The Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA)

Who can you trust?

March 2011

You are in need of some motor oil, and decide to pick up a few quarts on the way home from work.  Knowing that oil quality matters, you drive past several no-name gas stations, preferring instead to buy your motor oil from a name you know and trust.  Finally you pull into a Shell station, pop into the convenience store under the big Shell sign, and pick up five quarts for the weekend oil change.  You don’t recognize the oil brand on the shelf, but this is, after all, a Shell station, so it must be good.  Would Shell sell bad oil?

No, Shell would not sell bad oil, but Shell did not sell you that oil.  In fact, Shell doesn’t even know what brands of oil that convenience store at their gas station sells, and neither do most other major oil companies.  Most of these stores, you see, are actually independently owned, and what products they carry are the decision of the private owner.  And would the independent private owner sell you bad oil?  Apparently, yes, even though they may not be aware of it either.



The oils shown here from PQIA's report can do serious damage to your car engine, yet they were both available in a convenience store under a bright yellow Shell sign.  So if the store is independent, what is the Shell connection, and who is responsible? 


PQIA contacted Shell about this issue and our test data. We received a prompt reply from Lisa Davis, President for Shell Lubricants, Americas. Here is what Davis had to say:

 “Like many other major gasoline brands in the U.S., the name on the station sign reflects the brand of the motor fuel being sold at the station, while the convenience store and day-to-day site operations are the responsibility of the site owner and/or operator.   Davis went on to say: “while Shell doesn’t dictate the brand or quality of non-fuel products carried by the independent operators of these stations, we do expect items sold at Shell-branded retail stations to be quality, on-spec products. “ 

We appreciate that Shell is not responsible for the actions of the independent C-store owners, but that’s little consolation if your engine was damaged by one of these oils.  You purposely sought out a well established and trustworthy name, yet still you got stung.  So who can you trust?

It’s a difficult problem.  Consumers do not know which major gas stations are independently owned, or who decides which products are sold at their C-stores.  Without this knowledge, the sign out front has little meaning for non-fuel products.  Perhaps the majors, who profit from their good names, need to take more control over the automotive products sold under those signs. 

Shell’s Davis agrees that action is needed: “In reflecting on this situation, I believe the independent owners and operators of Shell-branded retail stations could benefit from education on the importance of offering consumers quality motor oils, such as the API- or OEM-certified oils described in vehicles’ owner’s manuals.  We plan to work with our retail business to determine how to use the Motor Oil Matters program to accomplish this goal…”

PQIA applauds Shell’s concern and prompt response, but will other majors follow?  And will it be enough to effectively protect consumers from the bad oils lurking on retail shelves?  Maybe the contracts the majors hold with the independent station owners need to be strengthened, and the private owners held responsible for the quality of the automotive products they sell if they want to operate under the glow of a trustworthy name.  Whatever the solution, some change is needed here to protect consumers and restore trust.