they’re putting their name, their brand and their reputation on the line. When you use the term counterfeiting, when you find one in five bulk products don’t meet API standards, what we believe to be happening is that one in five might be a product that’s coming from someone that doesn’t share the commitment to excellence our API licensees have.”

AR: Someone comes to my lube shop and offers me a sweet deal that saves me lots of money that I would pay an API licensee for bulk oil. I’m still trying to determine how this deficient or defective oil gets to consumers. Is this a case of someone coming in and doing a hustle saying “I can beat your price.”

FERRICK: “One thing we generally don’t talk about is price, but it’s likely there is misrepresentation going on. They will say their product meets the same quality of brand X, Y or Z with an API license. They may also say ‘all oils are the same’ which we know is simply not true. There are varying levels of oil quality which is why API licenses oil to meet strict and specific requirements of vehicle manufacturers. I do understand that people look for a value, it’s no different in business or for consumers. My concern is that something might be ‘too good a value.’  That the price is so low how do I really know this product is the quality level that’s necessary?”

The API is aggressively addressing this problem through their Motor Oil Matters (MOM) program. “The Motor Oil Matters program reminds consumers about the importance of using quality motor oils in their cars and trucks,” added Ferrick. “The Motor Oil Matters program also calls on certified oil change locations to go the extra step to verify the quality of the oil on invoices and receipts.”

API recommends that consumers visit to find a (MOM) certified oil change location, look for the MOM symbol at approved locations, read important information on oil quality, and download the MOM Oil Change Checklist (OCC) to take to their next oil change. I found the OCC particularly useful for those who want to save money versus a dealer-performed oil change, as it shows you exactly what you need to do to ensure you are meeti
ng your vehicle’s requirements for an oil change.  This information could make all the difference should you ever need proof for what you’ve done for a warranty claim.

Oil-change locations and motor oil distributors that share MOM’s commitment to provide high quality motor oils—and submit to independent, third party auditing—have the opportunity to be recognized by MOM through the Motor Oil Matters distributor and installer licensing programs.
You’ll also be much safer by doing business with established oil change facilities.  Ferrick added that the problem of substandard oil is much, much lower with consumer purchases in quart and 5-quart containers, the kind you would buy at your favorite retail or automotive parts chain store.

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