PQIA News
The Petroleum Quality Institute of America
 
 

A Wake up Call for Lubricant Blenders and Marketers
Are your Lubricants California Compliant?

November 1, 2010
 

Warren Unilube to Pay $650,000 in Civil Settlement With the State of California

 

Warren Unilube agreed to pay $650,000 in a civil settlement  of a case in California for allegedly selling wrong grade motor and gear oil and mislabeling various products. The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA), with assistance from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Division of Measurement Standards (DMS), filed a civil lawsuit to enjoin Warren Unilube from engaging in acts California claimed amounted to unfair business practices and false and misleading advertising. The settlement, signed by California Attorney General, the OCDA, and Warren requires Warren to institute a testing program to ensure the quality and labeling of their products are in compliance with California laws. 

 

During a random product testing program in 2009, DMS determined that samples of Coastal gear oil were a different grade than what was represented on the bottle label. During a subsequent investigation into other Warren Unilube products, DMS also found a similar violation in Auto-Zone motor oil. California manufacturers of gear oil and motor oil are strictly liable for faulty product they sell to consumers, because using the wrong grade oil can harm an engine. In extreme cases, it can cause an engine to fail. Further investigation into other Warren Unilube products revealed that bottles of gear oil were mislabeled because they did not have a batch number, which is used to trace back tainted product and facilitate recalls if necessary. Thousands of improperly labeled bottles were found with font size of being too small. The investigation did not reveal any evidence of actual harm caused to California consumers by the Warren Unilube violations.

 

According to Lesley Young, the Deputy District Attorney, County of Orange, State of California, the investigation did not reveal any evidence of actual harm caused to California consumers by the Warren Unilube violations. Further, Young told PQIA that "Warren Unilube was cooperative during the investigation and worked with DMS to comply with California requirements." In fact, Young noted, "Warren Unilube voluntarily purchased additional testing equipment to ensure future batches of product are in compliance with California law." In addition, Young said Warren purchased and installed a new state of the art "laser etching system to burn batch numbers on the bottles." And from what the DA's office has seen, "the batch codes are now legible and meet California's standards."

 

Warren says they never had any consumer complaints about the quality or viscosity of its motor or gear oils sold in California, but confirms that it worked closely with the Orange County District Attorney's Office and Division of Measurement Standards to address the allegations and ensure full compliance with California law.
 

 

LESSONS LEARNED...

 

1. Test and retest to confirm compliance with specs.

 

2. Be sure the lubricants you sell in California comply with the State's strict labeling laws.
 

What happened to Warren Unilube should send a message to other lubricant blenders and marketers in the US, and particularly those that sell product in California. Because from what PQIA sees, there are other brands on the shelves that do not meet California's labeling requirements. In fact, during PQIA's sample collection process, we often find quart bottles of engine oil with batch codes (traceability codes) that are difficult, if not impossible to read. This is because the codes are too small, written with dark ink on black bottles, smeared, or in some instances, either not on the bottle or too challenging for even an experienced observer of traceability codes to find.

 

SO WHAT ARE THE RULES ABOUT LABELING LUBRICANTS IN CALIFORNIA?

 

Whereas there are many, and they are detailed, the following provides an overview of just some of the requirements blenders, marketers, and consumers should be aware of:

 

1. PRODUCT NAME

 

The term "motor oil", "engine oil", "engine lubricant", or "lubricating oil" can be used. If the oil is intended for motorcycle use, the words "motorcycle oil" are acceptable for the product name. For containers greater than 1 gallon the letters must be at least inch high. For containers of 1 gallon or less the letters must be at least inch in height in a 1/16 width.


2. BRAND NAME OR TRADEMARK OR TRADE NAME

 

For containers greater than 1 gallon the letters must be at least inch high. For containers of 1 gallon of less the letters must be at least inch in height in a 1/16 with.

 

3. VISCOSITY GRADE CLASSIFICATION PRECEDED BY THE LETTERS "SAE"

 

Viscosity grade and the letters "SAE" (for example, SAE 10W40) must be at least inch in height for containers greater than 1 gallon. For containers of 1 gallon or less the letters must be at least inch in height in a 1/16 width.

 

4. API SERVICE CLASSIFICATION

 

The SAE/API service classification must be in letters at least 1/8 inch in height.


5. STATEMENT OF USE

 

For motor oils which are intended for use in gasoline engine, a statement indicating the automobile model years or condition of service as specified in SAE J183 is required.


For obsolete classifications the exact recommendation labeling practice statement found in Appendix A of J183 is required. For example, for SA oils the following statement is required:

 

"CAUTION - THIS OIL IS RATED API SA. IT CONTAINS NO ADDITIVE. IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR USE IN MOST GASOLINE-POWERED AUTOMOTIVE ENGINE BUILT AFTER 1930. USE IN MODERN ENGINES MAY CAUSE UNSATISFACTORY ENGINE PERFORMANCE OR EQUIPMENT HARM."

 

6. IDENTITY, RESPONSIBILITY, AND QUALITY

 

The identity (the common name of the product), the responsibility (the name and address of the company or individual responsible for the package and its contents), and the quantity (the amount of the commodity in the container) are required to be on the label by the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. For information regarding these requirements, see Title 4, Chapter 10 of the California Code of Regulations starting at Section 4500.
 

Blenders and marketers are encouraged to be aware of these labeling requirements.
 

Earlier this Fall, and unrelated to the administrative subpoenas from California dated August 7, 2009, Warren was also told by the Assistant Director for the California Division of Measurement Standards in Sacramento that utilizing "5.28 Quarts" on labels for oil products is not acceptable and that a 5 Litre bottle needs to say "1.32 gallons" or "1 Gal 1.28 Qt" instead to comply with California law.  Reference was made to California's QC Packaging and Labeling Statutes in Chapter 10, Section 6 (Declaration of Quantity for Consumer Packages), 」 6.8.2(d), which seems to track the language of the FTC regulations in 16 CFR 500.10(b)(3). 
 

Despite making arguments that custom and trade in the industry dictates that consumers are both familiar and comfortable with "quarts" as a measurement size for oil products (due to references to quarts in operator manuals in many automobiles), California's Division of Measurement Standards made it clear that continuing to label oil products in quarts could subject a company to liability under California law.  California pointed out that so long as the net content is expressed in gallons first to meet the requirement under the law of the largest whole unit, nothing prohibits additional declarations on the label regarding quarts (Example:  "1.25 gal (5 qt) 4.732 L"  would be compliant).  Warren has thus undertaken to revise labels for its oil products to comply with this interpretation of California law in order to avoid any potential exposure under California's strict labeling requirements.   

 

In addition to these requirements, blenders and marketers should be familiar with California Business and Professions Code sections 13702 and 13711, Title 4 California Code of Regulation, section 4112 to assure they comply with 49 Code of Federal Regulations section 571.116.

These regulation speak to the requirement that the lubricant  package includes a permanently affixed label with a serial number that identifies the lot and date of the packaging which is legible to an observer having corrected visual acuity of  20/40 (Snell ratio) at a distance of 305 mm (12.0078 inches). 
 
 
 

The Petroleum Quality Institute of America... In it's ongoing effort to help assure the quality and integrity of lubricants in the marketplace, PQIA asks you to bring it to our attention if you find packaged engine oil in the marketplace that does not meet California's labeling requirement, or otherwise carry what you believe to be misleading labels.
 

The Petroleum Quality Institute of America has agreed to work with the District Attorney's Office in Orange County, State of California to assure the quality of lubricants in the marketplace, and we will be in communications with the DA's offices in other states to accomplish the same.

 

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About the Petroleum Quality Institute of America

The Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA) is an independent resource for information and insights on the quality and performance of lubricants in the marketplace. 

Our mission is to serve the consumer of lubricants by reporting on the quality and integrity of lubricants in the marketplace.  We do so by random sampling and independent, third-party testing of lubricants taken from the field. The test results are posted along with the brand names on the PQIA website.

In addition, PQIA provides a Lubricant  Certification Program to safeguard the public's confidence and trust in the lubricants they purchase.

PQIA's guiding principles are honesty, integrity, and transparency. 

 

Petroleum Quality Institute of America
406 Main Street - Suite 20
Metuchen, NJ 08840
732-640-6797
 
Petroleum Quality Institute of America | 406 Main Street | Suite 20 | Metuchen | NJ | 08840