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What to know about updated API bulk engine oil guidelines

Dec. 10, 2021
American Petroleum Institute advises bulk engine oil supply chain stakeholders to review newly updated API 1525, 1525A standards

It’s now been five years since oil suppliers first began offering CK-4 and FA-4—the American Petroleum Institute’s engine oil performance categories—as  a response to 2017 federal emissions standards. They promote better fuel efficiency than past versions. A few years prior to these changes, the API released bulk engine oil guidelines on how these oils should be tested, handled, and stored, with meticulous documentation from the supplier to the end user’s engine.

Recommended practice (RP)1525 covers bulk engine oil testing, handling, and storage guidelines, while 1525A tackles chain of custody and quality documentation. Together, these guidelines ensure every batch of engine oil an end user receives is verified good to use and the paperwork is correct. This includes printing the correct engine oil manufacturer and brand name, viscosity grade, and performance designations on receipts.

That accountability is important, as end users need to know without a doubt that an engine requiring CK-4 (which is backwards compatible with CJ-4) does not get FA-4, (which has a lower viscosity for better fuel efficiency), instead. For fleets and shops that service a variety of makes and models of different ages, knowing for sure which oil will be poured into the engine will promote better efficiency and less wear and tear.

Both 1525 and 1525A publications received scheduled updates this year, free to download off API’s website.

“Any and all folks who are engaged in handling bulk engine oil should just go to the API website and download not only 1525A, but also RP 1525,” API Senior Manager Jeff Harmening said. “These two specifications go a long way to ensure that there aren't any mistakes made int he supply chain.”

Putting the wrong oil in an engine runs the risk of decreasing performance, efficiency, and engine life.  “A lower viscosity oil getting into an older piece of equipment that requires a 15W-40 CK-4 may not adequately lubricate all parts of the engine,” Harmening said.

API does perform audits of bulk engine oils from shops licensed by API’s Motor Oil Matters program to verify the quality of the oils sampled by comparing the test results to licensed oil formulations on file. Misfills and misidentification are not “rampant problems,” Harmening said, but audits have revealed that mistakes can be made at the shop level.

“We will show up at a location, order a few items off the menu board, verify the oil’s performance claims, and then test the samples against those particular performance specifications and the formulations on file ,” he explained. “Through years past, there have been issues with engine oils purchased from bulk engine oil installer locations, and generally speaking, you may find that there are misfills where perhaps a tank wasn't properly changed over from one viscosity grade to the next.”

Possible causes range from improper draining and cleaning of a tanker, resulting in 10W-30 mixing with a 5W-30, or previously dispensed 15W-40 lingering in a hose could dilute a newer delivery of 10W-30.

Harmening noted shops have occasionally misidentified the samples they provided API. Not following API 1525A rules could likely result in a shop losing its Motor Oil Matters certification.

The API’s intent is not to “come after a specific oil change business,” Harmening stressed, but rather “the goal is to help protect that location by working with the oil marketer responsible for the integrity of the oil tested to advise them of any identified failures and work with them to determine appropriate corrective action.”

One best practice Harmening offered was to retain a tank sample from each bulk delivery. “Keep those on hand in case there's an issue that does arise from a customer complaint, for example, to demonstrate, if necessary, that this was the oil that was installed and it met the specifications when installed,” he said.

The viscosity grade tests can take a few days to perform and they verify cold crank performance and pumpability,  as well as other properties.

The updates at a glance

Last March, API updated RP 1525 - Bulk Oil Testing, Handling, and Storage Guidelines, which was created about eight years ago and “in great need of comprehensive review,” said Harmening, who explained the updates “put a greater emphasis on safety standards and protocols and offer an updated approach to sampling and quality controls.”

The greater adoption of digital inventory management and quality control systems also necessitated the updates, Harmening added.

In November, the American Petroleum Institute also released the Second Edition of API 1525A - Bulk Engine Oil Chain of Custody and Quality Documentation. The update puts the API 1525A procedures in harmony with the current edition of NIST Handbook 130 - Uniform Laws and Regulations in the Areas of Legal Metrology and Fuel Quality, standards which over half of the states in the U.S. adopt.

“Handbook 130 has had some changes added to it [since the 1525A first edition],” Harmening said. Specifically, one of those changes is on statements of obsolescence on oils that claim to meet obsolete engine oil standards.

These include CG-4 and CF-4, and paperwork involving these oils need to note that, Harmening said.

He reiterated that for 1525A, the chain of custody reporting still must include the engine oil manufacturer and brand name, viscosity grade, and performance designations.

This story originally appeared on Fleet Maintenance