Mostly Mechanical

Auto & Truck Oils, Lubes & Filters – Separating Technology from Hype

Good thing Amsoil doesn’t stoop to API Licensing

Irresponsible and unqualified “maroons” too often leave ugly trash commments on vehicle forums, making grossly incorrect statements about Amsoil synthetic oils that just infuriate me. Like this classic gem from the Slant Six forum: “Don’t let the Scamsoil droids convince you their expensive gunk is superior to properly-tested, properly-certified regular or synthetic name brand oil.” Or over at Ford-trucks.com you find “Most of Scamsoil’s products ARE NOT API certified!!!! Sounds like you have been reading the lies on the Scamsoil website, stay away”.

If they were merely sharing their opinion and stating their credentials, people wouldn’t have much heartburn over it. But to make false statements like that, irresponsibly leading people away from the superior performance and lower costs of advanced technology, gets me irate.

So, for the record, let’s establish qualifications before we talk about facts. I’m a B.S. degreed Mechanical Engineer. I’ve been in industry for more than 20 years, the last 5 as an engineering manager, and have spent more than the last 10 in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, where most automotive parts are made and a lot of value-added engineering is done to improve the products and manufacturing processes. As a matter of fact, while the OEM has some involvement when a subassembly has a defect, guess who is required to do an “8-D” root-cause analysis, implement corrective actions, and monitor to make sure the CA’s are effective and it can’t happen again?

In 2004 I bought a 2002 GMC Sierra with the Duramax turbodiesel and Allison transmission package. That was the beginning of a journey of extensive personal research into vehicle drivetrain lubrication and filtration, and a growing passion to tell people the astonishing facts I learned. I became an Amsoil dealer, not only to help people get literature and best pricing, but to continue learning.

Opinions are as worthless as armpits – everyone has one, but most of them are smelly. And you can see some of the smelly opinions in detail on this “scamsoil” page for Amsoil skeptics, which corrects Amsoil myths using facts.  I tell people what I know, and the conclusions I can reasonably prove with facts and data. So let’s talk about facts. But before I can get far, I have to explain the common sense backdrop to correctly “frame” the facts.

I find it interesting how one-sided the online forums often are: if an Amsoil dealer makes a statement, he’s often dissed, disbelieved, and ridiculed – even if he’s an engineer. If he’s not a “supporting sponsor” of the forum who is paying for the right to make “commercial” comments, he may get warned, censored or kicked off by the moderators for “advertising” helpful facts or suggestions. However, no one seems to question if naysayers have ever worked for petroleum suppliers, if they have an engineering degree, or if they have had training sponsored by “big oil” – and they aren’t required to be a paying sponsor to make glowing recommendations of petro oils. Couple that with a forum’s discussion environment of one or two pararaph comments, and the deck is strongly stacked against open an discussion of engineering facts and test data.

Executive Summary-in-One-Paragraph of the
Facts on API Certification of Synthetic Engine Oils
Under Their EOLCS:

Unfortunately for consumers, the API has no Certification for high performance: only minimum performance. Further, the API provides no reasonable certification options for genuine Group IV and Group V synthetics, deliberately maintaining a skewed structure that multiplies synthetic test costs by several times. In addition, the API Certification adds content restrictions (not required by the SAE, not required by the OEM’s) that prevent long drain intervals and prevent very low wear rates. So the world of API Licensing implies that high-profit mediocre products are high performance, it ensures that only petroleum-company oils can be cost-effectively Certified by the API, and it ensures that the world’s highest-performance products cannot be API Licensed/Certified at all. Fortunately for consumers who want high performance and high value, the API Certification monopoly is a voluntary trademark Licensing program that does not matter in vehicle warranties.

Now, that’s stunning information for many people.  So let me clarify:

Close examination of the OEM Owners’ Manuals shows that engine oils must meet the API/SAE Service Grade requirements that the OEM states. 

Why? That is the entire purpose of the Service Grades: they are the legally approved and required method for the OEM to specify how the lubricants must perform in order to maintain warranty coverage in the rare possibility of damage caused by oil failure. Like my Duramax engine owners manual, the OEM may also include a cleverly confusing blend of stating first that API Licensed oils are Recommended, then saying that the API donut is required showing Service Grades (clever, but meeting Service Grades is required, not the donut). In other words, a number of Owners Manuals have adopted (API-suggested?) wording that implies API Licensed oils are a requirement, while also stating that they are recommended. And enough Americans have poor reading comprehension to enable this ploy to be very effective in spreading warranty fears. By implying it’s required, the API and the OEM both get most of the benefits of it being required, without the expensive legal liabilities from falsely stating that it is a requirement

The petroleum oil companies have been breaking records for the last three years in prices and in profits – tens of billions in US dollars. In 1999, by earning a first-in-the-world American ruling that they could hijack and redefine the term “synthetic” to include petroleum oils, they began flooding the US market with their Group III petroleum “synthetics”. That “bait and switch” is clearly unethical but technically legal, and very profitable. But for the twenty-seven years between 1973 and 2000, the petroleum companies were very active in developing business strategies against synthetic oils, which they did through captive-audience-disinformation in technician training, and through marketing strategies.

These were “necessary” business tactics because of the inherently superior traits of synthetics – specifically AMSOIL. Because until Mobil 1 was introduced, AMSOIL was the only synthetic oil in the automotive/truck market.  And they have been the undeniable leader in the development of synthetic automotive lubricants and, more recently, high-performance synthetic filtration for automotive – using Donaldson nanofiber filter media.

In fact, AMSOIL was a stunning polar-opposite enigma to the oil companies. Profitable refining was all about the minimum improvements you invested in the crude-oil-extracted product that would still pass the Service Grade requirements. AMSOIL was all about pushing the performance envelope to formulate and create the highest performance base-stocks and additive packages that technology could allow, which is why their primary engine oils have ALWAYS been 25,000 mile / 1-year oils. Petroleum corporate profits were about how much they could get out of people’s pockets.  Amsoil profits were based on creating the highest possible performance, educating the consumer on their greater value, and trusting that smart consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for a premium product that would save them money. 

And I should note that in 1973, Amsoil introduced the first API Licensed synthetic motor oil: they are not a stranger to API Certification, but the cutting-edge leader in synthetics. And their dramatically superior performance in the API testing was an immediate embarrassment, and a clear threat, to the petroleum industry. Almost from the beginning, testing the waters with Mobil 1 to capture and control the fledgling synthetic market, petroleum analysts seemed to understand that Amsoil could not be beaten in performance or value – it would have to be with strategy. 

Because the international petroleum corporations have a vested financial interest in controlling what the market, the consumers, and the mechanics believe about synthetics, you have to be careful to sweep marketing slogans and myths aside and look at data and facts instead.

FACT:  Amsoil is the king of comparative performance data, publishing the API/SAE/ASTM test data against named competitive products, and even putting graphs right on the sides of their packages.  That data is legally liable for accuracy (false advertising), all the oil companies perform those ASTM tests, and yet Amsoil’s certified ASTM/API/SAE data has never once been challenged… in over 3 decades of published test data.  

Oooh. Isn’t that an embarrassing problem for Amsoil critics?  Yes. But not if you ignore it, or state that Amsoil has never shown data to back their claims. The tactic seems to be that by stating that arrogantly and emphatically, then people will believe them rather than doing a Google search for themselves and leading others to the test data.

FACT: the API is the American Petroleum Institute, whose stated #1 purpose is to promote the interests of the petroleum companies. They originally worked with the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) to develop and establish the API Service Classifications, such as SL or CI, so that the vehicle and equipment OEM’s could specify (“spec”) the minimum oil performance requirements. And THAT is all that can legally be required for warranty – period. Who guarantees the performance of oil that is not API Licensed? No-one but the oil marketer and manufacturer.

Now enter the clever development of the API Licensing to display their registered trademark “starburst” and service “donut” symbols. If petroelum companies pay money for them to look over their ASTM oil testing results, and their other guideline requirements are met in addition to the SAE classifications, they let you display their trademark. Who guarantees the performance of API Licensed oil? No-one but the oil marketer and manufacturer.

Again, let me emphasize that API Licensing (or Certification) is no more required for warranties than an NFL logo is required in order to manufacture a nice sports jersey. But if you advertise the jersey as a tank top or Arctic parka, you could have a legal problem with false advertising.  Of course, a licensed NFL team logo is not required in order to make a great-quality jersey, and no-one in their right mind would seriously claim that jerseys without an NFL team logo on them are poor quality. But the API has succeeded in developing a strong emotional and/or mental impression that their logos are required in order to have good oil. Clever marketing, but deceptive – and completely false.

Even worse, it’s the opposite that’s true. It’s the API Certified oils that produce major sludge problems in many 1997 – 2004 engines from a number of OEM’s including Toyota, Lexus, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Saab, causing fatal engine damage as early as 50,000 miles in perfectly-maintained vehicles. Surprise! Petroleum oil breaks down easily — haven’t we known that for several decades? Yet vehicles using Amsoil do not have these problems, and Saab experts note that AMSOIL protects and performs better in the Saab 9’s than anything they’ve found. What this shows is that you are at lowest risk by using Amsoil, but at the highest risk by using the bare-minimum quality of API Licensed oils.

You see, according to the API’s own 1509 EOLCS document, their engine oil licensing only verifies MINIMUM performance levels. It doesn’t tell consumers how well the products performed in testing, or provide any way to rank comparative performance, or identify better performance lubricants. But the full picture is even worse for unsuspecting consumers. The API has also created clever-sounding but empty rationals to justify special formulation restrictions for API Licensing, beyond the SAE Service Classification standards. It just so happens that if your products are higher performance than the oil companies want to make (producing much lower wear rates, or lasting three times longer), then your products can’t be API Licensed… unless you “dumb down” your performance to their low standards. And it just so happens that AMSOIL synthetic engine oils, the worldwide benchmark gold standard in the lubrication industry, can’t be API Licensed because AMSOIL won’t downgrade their performance to the level of petroleum mediocrity. Isn’t that a convenient coincidence?

Yes, AMSOIL does have the XL line which use the highest grade Group III base stocks, and are the highest performance products that can be produced under the API’s manipulative marketing requirements. And so they are API Licensed, and priced lower than any of Amsoil’s other oils. But most consumers shouldn’t use these 10,000 mile XL oils when they can buy the much better value of 25,000 or 35,000 mile synthetic engine oils from AMSOIL that blow away the performance of every product on the market.

API Licensing means the product has mediocre performance, has paid a fee, and has agreed to pay royalties on their sales in order to display registered trademark logos on their labels: the API’s starburst and donut.

The use of a dramatically superior synthetic lubricant is a dramatically superior choice that does NOT cause failures nor cause the OEM to deny warranty coverage, and the few Dealer service managers who claim otherwise are simply wrong – and wouldn’t dare put their statements in writing.
A dealer can claim that using a vastly superior Amsoil engine oil voids the warranty because it isn’t API Licensed, but that’s logically ridiculous and completely false, both scientifically and legally.

Let’s talk more test data, more facts. API Licensing is based on – guess what? ASTM tests. The ASTM is the world’s leading organization of engineered testing, and their work includes extensively detailed test criteria and lab certifications to make sure that test data is repeatable and accurate.  Together with the API and the SAE, they devise tests that measure dozens of specific lubricant properties.  In fact, in the API’s 1509 EOLCS, I counted 47 listed tests.  43 of those are ASTM tests.

Most of these tests are done with equipment on a lab “bench”, but a few of the tests involve engine stands.  I don’t have room or time to get too deep here, so I’ll summarize like this: AMSOIL oils not only perform at the highest levels in all the ASTM tests, but their performance is so far above petroleum oil in some cases that it makes the test look downright wimpy and almost worthless.  For example, the expensive engine tests were developed as a faster way to indentify the minimum oil performance that’s required to keep engines from failing under warranty when using petroleum oils, but for high performance synthetics they seem to mean little.  This example of stunning performance in the Sequence IIIF engine test is why, for the most part, AMSOIL relies on measured long-term performance in oil sampling analysis databases of hundreds of millions of miles in commercial fleet vehicles.  After all, if you’ve paid a lot of money to perform an unheard-of triple-length IIIF test, which showed the AMSOIL synthetic engine oil viscosity flatlining at 60% below the test’s failure threshold, why pay to perform such a whimpy petroleum-oil test on a high performance synthetic?  Sure, it stunned the lab techs, but does it give you more valuable data than you can get from oil sampling analysis of real-world engines in severe-duty commercial service?  No.

What’s the best way to test anything? Against a known benchmark-best.  That’s what Amsoil does.  They have the best performance, so their focus is developing by exceeding their previous performance in ASTM bench tests and actual fleet sampling – because no engine test comes close. Amsoil IS the benchmark, and real vehicle results are the ultimate measurement.

Still have doubts?  Mobil 1 is API Licensed, and did a marketing campaign that claimed “nothing beats Mobil 1”.   But if that’s true, and if API Licensing means quality, then why does AMSOIL beat Mobil 1’s pants in the ASTM tests?  And why does Exxon-Mobil publish a users’ direct request for THEIR ASTM test data compared to Amsoil, and give them nothing but marketing smoke and mirrors?  And if Mobil 1 is really that great, where is THEIR million mile van report and teardown analysis from a certified Lubrizol engine rater? Where is anyone else’s million-mile teardown analysis?

Those are the facts. As a mechanical automotive engineer who is a studied lubrication and filtration specialist, I know that AMSOIL is the gold standard in lubrication performance, and that their durability makes them cheapest to use, and that they improve fuel economy, and that’s why I use AMSOIL lubes and filters in ALL my vehicles. There’s a reason why Amsoil dealers are persistent – 75% of them become dealers because they were so impressed with Amsoil performance in their own vehicles that they wanted to tell others about Amsoil.

So I challenge the “scamsoil” trash trolls to either put up their credentials and their facts, or shut up and leave the petroleum victims alone. Consumers have been scammed long enough by petroleum marketers and their brainwashed pet-droids, so enough with the lying and manipulating. I’m a big boy, so prove your point to me rather than bullying people who don’t know enough to stand up to the BS.  If you’re right, then get me on your side with data. Here’s one of my vehicle oil analysis reports, and here’s a video on how to take an oil sample from any engine.  So take an oil sample from your chosen oil prior to an oil change to AMSOIL, then take an oil sample after the recommended service interval with AMSOIL.  Show me where your oil sampling analysis proves some petroleum oil – or any synthetic oil – outperforms AMSOIL. 

AMSOIL could stoop to “dumbing down” all their synthetic oils to the mediocre API Licensing requirements, and that would give them astounding increases in profit margins. But they won’t stoop to that level, and that’s a really good thing for all AMSOIL’s customers and dealers.

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May 23, 2009 - Posted by | Amsoil, Fleet, Lubrication Oils & Fluids, Scamsoil, Synthetic Oil | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. […] Good thing Amsoil doesn’t stoop to API Licensing […]

    Pingback by Good thing Amsoil doesn’t stoop to API Licensing « Free Download | May 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. To clarify: A key point is that vehicle / equipment warranties require only that the lubricant meets the 2-letter API/SAE Service Grade that the OEM says is required. That’s the purpose of the Service Grades, but API and the petroleum companies have grown adept at hiding that fact. Whether Licensed or not, it is only the oil mfr that warranties oil quality and performance – the API specifically warranties nothing, but rather licenses use of their registered marketing trademarks for a profit. Both the OEM’s and the petroleum companies have a vested financial interest in IMPLYING to the public that API trademark Licensing is required, which they carefully do without blatantly saying in writing that it’s required.

    Amsoil’s cheapest oils are API licensed, because they’re Group III base-stocks and are targeted at the quick-lube market for oil changes that won’t exceed 10-12k miles. But the highest performance Group IV products (true synthetics) cannot be licensed – the API has developed weakly rationalized content restrictions to ensure it, which really boils down to the American Petroleum Institute’s stated mission of furthering the interests of the oil companies.

    The reason Mobil 1 cannot compete with Amsoil in the 4-ball wear test is not only because they don’t want to, but because Mobil 1’s API Licensed status prevents it from providing lower wear rates. Ditto for the extended 25,000 mile or 35,000 mile drain intervals. So the bottom line is that API trademark Licensing provides a smokescreen allowing high profits on mediocre products while implying that competing high-performance synthetics are inferior marketing hype that may (gasp!) invalidate warranties.

    Comment by autoengineer | May 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. Amsoil did not produce API anything in 1973. They simply relabled oil that was already a finished product made by Hatco. Amsoil is a blender of synthetic basestocks (some made by Mobil) and additive packs. Hatco should get the credit in all fairness. Amsoil is great oil, but none of it is actually manufactured by them, just blended. Only my useless opinion, but from what I have found, Motul is probably a better company. Motul made a 100% synthetic oil in 1971 before Amsoil used someone else’s oil. Motul also makes their own basestocks and has been around since 1853. That being said, Motul is quite expensive. Motul gets approvals from car manufacturers which is very expensive. I have never had any problems with Amsoil and have used it for many years in many applications. Motul gets my vote for not putting fake starburst symbols on their bottles that make the general public think they’re using API certified oil. I am speaking of course of the signature series oil, because the XL line, and OE line is API certified. Lastly, not all vehicles can run an extended drain interval of 25k miles. Amsoil severe service recommends 17k miles. Some engines will deplete the TBN in Amsoil, and unless you’re doing used oil analysis (UOA) you may be subjecting your engine to acids the TBN is suppose to fight. For the price of a UOA you can buy 3-4 quarts of oil. Some people base an extended oil drain using amsoil after a few UOA’s which is great until you trust the UOA and have an antifreeze leak. Amsoil can be run longer than othe oils, but to me changing your oil at the manufacturers recommended intervals is peace of mind and cheap insurance. Hope this helps.

    Comment by JAMES LAVELLE | September 28, 2013 | Reply

    • Al Amatuzio had been making, as it was labeled for many years, AMZOIL. I don’t know about the first batches of API certified oil, but it seems logical that he contracted production for a time prior to building adequate production-volume facilities. However, if you are implying that AMSOIL did not design and make their oil, wouldn’t that be more misleading than saying that they manufactured it? If it wasn’t for their design and contracts, it wouldn’t have been made at all, right?

      Comment by autoengineer | December 29, 2014 | Reply

      • Right. Good point.

        Comment by James Lavelle | December 29, 2014


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