How Additive Packages Benefit Engine Oils (and Your Customers)

Oct. 22, 2020

Did you know quick lubes are still buying motor oils that aren't API-certified? Here's what goes into certifying motor oils and what shop owners should look out for to ensure they're buying a quality product.

Oct. 22, 2020—Additives play a crucial role in protecting engines from oxidation, corrosion, deposits, and many more damaging effects on an engine, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API). Modern engine oils must meet stringent performance specifications, and each additive has a different function to provide engine protection.

Dennis Bachelder says additives compare to doing laundry. They make sure the detergent stays in the water in the machine and not in the clothes.

The senior engineer at API says when you develop a motor oil, you use base oils, which is a good portion of the total volume—about 85 to 95 percent of the total volume—and to help determine viscosity, how the oil will change with temperature, and then to give greater control of how the oil behaves, additives packages are added to make the oil perform better.

“Additive package technology is an art, you have to know how much to add because the way these additives work varies by the chemistry used and the approach the additive is using to give the oil the enhanced performance,” Bachelder says.

Testing for Quality

When OEMs set a fuel economy benchmark, it’s Bachelder’s job to help achieve that. He has the role of establishing the engine oil’s performance-based standards to determine how the oil performs within the engine. He then works with OEMs to negotiate and establish what judgements should be considered, how the oil is tested, and what the performance properties of the oil these tests reveal.

The motor oils go through a series of seven different tests to see how they will perform with an engine, which includes testing for oxidation, corrosion, and deposits in the oil; evaluating the effect of the oil on tappet wear and chain wear for engines; testing the ability of the oil to mitigate pre-ignition under low-speed and high-load operating conditions; determining how the oil performs in different temperatures; and testing the fuel economy of the engine with the motor oil. 

“Any successful oil must pass those limits,” Bachelder says.

How Does it Apply to You?

After the tests are complete, the motor oil should get a stamp of approval for gasoline engines.

When a quick lube buys up these motor oils from their supplier, these additive packages are already added in, which means these motor oils should already be certified to meet performance standards, according to API’s Jeff Harmening. But a lot of times, API has seen quick lubes buying oil that is not certified.

Harmening oversees API’s licensing and certification programs, including the Engine Oil and Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS), Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), and Motor Oil Matters (MOM). He says quick lube operators need to be wary of what motor oil they are ordering for their shop.

For one, it’s important for operators to look for the service marks on their order. The first is for GF-6A oils. The second goes with GF-6B oils, and the third is for API SP oils. 

While some oil providers have these stickers on the product, not all of them do. However, this doesn’t mean the oil isn’t certified for us. So, when a distributor is delivering the product to your operation, ensure exactly what was put into the bulk tanks. Harmening says that while over 25 states require distributors to report this information to operators, it’s also required by the National Conference on Weights and Measures, spelling everything out in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Handbook 130—Uniform Laws and Regulations in the areas of legal metrology and engine fuel quality. 

And because regular customers can’t verify their vehicles are getting the correct oil themselves, it’s important for quick lubes to report the same information to the customer on their receipts.

“If you are wanting to ensure the proper engine oil performance is being achieved, buy certified oil,” Harmening says.