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Are You Running Your Car on

Cake and Cola?

By Thomas F. Glenn


The Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA), an independent, non-biased organization that monitors the quality of engine oils in the marketplace, recently travelled nearly 1,000 miles of highways and byways in Texas, taking note of the types of engine oils sold at 41 convenience stores visited along the way.


To our disappointment, what we found in Texas is not much different than what we found in many other states; that is, close to 20% of engine oils on convenience store shelves visited meet only the American Petroleum Institute (API) SA Service Category.  


For those unfamiliar with the API categories; SA engine oils are obsolete products formulated for use in passenger car engines built before 1930, and they will do damage to nearly all cars currently on the road.


Yes, you heard it right, nearly 20% of the engine oils PQIA found on the shelves at convenience stores in Texas are products formulated for use in cars built before 1930. And unless you have a Ford Model A, T or some other antique,  I encourage you to read on. That's because API SA engine oils have no ability to prevent sludge, varnish and wear, and if high in volatility, they can cause low oil pressure that could lead to engine seizure. 


So one has to ask:   Are there really that many 1930 and older cars on the road in Texas and other states to justify nearly 20% of the engine oils on shelves being API SA? Clearly, the answer is no.   On this road trip, we saw only two vehicles that even came close: one was on the road (and as you can see, a bit rusty,); the other was on a trailer.  Assuming the latter is restored, you can bet the vehicle enthusiast who owns it will not use API SA or any other obsolete engine oil in that classic pickup. In an old lawnmower -- maybe -- but in virtually any car on the road today, PQIA cautions NO!


Why is API SA engine oil so readily available in the market?


Although you can be sure there are many reasons why these oils continue to be sold, one of the most common and disturbing was expressed by someone we met at a gas station outside of Austin who was adding two quarts of oil to his vintage 1963 Ford Galaxie 500.


When PQIA asked what oil he uses, the answer was a friendly but quick ’40 weight.‘ In response to our question about what API Service Category the oil met, his response was equally quick, “I don’t know, and I really don't care since this car burns a lot of oil and it really doesn’t matter, so I buy whatever is cheap.”   


It’s unfortunate that this car owner was in such a rush to move on. PQIA would have been happy to explain why it is important for him to care about the API Service Classification system and the dangers of using obsolete oils.  Saving a dime or two on a quart of obsolete engine oil can cost thousands in repairs and cut thousands of miles off an engine’s life.


The importance of proper care and feeding


In effect for more than 80 years, the API Service Classification system for passenger car engine oils spans categories API SA to SN (see illustration below).  Any engine oil, regardless of brand, bearing API SA to SH designation is considered obsolete by the American Petroleum Institute and should not be used in virtually any car currently on the road. Using these oils is like feeding only cake and cola to your family.  Sure they can live on this diet, but they will more than likely suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems, and possibly an abbreviated life as a result.


The same goes for your car. Although your car can run on obsolete oil for a period of time and may not break down on the road or burst into flames as a result, over time it too will suffer a premature death after costing you plenty in repairs along the way. 


Further, pouring obsolete engine oil down the throat of an old car with the thought that it “burns a lot of oil so it really doesn’t matter” is exactly the opposite of how you should be thinking. It’s no more logical than feeding your grandma a diet of spoiled milk and stale crackers just because she is old. Of course, it matters. The owner of that 1963 Ford Galaxy 500 would do well to remember that his grandma and his Galaxie will live longer and run stronger with the right ‘food’.  And API SA engine oil is food for your car that has been stale for close to 80 years.  




Companies sell obsolete oils because they can make or buy them much cheaper than current API Service Category oils, therefore, they can sell them cheaper. But unfortunately, they do so without regard to the likely consequences to the consumer’s car. 


So next time you buy oil, keep in mind that a significant number of containers on the shelves may be obsolete oils (API SA to SH) that can harm your engine and lead to costly repairs.


Check your owner’s manual for the proper API Service Category and, also importantly, the viscosity grade. Look for this information on the label of the oil you buy at retail stores; and on the receipts you get from fast lubes, new car dealers, repair shops and other facilities that change your oil for a fee. Doing so could add years to the life of your engine and save you big bucks in repairs.

Click here to enlarge image below



About the author: Thomas Glenn is president of the Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA). He has over 30 years of experience in the lubricants business in technical, sales and marketing, and consulting positions. In addition, Glenn has written numerous articles appearing in Lubes'n'Grease magazine, JobbersWorld, and other industry trade journals.


Copyright © 2012 Petroleum Quality Institute of America, LLC. All rights reserved.


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Mar 11, 2011 -  Are you Harming your Enspensive Ride with Engine Oil Made for Cars Built in the 1930?

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