Oil too good for API??

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Mar 31, 2003
I've read in other threads that Redline, Amsoil, and others can't get API certification because they're oil is too good. ZDDP and other additives exceed the API spec.

What's the reason behind API wanting "watered down" oil before they give their blessing?? (ie is it based on chemistry or based on politics)
New cars have to maintain clean emissions for xxxk miles(I think 100k or 150k life expectancy).

Some oil additives reduce catalytic efficiency over time. Possibly the same will happen to exhaust 02 sensors.

It would've been easier to make engines burn less oil or use a thicker oil weight.

I guess tree huggers want higher MPG(thin oil) with engines that wear out faster(less ZDP) but still have working emissions(to clean all the oil that is being burnt)
There are a handful of different API certifications. The oils you mention easily qualify for the Sx/Cx classes. There are further classes (I think GF-3, but I'm sure someone will follow with the correct nomenclature) which have performance requirements, plus straightforward measurement requirements. The one which a lot of high performance oils don't meet requires than an oil have less than 1000PPM zinc. This is because over a long period of time, zinc in burned oil can harm catalytic converters. However, for the zinc to get in the catalytic coverter, the oil has to have a high volatility. Therefore, an oil with a very low volatility will not burn as much and therefore not deposit as much zinc (and other junk) in the cats. The API requirement does not take into effect this phenomenon, because most oil manufacturers don't want to make their oils of an appropriately low volatility. Thus, zinc numbers are artificially held low. So, they are not "too good" to meet these specs, and they don't exceed the requirements, they actually fail as a result of this shortsighted requirement.
Generally the certification is pre-approved for each package of additives by the additive package makers...Lubrizon, Chevron Oronite, Ethyl Corp, Infinium, etc.

API-SL and GF-3 allow a max of 0.10% phosphorus. If the oils, such as Amsoil's have an excess amount, even if the low volatility keeps it out of the catcon, it can not meet the API spec, so no point trying to get certification.


I've read in other threads that Redline, Amsoil, and others can't get API certification because they're oil is too good.

Not so sure about that.

[ May 21, 2003, 04:54 PM: Message edited by: buster ]
Apparently, they've chosen to avoid the API as part of their marketing strategy or they don't believe in the API (and thus the industry) guidelines. I don't think it's because they're cheap.

Here is the form that relates to the cost. See item #6 which states:

  • 6. Licensee agrees to pay to API an annual minimum royalty fee [six hundred and twenty-five dollars ($625) for API members; eight hundred and twenty-five dollars ($825) for non-members] plus one and one quarter-thousandth of one dollar ($.00125) per gallon of licensed motor oil after the first million gallons of production. This minimum royalty may be revised annually if deemed necessary by API to cover the costs of administration and enforcement of the program. Licensee agrees to submit the necessary annual volume of sales data and the minimum royalty fee to API within the time frame specified by API. All fees are payable in U.S. dollars.
It's not free but it's not that expensive either.

While I take no offence about tree hugging I think the label about tree huggers don't care about longevity of engines might be totally wrong.
I figure that the amount of extra resources required in manufacturing a new car or even engine far outweighs the total amount of extra gasoline consumed because of heavier oils.

Where your beef should be pointed is exactly the opposite direction where manufacturers create products which are designed to have short lives for the sake of profits and I might say the bottom line. That cafe requirements create a compromise of shorter engine life leading to faster replacements is acceptable to most mfrs.

I suspect the real tree huggers would want an economical car that would last a long time - something that many people on this forum probably desire as well.

The REAL cost of resources is highly negelected in the US. That goes for oil and materials - witness disposable mentality.

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.

Q. Why aren't all AMSOIL motor oils API licensed

A. 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
AMSOIL Building
Superior, WI 54880

or e-mail to [email protected].

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.
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. (snip)

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. (snip)

Source: http://www.performanceoiltechnology.com/apilicensing.htm

Originally posted by 68redlines73:
Or in AMSOIL terms, we're right and the rest of the world is wrong?

Strawman argument (poor debating tactic). Amsoil did not say that.

Amsoil simply disagrees with API policy regarding phosphorus limits. It's just a difference in opinion.
Troy, do a search. This has been thrown around many of times. I believe there was a long thread about this topic way back.
It was really more of a question rather than a form of debate. As you stated, it's certainly a difference of opinion. I just wonder which position holds more value; that of one company and its individual opinion or that of the consortium that stands behind the letters and numbers in the API donut. I defer to the latter.
Let me see if I have all this down correctly. If I can document using 68 cent/qt. closeout-at-Target Chevron Supreme 10W-30 - a designated API oil and the proper grade and "SL" service certification for my Hyundai Sonata V6, and change my oil and filter at the OEM specified intervals for my severity of service (I "simplify" - I just change oil and filter every 3,000 miles as a matter of personal preferance.), I'll be entitled to seek warranty redress in the event my engine tanks, unless the OEM can prove I abused my engine. (Given the change frequency, the engine's very likely gonna be squeaky-clean inside over many tens of thousands of miles, and with the rev limiter limiting RPMs below redline, proving abuse will be a stretch.) On the other hand, if I use expensive $10.00/qt. non-API certified Amsoil oil over extended drain intervals and my engine tanks, I have the "right" to jump through hoops with the OEM, perhaps expert witnesses, and a clueless judge, jury, or arbitrator over one or more days of testimony. (Each day I'm there I'm not at work...) Amsoil claims it will write me a letter (of dubious legal value as far as I'm concerned - when did the company obtain standing to supercede the courts and directly enter legal findings of record? Oh, I see, their cease and desist letter is not a legal finding of record? Then, what the @#%& good is it?). Amsoil might even elect to become involved as a prospective full or co-payer for engine repairs, again with the stipulation that I could still be S.O.L. if it's proved by Amsoil or the OEM that I abused my engine. (I doubt Amsoil's gonna cover a several-thousand dollar shortblock and labor if it can figure some way to wiggle out.) Is this about right? As decisions go, this one's obviously a toughie...

[ May 21, 2003, 09:06 PM: Message edited by: Ray H ]

You did leave out that you would have to escape out to the garage to do 15 minutes of work three or four times a year.

I don't see the downside there either - my labor's cheap, especially if it gets me out of doing dishes or whatever
RAYH: Thanks for making me laugh!

AMSOIL: I think they have a valid argument. The API says: Phosphorous content - .10% maximum. How did they come up with that? Why did they not take into account the lower evaporation rate of synthetics? And won't the reduced phosphorous damage the engine (more metal-to-metal wear)?

Just because the API says, "This is how it should be," doesn't make it right. Remember a certain other organization called the EPA recommended MBTE for gasoline, and now our water supplies are getting poisoned.

Amsoil (or any other company/person) has every right to question these organizations.
Aside: XL-7500 is API certified. That's what I'm using in my Honda Insight to avoid warranty voiding.

And: Any synthetic is better than natural crapola. You spent $20-30,000 on a new car. Don't ruin your expensive purchase with cheap oil.


Originally posted by troy_heagy:
Just because the API says, "This is how it should be," doesn't make it right.

The specs that we all refer to are not driven by the API (American Petroleum Institute). Oil classification is driven by the combined efforts of three organizations: ILSAC (International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee), JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) and AAM (Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers). The AAM is an association of nine OEMs (North America, Europe, and Japan) and as the former AAMA (American Automobile Manufacturers Association), developed in conjunction with JAMA the ILSAC GF-1/GF-2/GF-3 Passenger Car Motor Oil Specification. The above groups supply the heavy OEM influence on oil specs. The API, on the other hand, represents oil marketers, develops user language for engine oil categories and administers the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS). The American Chemistry Council (formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association or CMA) represents petroleum additive industry and developed the CMA code of practice which describes engine testing protocol to help ensure that a particular engine lubricant meets its intended performance. In addition, the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) assists in assessing technical needs of automotive industry and publishes information reports, recommended practices and standards. Finally, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) is responsible for related testing techniques and test surveillance. There is a separate, similar group of organizations related to the European oil classification system.

So, I would suggest that one consider who really "makes it right" when it comes to what specs an engine oil should meet.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, 68redlines73, you bring up a very important point. To whit: that the API service standards are arrived at by input from the automobile and light truck manufacturers to adequately protect the engines they build. Warranties are running 70,000 to 100,000 miles on some engines these days, so that certification is not extended lightly as the least-common-denominator crowd suggests. I'm NOT saying the 68 cent stuff is suitable for all engines. I'm certainly aware that some high-buck luxo/sport car engine manufacturers DEMAND specialty high-buck lubes. Using less WOULD be courting disaster. Ironically, "Lubereport" reported recently that Mercedes Benz USA will be paying out ~$32,000,000.00 for service and reimbursement to Benz owners who suffered engine meltdown from using conventional motor oil and 10,000+ mile service-light oil change intervals.

[ May 22, 2003, 11:59 AM: Message edited by: Ray H ]
Its funny, people will argue and fight over oil they use in the vehicle's is API certified or not but will eat and drink everything that is claim to be bad for them. LOL

I have a long time friend who has a service station and repair shop. I usually dispose of my used oil there. The other day as I was dumping 5 gals and BS'ing with him. Up pulls a older gent in a 4X4 S10 Chevy truck. He comes in a takes about 3 gals of the drain oil for his tractor. Then he asks, Ray do you have any of the multi-viscosity? Ray says yes, 2 qts I saved for you. The guy hands him a $1 for the 2 qts. What Ray does is, all the empty QS containers he drains into a rack he made and collects the oil and sells to to several customers. It a blend of 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40 and occasional 20W-50.

I always knew his was money conscious and if you gave him the sweat off you butt, he would make wine out of it.

[ May 22, 2003, 12:05 PM: Message edited by: Mike ]
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