Counterfeit engine oil? Yes, it's out there and here's how to spot it

Ccj Logo White Headshot
Updated Aug 30, 2023

Counterfeit aftermarket parts are parts that are either sold or advertised as something they’re not, or are parts that claim to meet a safety standard they don’t actually meet.

Most instances of counterfeit parts are hard parts like brakes or shocks, but joining us on the 10-44 this week is American Petroleum Institute Senior Project Manager Jeff Harmening, who says counterfeit engine oils are out there and are far more common than you might think. 

Contents of this video:

00:00 Counterfeit engine oil

03:04 Unlicensed marketers and misunderstandings

03:55 Substandard engine oils and false labeling

06:24 Following OEM recommendations

07:31 Obsolete oil products

09:53 Reputable suppliers and retailers

12:07 Reporting counterfeit engine oil


Jason Cannon (00:00):

This week's 10-44 is brought to you by Chevron Delo 600 ADF ultra low ash diesel engine oil. It's time to kick some ash.


Counterfeit parts pose serious safety risk and it has for years. So how can you spot a counterfeit engine oil?


You're watching CCJ's 10-44, a weekly episode that brings you the latest trucking industry news and updates from the editors of CCJ. Don't forget to subscribe and hit the bell for notifications so you'll never miss an installment of 10-44.


Hey everybody, welcome back. I'm Jason Cannon and my co-host on the other side as always is Matt Cole. Counterfeit aftermarket parts are parts that are either sold or advertised as something that they're not, or they're parts that claim to meet a safety standard that they don't actually meet. Now there are plenty of examples of counterfeit brakes that contain filler materials like sawdust, which can catch fire from the heat that transfers through the brake on top of the fact, there's almost no chance it's going to safely stop a truck. There's also a lot of examples of brand X products that are sold in OEM packaging.

Matt Cole (01:02):

Engine oils are a multi-billion dollar business and anytime a lot of money changes hands, there's someone there ready to take advantage of it.

Jason Cannon (01:09):

Joining us on the 1044 this week is American Petroleum Institute, Senior Project Manager, Jeff Harmening. To combat counterfeiters API maintains a list of unauthorized engine oil on its website and provides details and images to alert consumers to oils that falsely claim to be licensed by API. Currently, there's 36 engine oils on that list.

Jeff Harmening (01:31):

For us, counterfeiting is a bit of a broad definition. Now we are the owners of the API quality trademarks, the API Starburst and the API Donut as well as the Shield and other marks as well. So primarily for API counterfeiting is using those marks without a license to do so.


I've seen actual counterfeit products of the packaging where a well-known marketer or oil manufacturer's actual products packaging was counterfeited by these folks that seek to basically take maybe used oil, maybe cheap oil and just bottle it up and prey on those who can afford it the least by reusing these and filling packages. So for us, we are constantly on the lookout. We have a network of collectors all around North America and other parts of the world as well. Here in the United States, API licenses over 12,500 unique oils to use the API trademarks. So there's an awful lot of policing that we have to do in order to protect the integrity of what those marks have come to mean to the marketplace. But in those instances where we come across something that looks like evidence of counterfeit packaging or somebody trying to pass their product off as somebody else's product, we're certainly going to rat those folks out and let those other companies who are being counterfeited be made aware so that they can address these things.

Matt Cole (03:05):

Counterfeiting sounds pretty straightforward. Someone attempting to pass something off as something it's not. Oil in this case, but Jeff says it's not always a case of a company actively trying to do something wrong.

Jeff Harmening (03:15):

What's more common is for maybe marketers who believe that they are purchasing oil from other licensees and believe that they can use the marks on their products are simply making a mistake, whereas they need to contact API, apply for a proper license and things of that nature because our licenses are not transferable between one company or another. So if I had to pick one of the two, the counterfeiting of the API trademarks is certainly more common, but quite often it boils down to a misunderstanding between a marketer who believes they have a license because they work with other licensed marketers.

Jason Cannon (03:55):

On the more nefarious side of counterfeiting, we have companies that claim their products meet or exceed API standards when it's never been tested or validated by API, or companies that put their product into counterfeit bottles that look and feel like those from legitimate companies and all those brands that we use every day.

Jeff Harmening (04:13):

The other situation that we do occur and one that I'm afraid is far more prevalent is that in which folks are putting substandard engine oils into packages and maybe not using API's trademarks per se on their labeling, but making claims to meet API SP or meet ILSAC GF-6A or something similar to that. Now our program is voluntary, so we don't force companies to join up on the program, but if you are going to make those claims on your packaging and we encounter that in the field and can ascertain that your products through testing do not meet those specifications, we're going to be knocking at your door trying to get that resolved. And unfortunately, that is something that we see probably more often than either of the two situations that we've already talked about.

Matt Cole (05:04):

Since API participation is voluntary. As long as the offending company doesn't make an API specific product claim, there's nothing API can do, right? Jeff tells us after a word from 1044 sponsor Chevron lubricants.

Jason Cannon (05:17):

Protecting your diesel engine and its aftertreatment system has traditionally been a double-edged sword. The same engine oil that is so essential to protecting your engine's internal parts is also responsible for 90% of the ash that is clogging up your DPF and upping your fuel and maintenance costs. Outdated industry thinking still sees a trade-off between engine and emission system protection and Chevron was tired of it, so they spent a decade of R&D developing a no compromised formulation. Chevron Lubricants developed a new ultra low ash diesel engine oil that is specifically designed to combat DPF ash clogging, DELO 600 ADF with Omnimax technology cuts sulfate ash by a whopping 60%, which reduces the rate of DPF clogging and extends DPF service life by two and a half times.


And just think what you can do with all the MPGs you're going to add from cutting your number of regens. The Delo 600 ADF isn't just about after treatment. It provides complete protection extending drain intervals by preventing oil breakdown. Before you had to choose between protecting your engine or your aftertreatment system, and now you don't. 600 ADF from Delo with Omnimax technology, it's time to kick some ash.

Jeff Harmening (06:24):

Good luck trying to sell an oil that doesn't have either an OEM performance specification or an API performance specification or any other specification behind that. What we really encourage all oil changers and owners of vehicles requiring oils do is make sure that you are following your engine manufacturer's recommendations. And those recommendations are always going to include the proper viscosity grade to be used in the application and the proper performance level to be used in the application. So for instance, a few of the North American OEMs will say, "Use our oil," but if you can't find it, make sure that you're using an API licensed Starbursted oil in the interim because that symbol has come to represent oils that meet the latest minimum performance standards and therefore, by following the letter of the law, you are staying within your warranty. You are not causing undue harm to your vehicle and you're essentially treating that vehicle like the very important piece of equipment that it is.

Jason Cannon (07:31):

Counterfeit engine oil is one problem. Another is obsolescence. Obsolete oil products can still be found in the marketplace and Jeff says shops and drivers have to be careful not to use them as engine damage can occur.

Jeff Harmening (07:43):

First, it's important to understand what it means for an obsolete performance category. So remember, APIs engine oil standards are performance based and therefore they are backed by tests and limits. Performance tests and limits done in engine stands in laboratory settings with specific parameters.


Now, if a category, let's talk about an older one like API SJ, it is obsolete. The tests, what that means there, the tests that are baked into that specification are no longer available either because the engine itself is no longer being produced or the parts that are used when it's a tear down and inspect and rebuild type test are no longer available. And so if the test can't be run by rights, it's impossible for a marketer to come to us and say, "Yeah, we've got an API SJ here." How? The tests that exist that you would have to run in order to be able to demonstrate that are no longer available. So in a nutshell, that's what an obsolete oil is. It's an oil whose specification that it claims cannot be verified because the test doesn't exist.


Now, I can tell you from my many years of not only supporting the aftermarket audit program, but in many cases as I was doing my travel to major cities, going around and looking for oils, particularly in, shall we say tougher parts of town, going into convenience stores and things of that nature, I have seen plenty of oils for sale on the shelves where it might claim API SA, API SB, API SC, older categories for diesel. Unfortunately, what that means is there are bad actors out there who are trying to get you to pick up their bottle off the shelf in perhaps top off situations, and they're preying on the people who are looking for the lowest price tags. In other words, the people that can least afford to have catastrophic engine failure or least afford to have high volatile used oils poured into their vehicle that are just going to keep burning off and have them go back in and buy more top off oil.

Matt Cole (09:53):

If a fleet is buying oil from a reputable supplier or in the case of a top off bottle, a well-known and respected retailer, the engine oil is almost certainly exactly what it claims to be. But Jeff said there are some extra safeguards fleets can take.

Jeff Harmening (10:06):

The key is just education, be smart. Engine oils are no longer just oils, they are bits of technology that enable your equipment to run to today's standards. So it helps to do a little study and pay attention to what you're picking up off the shelf.


We do more than just set specifications around the engine oil quality. We do have two other publications that lend themselves to the bulk engine oil, handling storage, transportation to ensure that oil coming from the manufacturer through the distribution chain. If these best practices are followed, this will maximize the quality of the engine oil at the end and avoid cross co-mingling and things of that nature.


At the same time, we do publish a chain of custody, a document 1525A on proper chain of custody throughout that process so that you can a) get quality products that are what they say they are to the point of disposition down at the fleets and down at the original equipment, the owners, to ensure that they're getting oils of the highest quality. Then once you've got those oils in-house, there's recommendations in these documents around the proper organization, handling and storage so that at your end of the shop you're not doing anything to detrimentally affect the quality of the engine oils.


And then, as I've said before, double checking and making sure that your products are indeed licensed by API, that your products that you're selecting for your vehicles meet manufacturer's recommendations for proper level of performance and viscosity grade are going to go a long way to protecting you from misfills in your own vehicle.


And I'll say this, and this is important for fleets too, we do want to be a part of solutions if these types of oils are encountered out in the marketplace. So we've got website dedicated to our engine oil licensing program and we've got plenty of contact information on there so that if your listeners are aware of substandard or counterfeit products or what have you out in the field, we want to be alerted to that because it is our job to continue to police the marketplace, protect the integrity of the API trademarks and make sure that quality engine oils are being installed across the board.

Jason Cannon (12:45):

That's it for this week's 10-44. You can read more on While you're there, sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on the latest in trucking industry news and trends. If you have any questions or feedback, please let us know in the comments below. Don't forget to subscribe and hit the bell for notifications so you can catch us again next week.