The engine oil Bibles - everything you need to know about engine oil including viscosity, friction reducers, additives, oil types, sludge, SAE and API classifications and ratings, what all the codes and markings mean, how your engine oil works, how to keep your engine running at peak fitness and much more.
The Engine Oil Bible
This article was written by AMSOIL Inc. and is re-printed here so you will have a full understanding of API ratings and why not all AMSOIL lubricants are API rated.
Amsoil logo © Amsoil
Why aren't all AMSOIL motor oils API licensed?
Good question. AMSOIL staffers have recently read some message boards with misinformation regarding this issue. Let us address API licensing in depth, as well as the issue of warranties. Some AMSOIL motor oils are API licensed, some are not. If you're concerned about your warranty and feel pressures to use an API licensed oil, even after reading this answer, then the 5W-30 (XLF) or 10W-30 (XLT) XL-7500 or our 15W-40 (PCO) API licensed oils should be your choice. If you are looking for an alternative to frequent oil changes or just want the best performing oil for your car, then one of our top tier non-API licensed synthetic oils are for you. Read on, and decide for yourself.
API Licensing - Passenger Cars - What is it?
An API (American Petroleum Institute) license indicates that a specific motor oil formulation has passed the minimum performance standards as defined by a series of laboratory bench, physical, chemical and engine tests. These tests were selected and minimum performance standards were set by the API Lubricants Committee to address specific areas such as engine wear, deposits, fuel economy, emissions, etc. The committee is comprised of representatives from automobile, oil and additive companies. The current specification is SJ/GF-2, and in July 2001 the first use of SL/GF-3 will begin.
The cost for running a test program for a single passenger car motor oil formulation is from $125,000 to $300,000, depending on if the formula passes the tests the first time through or requires multiple test runs or formula modifications to achieve a passing average. (That amount goes to $275,000 to $500,000 for a Heavy Duty Diesel licensing program on a specific formula.) Once that testing is complete and the formula has passed all of the minimum requirements, it can be licensed for $825 per year for non-members and $625 per year for members. There is also a small royalty fee per gallon sold for all gallons over one million. The length of time between new specifications is now approximately 2 to 3 years, which does not allow a great deal of time to recover testing costs.
Who Licenses What Formulas?
Additive companies, such as Lubrizol, Ethyl,, Infinium and Oronite, develop licensed formulas that they offer to oil companies to re-license. It is inexpensive to re-license one of these formulas, and the majority of oil companies choose to do this to avoid the costs associated with testing. This, however, tends to commoditize the market. The same chemistry is being sold under many brand names. Most of the major oil companies do have their own proprietary formulas developed, tested and licensed. All of AMSOIL Inc.'s lubricant formulas are unique and proprietary.
Flexibility In Manufacturing An API Licensed Formula
API licensing was originally developed for mineral based oils, and it affords these oils more flexibility than synthetic oils.
Mineral oils comprised of group I and Group II petroleum basestocks may use a simple program called basestock interchange for added flexibility in manufacturing and purchasing. Interchange means that by completing the proper paperwork and running a few minor engine tests an oil company can choose to buy these petroleum basestocks from many different suppliers. This ensures adequate supply and competitive pricing. However, basestock interchange for Group III and V synthetic basestocks is not allowed. For example, if a formula was tested with an ester (Group V) basestock from a specific supplier, then anyone blending that formula must buy only that supplier's ester. Complete engine testing would need to be performed on the formula using another supplier's ester before an oil company could buy it from that alternative supplier. This additional testing is normally not performed because of the associated costs. This inflexibility makes it very difficult for synthetic lubricant manufacturers to negotiate prices with synthetic basestock suppliers.
There is also something called viscosity grade read-across. Fortunately, this applies to both petroleum and synthetic basestocks although the better cold temperature performance of synthetics makes it more difficult to achieve in some situations. (That's another whole story.) What this means is that if you properly formulate the lubricant for which you have run all of the API tests, there are guidelines that allow you to use that same formula to make 0W-30, 5W-30, 10W-30, etc. viscosity motor oil.
Finally, there is a rule for substitutions in the CMA (Chemical Manufacturers Association) code of practice that allows a small degree of flexibility for all formulas. It allows a company to change the percentages of components in the formula by varying amounts from the original formula with limited testing and paperwork requirements. For example, if the licensed formula used 10% of a certain V.I. improver, you would have the ability to utilize from 9% to 11% of the same V.I. improver for your formula.
Key Limitations For API Licensed Formulas
Phosphorous content - .10% maximum
(API SL; 0W-20, 5W-20, 0W-30, 5W-30, 10W-30 viscosity grades, only)
NOACK volatility - 15% maximum
The prevalent sources of phosphorous in motor oils are additives called zinc dithiophosphates (ZDTPs). Currently, these versatile additives act as oxidation/corrosion inhibitors and aid in the ability of a lubricant to reduce wear. The automobile manufacturers, however, have demanded that lubricants contain a maximum of only .10% phosphorous. Their reason is that some manufacturers believe that higher phosphorous content levels will poison the catalytic converters on their cars before they reach 150,000 miles, which is the number of miles that their vehicles will be required to pass EPA emission standards. There has not been total agreement within the automotive and lubrication industry about whether phosphorous levels over .10% actually do harm catalytic converters in the long run. What they have failed to make allowances for is the NOACK volatility of an oil.
The maximum allowable NOACK volatility percentage for the new SL/GF-3 passenger car motor oil specification is 15%. Most of AMSOIL motor oils are in the 5% to 8% NOACK volatility range. Studies have shown there is a correlation between NOACK volatility, oil consumption and the amount of phosphorous from motor oil that will end up in the exhaust gasses. Therefore, oils with higher levels of phosphorous but with low volatility, such as AMSOIL motor oils, present no more risk to catalytic converters than low phosphorous oils with higher NOACK volatility. This has also been demonstrated for years in actual application through state mandated exhaust gas testing on our Dealers' and customers' high mileage vehicles using AMSOIL synthetic motor oils. State inspectors are continually amazed at the low emissions levels generated by vehicles using AMSOIL products. So much for poisoning catalytic converters.
AMSOIL INC. has determined that the reduced wear and extended drain intervals achievable with phosphorous levels higher than the API limit of .10% are real benefits for the consumer, and pose no risk to catalytic converters. AMSOIL motor oils, except for the API licensed XL-7500 5W-30 and 10W-30 viscosity grades, all have greater than .10% phosphorous levels, and therefore, cannot be API licensed.
Why Some AMSOIL Synthetic Motor Oils Are API Licensed And Some Are Not
1. Full API licensing puts AMSOIL INC. in an inflexible position. Not only would we find it necessary to buy formula components from specific vendors and be at the mercy of their pricing, we would not be able to make any major improvements to the lubricant formulas for 2 to 3 years, without new testing and the associated costs. To solve this problem, the API must establish basestock interchange guidelines for synthetic basestocks just as they have for other basestocks, as well as develop interchange guidelines for other components too.
2. Full API licensing would impose strict phosphorous limitations on our motor oils. This limitation is the main reason most AMSOIL motor oils are not API licensed. AMSOIL INC. currently disagrees with this limitation and feels strongly that the reduced wear and longer oil and additive life achieved through higher levels of properly balanced phosphorous content is more important than the arbitrary API phosphorous limit that does not give any consideration to the NOACK volatility level of an oil. When chemistry is developed that will provide superior engine wear protection with reduced phosphorous levels, or Noack volatility considerations are put in place, then the phosphorous level will become a non-issue.
Warranties And API Licensed Motor Oils
Fortunately, the law does not allow manufacturers to "void your warranty" simply because of the brand of oil you use, the specifications it meets or the miles you drive between oil changes. To be specific, they cannot deny to fix your broken radio, faulty valve or cracked piston because you used an AMSOIL non-API licensed motor oil, or because you've gone more than 3000 miles since your last oil change. Denial of warranty coverage must be specifically due to an oil related failure. All courts of law will find against any manufacturer or dealership that tries these warranty shenanigans. If any automobile dealership insinuates that your warranty will be void if you use AMSOIL products or utilize extended drain intervals, let AMSOIL INC. know the name of the Dealership, the address, the owner's name and the name of the employee that made this statement. Mail to:
Attention: Technical Services Department
Superior, WI 54880
Or send an email to techamsoil.com.
They will almost never put it in writing, but if they do, please send us a copy of that, too. Either way, we will send them a letter informing them cease the intimidation of our customers.
Only if the oil is determined to be the direct cause of the engine problem can a manufacturer or dealership deny warranty coverage for that specific problem. In this situation the AMSOIL warranty would apply, and the AMSOIL Technical Services Department would assist you in processing your claim and in getting the vehicle repaired. That's our pledge to you. AMSOIL INC. sells millions of gallons of oil per year and warranty claims are a rare occurrence. If you ever have a warranty problem with an automobile manufacturer or dealership, AMSOIL will assist you by analyzing the problem and providing data supporting the fact that repairs should be made under the vehicle manufacturer's warranty. If this does not resolve the problem, AMSOIL will submit a claim with our insurance company and request that an adjuster have the vehicle repaired and pursue legal settlement later if necessary. The fact is there never has been an engine failure attributed to the non-performance of AMSOIL products, and we do not expect there ever will be. If it ever did, both AMSOIL and our insurance company would make certain your problem was resolved.
How Does AMSOIL INC. Ensure Their Products Meet Or Exceed The Minimum Specifications Of The Tests Required For API Licensing?
First, AMSOIL INC. works closely with major additive companies to select the top performing, and usually most expensive, passenger car and heavy duty diesel motor oil additives. These additives have already passed all of the API licensing requirements in a petroleum or synthetic based formulation. Then we work with the additive company to maximize the amount of additive used and to boost the additive package in selected performance areas to achieve an optimum performing additive package for reduced wear and extended drain intervals. This is unlike the vast majority of companies who, because additives are expensive, use the minimum amount of the least expensive additives required to meet the minimum API requirements.
We then utilize a blend of synthetic basestocks with known performance characteristics as a replacement for the petroleum basestocks to optimize performance in areas of lubricity, volatility, viscosity index, oxidation and nitration resistance, pour points, flash points, deposit control, soot handling, emissions, etc. We also will utilize a highly shear stable V.I. improver to ensure viscosity retention throughout extended drain intervals. This replaces the inexpensive and less shear stable V.I. improver used in the API licensed petroleum formula. We do laboratory bench tests before running field tests to verify the superiority of the synthetic formula in actual use. We also continue to monitor the performance of the oil through close scrutiny of tens of thousands of oil analysis tests per year across a wide variety of vehicles all around North America and the World. AMSOIL INC. has been collecting used synthetic oil samples from passenger cars since 1982. No other oil company has such a vast data base of the performance of synthetic lubricants over extended drain intervals.
AMSOIL Inc.'s products and formulations outperform API licensed oils. They're engineered that way. Period.
AMSOIL INC. takes pride in never having conformed to industry norms or standards when those standards are contrary to peak performance. We introduced synthetics to the automotive world in 1972 with the first synthetic motor oil to exceed API performance specifications. At that time other manufacturers refused to recognize the superior performance of synthetic motor oils. Now, however, most companies sell synthetic lubricants, vehicles are factory filled with synthetic motor oils and gear lubes, and some manufacturers even offer extended warranties if you use synthetics. AMSOIL has always offered extended drain intervals because the oil was capable of performing for extended drains, and it was the right thing to do for the consumer. Now the entire industry is moving in that direction. Ironically, it was recently published that automotive manufacturers will be recommending extended drain intervals of up to 15,000 miles in the near future because that's what consumers want.
AMSOIL is a company of firsts. That doesn't happen by always conforming to industry norms and standards.
API licensing of lubricants is voluntary, and it ensures automobile manufacturers and consumers that the product meets a set of minimum standards. Should these standards, in the future, be raised to a level consistent with AMSOIL's standards for motor oil performance, AMSOIL will consider licensing all oils. For those that feel pressured to use an API licensed product, we have them and encourage you to use them (XLT, XLF and PCO). AMSOIL does offer better performing motor oils that are not API licensed for all of the reasons explained in this response. They provide our customers with alternatives to the commodity products typically available in the market today. If you want the convenience of extended drain intervals or the top performance from your vehicle, AMSOIL has taken time to engineer the very best money can buy.