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March 23, 2016

Volume 17 Issue 52

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ILMA: Oil Ban Has Unintended Consequences

On Jan. 1, a law went into effect in California prohibiting engine oils deemed obsolete by the American Petroleum Institute. Less than three months later, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association plans to ask the state to allow exceptions.

Association officials say pre-passage review of the regulation failed to consider that oils not fit for modern passenger cars may still find legitimate use in applications such as lawn mowers and antique cars.

Proponents of the law, which was California AB 808 until adopted, said it was written to protect consumers from unknowingly using lubricants that do not adequately protect the engines of their passenger cars. It amended various sections in the California Business and Professions Code regarding the sale and labeling of lubricant products, requiring that engine oils meet at least one active API classification, one active sequence of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) or one active original equipment manufacturer specification.

The current API classifications for gasoline engines are API SJ, SL, SM and SN; the organization stopped licensing oils for meeting earlier classifications as they were seen as outdated for most modern vehicles. The law further states that the API, ACEA or OEM specification and the viscosity grade of the lubricant must be clearly labeled on the product.

During recent interviews, ILMA Chief Executive Officer Holly Alfano and General Counsel Jeffrey Leiter said the association wants to discuss problems that members believe were overlooked before the law was adopted.

For example, Leiter said lawn and garden lubricants such as two- and four- cycle engine oils would be banned because they do not appear on the current version of SAE J183, an industry guideline for meeting engine oil standards, which was incorporated by the California law as the source for oil labeling guidelines. Outboard motor oils approved by the National Marine Manufacturers Association would be prohibited for the same reason.

Another category of products that falls outside the law, ILMA officials say, are specialized racing oils such as those used in nitromethane-fueled dragsters, which again do not meet current industry engine oil categories. In fact, there are a number of different types of racing oils that do not qualify under the new regulation.

The same is true for so-called “antique” engine oils. These products are specifically targeted for vintage automobiles that need different formulary chemistry than modern oils. The most significant mismatch appears to be that modern oils do not have sufficient phosphorus content to protect flat tappet type engines used in many antique cars. Engine rebuild enthusiasts have wanted a special oil with higher phosphorus content to protect against valve train wear, especially immediately after rebuilds.

Alfano and Leiter said the association would also like to discuss enforcement policies with the California Bureau of Weights and Measures. The bureau has already issued several citations for violations of the law, they said, including one for product being stored in a warehouse prior to shipment to a state that does not have the same prohibitions.

The ILMA officials said some of their objections to the law stem from changes made shortly before passage without the industry’s knowledge.

Labeling guidelines were originally going to be based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Handbook 130, but J183 replaced it during final markup in October. NIST is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

ILMA plans to submit a letter to the California Division of Measurement Standards proposing that the agency and industry work together to develop procedures for enforcing the law while allowing some leeway to handle the non-traditional products. Without some guidance, association officials say, a small but important market could be eliminated from California store shelves.