Mostly Mechanical

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

Petroleum Oil Marketing to Gullible Consumers

I recently found this example of how extensively big-oil substitutes marketing deception for actual performance and test data. Here’s what is being passed off as “Product Specs” direct from Valvoline’s website on MaxLife:

“Product Specs

MaxLife is formulated with extra anti-wear additives to exceed the engine protection requirements of ILSAC GF-3 and GF-4, and API SL/SM standards and is safe for use in new and rebuilt engines, and will not void new car warranties.”

That’s it.  Believe it or not, those are supposed to be “product specs”. I also noticed that the description of MaxLife includes this wording “The synthetic blend formula…”   But in their FAQ’s they have this specific Q&A:

“Is MaxLife motor oil a synthetic product?

No. MaxLife is made with premium base oils and special components to help slow the aging process of a vehicle’s engine.”

Clever, huh? They tell us it’s synthetic, but they also clarify by telling us it’s not. So then maybe it’s not really false advertising after all?

But then in another MaxLife FAQ, are these gems, listed as #7 and #10:

“Has MaxLife always been a synthetic blend?

MaxLife Synthetic Blend motor oil is actually the same product as regular MaxLife. MaxLife has always been a synthetic blend oil; we just now label the product that way. It is the same oil as before. As long as you have used MaxLife, you have used synthetic blended oil.”

Why is there no mileage limit given on MaxLife Synthetic motor oil? Mobil 1 says 15,000 miles and Amsoil says 25,000 miles?

Valvoline recommends following the oil change intervals recommended in your owner’s manual no matter what type of oil you use. Most manufacturers recommend every 3-months/3,000 miles.

So Valvoline is deliberately continuing the same give-me-money 3,000 mile oil change scam that GM and California have organized to end. And sorry, but what manufacturer recommends a 3,000 mile engine oil drain interval? GM’s OLS system averages 8,500 mile oil changes, and that assumes mediocre API Licensed petroleum.

A brief background is important for the majority of Americans who have no idea about the petroleum oil scam of the decade: It is only legal in America to sell Group III (hydrocracked petroleum) oil as “synthetic”, and the shelves are full of these supposed Big-Oil “synthetics”. Why? Because their studies showed that after 25 years of effort Amsoil had succeeded in bringing the synthetic-oil-market growth to critical mass, and demand was beginning to take off. Since a growing number of their customers were willing to pay big dollars for synthetics in order to save money and gain much better performance and value, Big Oil needed a solution. So in 1999 they flexed U.S. muscles, quietly redefining “synthetic”  in order to deceive the public and cash in on the profits. 

So with the new definition of a “synthetic” being a Group III (petroleum) as background, I have to conclude that MaxLife is only a Group II, perhaps with some synthetic additives (they claim 30% synthetic in one spot): that’s as mediocre as oil can get and still (barely) pass the API minimums. Clear and factual information? Comparative test data? Forget about it.

The Treasury Department teaches that you have to know what real money is, in order to spot a counterfeit.  So because most people have never seen one, here’s a real motor oil product data page.  And here’s my idea of comparative engine oil test data.  Keep in mind that those are the industry benchmark ASTM tests that all the oil companies use  – but to the public it’s as if they don’t even exist. Only one oil company publishes meaningful test results, they’re done by the same certified independent labs that do much of the API testing, and in over 30 years of publishing results against named engine oils with embarrasing performance gaps, they’ve never once been accused of falsified data. (Hmmm.)

In conclusion, here’s my translation out of Valvoline marketing-hype into reality:
All oils that meet any minimum requirements will “help slow the aging process” more than canola oil, but you can feel good about using our run-of-the-mill-mineral-oil because we’ve studied how the magic “synthetic” word, combined with our copy writing and label-designing skills, can give you warm emotional fuzzies about paying too much money for it.

Suggestion: don’t be a gullible consumer. If you educate yourself you can triple your remaining vehicle life. The million mile van used the best synthetic lubes and nanofiber filtration technology, and is still running strong on the original untouched transmission with 150,000 mile synthetic tranny fluid changes.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Amsoil, Engine Air Filtration, Filtration Technologies, Lubrication Oils & Fluids, Petroleum Oil, Synthetic Oil, Vehicle Maintenance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yes Lubrication Has a Silver Bullet – the Gold Standard

Will the real lubrication expert please stand up? I often find that I’m a bit of an “odd duck out” in engineering because I have a different philosophy, perhaps an expert’s philosophy of excellence. Most engineers seem to find respect in being “vendor neutral” generalists who are content when things are working — the classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. They say essentially “a lot of companies make good products, and you just need one that works for you”. To me, that’s a lazy cop-out that often carries “vendor neutrality” nearly to the point of customer/consumer abuse. Because there often ARE products of superior performance by exceptional design. If you understand and use superior products effectively, they can deliver BIG performance advantages, and synthetic lubricants are one of those areas.

Yes, learning to evaluate and compare design and performance takes a lot of work. You have to learn your field well, you have to analyze constantly, and you have to suspect everything. And yes, being an advocate for one or two products can make an engineering expert sound like a biased salesman. But I think a genuine expert has his greatest value in researching and identifying the “benchmark” performance standards, and recommending and applying them properly for the greatest customer benefit. I think it’s an engineer’s job to deliver the highest performance/value possible. I’ve done that repeatedly in multiple industries and processes, and have always been able to deliver a strong competitive advantage – usually at least an 80% improvement over what “experts” say is possible.

One paperclip is usually as good as another, and when they aren’t it doesn’t matter. But the more complex the field, the more likely that there is a world technology leader that brings stunning performance and great value to the table. In lubrication fluid and filtration performance, AMSOIL is that leader. We’ve seen it “up close and personal” in our own vehicles, it reflects what the test data and oil analysis reveal, and we know that when you understand the benefits of AMSOIL synthetic lube and filter technologies, you’ll see big benefits for your vehicles and equipment.

Marketing is worthless. AMSOIL is about performance… about data… about being least expensive to use and providing the greatest protection at the same time. That’s real value. I became an AMSOIL dealer because I recognized the best synthetic oils and the cost savings they bring. Amsoil has 25,000 and 35,000 mile oils that when you finally change them are still outperforming most oils when they’re first poured out of their bottles. Hey, show me a better or more cost-effective engine oil than AMSOIL, and I’ll recommend it. Show me a better filter than nanofiber technology, and I’ll recommend it. But my experience says you’ll waste a lot of time looking. Other companies could technically do what Amsoil does, but they won’t — because giving their customers the best value and highest performance possible is the Golden Rule, which takes too much talented dedication and is a violation of their corporate business strategy.

I recently got this e-mail from Tom, an engineer:
Brian, I’m thinking that you’ll have such a field day with the following article (Mark Barnes, “Is There a Lubrication Silver Bullet?” Machinery Lubrication Magazine. January 2006), that I was bound and determined to send it to you . . .can you let me know what you think of it?

My response:

Tom –
Yeh, that’s an interesting article alright. I’d say that if they are going to take “Noria’s strict vendor neutral policy” seriously, Mr. Barnes and a couple of cohorts ought to sign up as Amsoil Dealers and go to Amsoil U. They seem to try hard to be objective, but wow – when you’re smack dab in the middle of billions of dollars of international oil company influence, backed by years of anti-synthetic propaganda, I don’t see how neutral they can be if they don’t get the inside perspective of the one company who has most defined synthetics and has battled big-oil agendas for decades.

At the same time, I’ve seen this scenario before from people considered true experts in their field. Perhaps I’m reading too much into his comments, but it sure sounds familiar. Try this on for size:
About 2-3 years ago I took a new seminar on Global Process Control from one of the most recognized international engineering consultants in the field. 25+ yrs experience, client list history probably as long as your leg, on at least three continents. Yet I saw some serious inaccuracies in his perspectives for one particular high-visibility process – he was taking the entire range of the most expensive high-volume equipment in the industry, and saying it was all a waste of money and low-balling it’s value and performance as a whole. “Throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Over dinner that night, I asked him if all his bad equipment experiences hadn’t been with the two specific widely-advertised household-name brands, and he said yes. I told him that’s the reason why I’ve tested but never selected their equipment – they’re mostly marketing hype jobs with a lot of problems, limitations and quirks, as he had basically pointed out. Then I asked him if he had ever worked with two other lower-profile and lower volume brands which were my top two standards for benchmark performance levels. He looked at me quizzically and said “no”.

I told him something like this: Ed, you and I are great engineers who come from completely different worlds. But for three years, I walked in your shoes a little as the miracle worker they asked to come in ASAP. You need to understand that as a high-performance consultant, you’re never urgently called in to see how great someone’s processes are working. You’re never called in to optimize a process that’s already working real well, but they are curious if it’s possible to improve the performance by another 80%, or if 2% is all they can hope for. These other guys have great performing equipment that’s capable of high performance advantages if you know how to use it, but you never see any of it in your customers – they all call you because they bought crap that doesn’t work and they need you to perform a 15 minute miracle because they’re losing thousands or millions of dollars an hour. The companies I’ve worked for will never call you because their processes run rings around their competitors, far better than anything they’ve ever done before, and they’re optimized to be very profitable and stable. And I gave him an example from one of my automotive launches for Ford, so stunning that he found it hard to believe my numbers: 20% faster than possible, at a defect rate at least 70% below what the suppliers thought was possible. As a favor, I called a plant engineer and verified my memory.

Well, he took that to heart. And the next day he said, you know, what you’ve accomplished for companies is very impressive. But you need to realize that none of the customers I work with have an engineer trained in these processes – much less a good one. They don’t need to buy fancy equipment that makes it easier for them to screw up more things, because they’ll never get the potential out of it.

Several months later I found that on his website he had changed his tune and was applauding a company whose equipment actually performed well.
Can you see what I’m getting at?

In the article, Mr. Barnes says “What about synthetics? What about fuel economy and extended oil drains – it is assumed that I have a preference. Again, my response is the same: I own a newer model car, so I don’t need to be concerned with high-mileage issues. I am fortunate to live in a temperate climate where I am not forced to start my car when it’s -40°F. Most of my driving is on highway (mostly to and from the airport, given how much traveling I do!), and I do not own a boat or trailer to tow uphill on weekends. Therefore, I’m content to change my oil every 5,000 miles as my owners manual recommends. And lastly, I do not race my car in the passing lane (I guess I’m getting old!).

Based on these factors, I choose a brandname, 5W30 mineral oil, which again meets the API and SAE requirements for my vehicle. [Oops – by the API’s own admission, those requirements are minimums only.] That is not to say that you should not use any other oil type, or that synthetics or high-mileage formulations are gimmicks – they’re not. If you live in a colder climate, wish to extend oil drains, have an older car, have a high RPM motorcycle or have particularly severe duty, you may choose to spend the money to upgrade. For me, this doesn’t make sense. By ensuring I maintain my vehicle properly (tire pressure, timing etc.), I can achieve better fuel economy than I can by switching from one oil brand to another.”

Yes, but that distracts from the fact that a 5-10% fuel economy bump when using AMSOIL synthetic oils is an extra boost, in addition to normal proper maintenance. It also ignores the savings of money, and savings of 80% in time and natural resources that you get with 25,000 mile oil changes instead of 5,000 miles. And it ignores the benefits of minimum 70% wear rate reductions which triple the remaining life of an engine.

Look at the last three sentences that conclude his article:
“If you know an application is having lubrication issues, instead of opening the Yellow Pages to look for the next lubricant supplier to invite through the revolving purchasing door, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Is my lubrication program – areas that I can control such as correct application, cleanliness and storage – up to par?” Is looking for a silver bullet really the answer?”

Here’s a guy (Mark Barnes) that is clearly a seasoned expert but is not focused on high performance cost-savings, because with every customer he’s dealing with the high costs of basic ignorance, or poor practices that create mistakes waiting to happen, or maybe the aftermath of incompetent lube sales guys. I can almost guarantee he’s been in companies whose new maintenance lube guy pumped the wrong grease into 10 different $3,000 motor bearings and they all failed within a day. (That’s why the equipment manufacturers use the grease they do in their bearings: it’s not the best choice, but it IS the one that will sell more motors or rebuild parts when standard greases chemically interact with theirs and pour out of the bearings.) It’s those customers with serious problems that bring him in, because they’re desperate and they heard this guy can help.

And he’s going to buy a new vehicle when his current one has 80,000 or 120,000 miles on it, and he sees no advantage to synthetics because as he admits early in the article, he’s never taken as hard a look at it as his customers assume he has. None of them understands that he doesn’t know his subject matter when he’s talking about synthetic engine oils, or that while his advice works it is FAR from optimal in either cost or performance.

– Brian

A big challenge for both experts and students is data. What data exists, where do you find it, and is it valid? Most lubrication “experts” have never learned to sift through these questions, and data can be hard to come by unless you generate it yourself – which takes lots of time, and requires additional experience and skills. I occasionally see the claim in online forums that Amsoil has no performance data, which is pathetically hilarious because Amsoil has been the King of published data for decades – publishing not only their performance but also the performance of their competition who won’t tell their customers their ASTM test results. Either people can’t find AMSOIL data because they don’t look very hard, or they just listen to others who say there is no data. Mr. Barnes’ expertise is evidently grease, but if he downloaded the Gear Lube White Paper comparison of gear lubes, he might find a clue as to how Amsoil’s greases perform in comparison to conventional petroleum embarrassments.

Another claim is that Amsoil data can’t be trusted because they are the ones who publish it. Several funny problems with that claim: first, they are publishing ASTM test results from certified labs that are used by many oil companies, so if their data isn’t good then neither is any API or SAE data; second, AMSOIL is the only one who publishes test data (even when Exxon-Mobil was asked point-blank for ASTM test data on Mobil 1 vs AMSOIL, they provided nothing but marketing sleight-of-hand); third, although published data claims are legally wide open to false advertising lawsuits, and AMSOIL has huge competitors with deep petro pockets, AMSOIL has never been the subject of even one accusation of false advertising – even though they often publish test results right on their packaging, naming competitive oils. So the decades of legal inaction from AMSOIL’s competition is actual proof that AMSOIL’s test data is accurate.

What Mr. Barnes and Noria seem to miss, steeped in the decades of mediocre petroleum products and synthetic dis-information campaigns, is that the petro companies have a barely-get-by-for-the-specific-application approach, in order to maximize profits. That is reflected in many areas, including the clever API Licensing restrictions which don’t allow high-performance synthetics, and the engine sequence tests. (Fortunately, owners manuals and warranties are based on meeting API/SAE Service Grades, not on being Licensed to display a trademark.)

See, Amsoil’s approach, to engineer the highest possible performance, is the odd duck out. When AMSOIL ran one of their synthetic engine oils through a API Sequence IIIF and had them extend it to triple length, and it flatlined 40% below the failure threshold, the lab boys were stunned – the history of the engine stand had never seen anything like it. To me that makes it rather obvious why Amsoil isn’t going to waste time whining about the API locking them out of Licensing unless they dumb down their product content and performance to the mediocre levels of high petroleum profits.

The ironic thing about Mr. Barnes’ article title is that Amsoil strives to be that Lubrication Silver Bullet — that seems to be their endless mission, and they do it well. To hear Saab experts tell it, AMSOIL is the best Silver Bullet there is to combat fatal sludge formation in sludge-prone engines that cannot stomach API licensed petroleum products, which matches his definition of a Silver Bullet as “a magical weapon, especially one that instantly solves a long-standing problem”.

So from one lubrication expert to another, I’d say that yes, there is a Lubrication Silver Bullet that can stop wear in its’ tracks, lower operating temperatures, lower maintenance costs, use less energy to operate, not allow sludge and varnish buildup, maintain turbochargers in like-new condition, and double or triple equipment life with maximum-performance synthetic lubrication and nanofiber filtration technology. AMSOIL does seem a lot like a Silver Bullet. But in the world of lubrication engineering, you find many who call AMSOIL the Gold Standard.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Amsoil, Fuel Economy, Lubrication Oils & Fluids, Synthetic Oil, Vehicle Maintenance | , , , , | Leave a comment