From time-to-time PQIA hears from folks that say they never see some of the “bad” oil we find on the shelves. To this, some add that if they did, you can be sure they would be smart enough not to buy them.
While PQIA takes heart knowing that inferior motor oils and transmission fluids are not served up in their communities, and that some consumers have a good command of specifications, and the knowledge necessary to scrutinize labels well enough to distinguish the good oils from the bad and purchase oil that’s right for their car, we find this is often not the case.
In our experience, whereas most consumers are somewhat familiar with the viscosity grades of motor oils required for their vehicles, they typically don’t know what “SAE” stands for or that it’s required to be displayed with the viscosity grade declaration on the label, along with a “W-” between the first and second numbers for multigrades. In addition, most have limited-to-no understanding about API Service Categories, ILSAC, ACEA, Starbursts, Donuts, backward compatibility, or the many acronyms and numbers tied to OEM specifications.
With that, even if a consumer carefully reads the labels, they tend to gravitate and respond to words they do understand. Because of this, it’s no surprise that bad oils can end up in the cart when these words proclaim “The Clear Choice for Quality Oil” on the front label (as seen on the Q Motor Oil), or Super Premium, Superior All Weather Protection, Supreme, Go with the Winner, and other subjective quality and performance statements seen on many of the oils where PQIA has issued consumer alerts. And the chances of this occurring increase when the labels on obsolete and off-spec motor oils have such graphics as modern cars, racing flags, and other visual cues that project images of quality and performance.
Whereas PQIA is in agreement that some of the bad oils are not often seen in some locales, they have relatively high visibility in others. This is particularly true at convenience stores in some urban areas and economically distressed regions in the US. The Toledo Metropolitan areas, where PQIA recently found Q Motor Oil and Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) in many of the stores visited, is just one example. As recently as yesterday, we observed two brands that PQIA has issued consumer alerts on (Mileage 365 and Super XXX) at 2 out of 4 convenience stores visited in Hopewell Virginia. We also found several at many of the convenience stores at stops between North Lima and Youngstown, Ohio.
Q Motor Oil is the only, or primary products observed on the shelves at a striking number of convenience and food stores PQIA visited in the Toledo Metropolitan Area. Similarly, we also observed Q Motor Oil, and others brands that PQIA issued Don’t Buy warnings on in the Cleveland Metropolitan area and other cities in Ohio, as well as other states. As an example, PQIA recently observed Q Motor Oil on retail shelves in Sparta, Kentucky. See link at the end of this story for all products that PQIA has issued Advisories, Consumer Alerts, and Don’t Buys.
Sadly, for some consumers, their only choice may be a bad oil that in their minds eye has become a very recognized brand due to its high visibility at stores they frequent in their community. And in some stores, these harmful products are the leading brand by way of presence on a shelf, and they are often flanked by a small showing of higher priced and well-known major brands. Such positioning can lend a perception of credibility to “bad” products due to their proximity to leading brands that meet current specifications, and price can draw consumers to them.
The good news, however, is that although bad oils are a thorn in the side of the market, the majority of motor oils (whether major brands or private label) on store shelves meet current specifications and are sold by reputable manufacturers, marketers, and retailers.
Still consumers need to be aware that potentially damaging motor oils are out there and prevalent in some locales. Further, the purveyors of such products appear to be preying on communities where buying decisions are made primarily on price. And in the words of New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman in 2014 when NJ banned 19 motor oil products from sale in the state, “Many of these allegedly mislabeled motor oils are sold at cheap prices, thereby luring those consumers who can least afford the extra maintenance costs or early engine failure that may result from using the wrong type of motor oil.”
Although the states of Missouri, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, California, and a few others have taken decisive action to enforce laws that protect consumers from potentially harmful motor oils, and those with labels that don’t comply with regulations, many others have not. Until they do, consumers are advised to take steps to protect their investments by learning how to read motor oil labels and identify products that can potentially cause harm to their engines. (Click for “Read the Labels” Story).
In addition to putting consumers’ vehicles at risk, these products present an unlevel playing field for reputable suppliers (both majors and independents) to compete. For these reasons, PQIA continues its work to raise awareness about deficient, deceptive and potentially damaging products, and work to have them removed from the market.