Petroleum Institute puts a 'don't buy' on two motor oils

(February 27, 2011) METUCHEN, N.J. (PRNewswire) — The Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA) issued Consumer Alerts on two passenger car engine oils Friday that are currently on the market. The oils are Liberty Gold Plus SMO 5W-30 Motor Oil and Bullseye Automotive Products High Mileage 10W-30 Motor Oil (SC/CC).

According to PQIA, these products can cause harm to an automobile engine and void warranties.

These two brands of passenger car engine oil were purchased by the Petroleum Quality Institute of America in January and February in Ohio and Michigan. The test results for the samples show they fall far short of the product's labeled viscosity. Whereas the Petroleum Quality Institute of America feels the low viscosity of these samples alone is enough to issue a consumer alert, other test data for the samples indicate use of these products can cause damage to an automobile engine.

According to Thomas F. Glenn, President of PQIA, "The test results for these products are the most concerning we have seen to date."  To express these concerns Glenn says, "The viscosity for the 5W-30 tested is nearly 70% below where it should be, and the level of additives is less than a quarter of that required by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to protect automobiles currently on the road." 

Similarly, the 10W-30 PQIA tested has a very low viscosity and lacks the additives required to protect an engine from wear and corrosion.

Also of concern is that these products were purchased at a convenience store operating under the Shell banner. PQIA's website provides excellent insights on how this can happen and why Shell and other major oil companies have little control of what non-fuel products are sold at service stations flying their flags.

PQIA explains how these motor oils could be purchased at a convenience store that sells Shell gasoline.

You are in need of some motor oil, and decide to pick up a few quarts on the way home from work.  Knowing that oil quality matters, you drive past several no-name gas stations, preferring instead to buy your motor oil from a name you know and trust.  Finally you pull into a Shell station, pop into the convenience store under the big Shell sign, and pick up five quarts for the weekend oil change.  You don’t recognize the oil brand on the shelf, but this is, after all, a Shell station, so it must be good.  Would Shell sell bad oil?

No, Shell would not sell bad oil, but Shell did not sell you that oil.  In fact, Shell doesn’t even know what brands of oil that convenience store at their gas station sells, and neither do most other major oil companies.  Most of these stores, you see, are actually independently owned, and what products they carry are the decision of the private owner.  And would the independent private owner sell you bad oil?  Apparently, yes, even though they may not be aware of it either.

PQIA contacted Shell about this issue and our test data. We received a prompt reply from Lisa Davis, President for Shell Lubricants, Americas. Here is what Davis had to say:

 “Like many other major gasoline brands in the U.S., the name on the station sign reflects the brand of the motor fuel being sold at the station, while the convenience store and day-to-day site operations are the responsibility of the site owner and/or operator. “  Davis went on to say: “while Shell doesn’t dictate the brand or quality of non-fuel products carried by the independent operators of these stations, we do expect items sold at Shell-branded retail stations to be quality, on-spec products. “