Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

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Coming Soon - New standards for describing motor oil on invoices

Author's note:  This is an example of the sort of knowledge today's auto technician needs to possess.  I'm very proud to say we are training the technicians of tomorrow - right in the Robison Service Auto Complex - through the most extraordinary special ed high school - TCS Automotive Program  Read more about the program here   Check it out, next time you are in for service.


The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has made some new recommendations for motor oil information on invoices. These uniform standards direct us to list SAE oil ratings, brand and weight on customer invoices.  Twenty states automatically adopted the standards, and we at Robison Service are going beyond the requirement effective immediately.

For years I have been writing and talking about the importance of correct oil.  Most of the car lines we work on require special synthetic oil formulations, and it seems like every one is different.   Yet most motorists remain totally oblivious to the different requirements and specifications.  What's worse is that many service professionals are not a whole lot more knowledgeable.  "Oil is oil," they say, but they are wrong.

Even saying “I want synthetic oil,” isn’t enough.  You must specify the right synthetic oil because it comes in dozens of grades for different cars and trucks. Choosing the wrong oil can be harmful – even fatal – to your engine.  We’ve see more than one motor destroyed by incorrect oil choice.

The new government standards became effective July 1, 2013, for states that approve, and are outlined in the Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities.  By requiring repair shops to spell out what they use, the hope is that they will use the correct stuff.  Will that happen?  I don't know, but it's a step in the right direction.

At Robison Service, we’ve always told clients the brand and type of oil we install.  For us, using the best possible lubricants has always been a source of pride.  In years past, our invoice for a Mercedes might have said, Mobil 1 0-40, 9 quarts.  Mobil 1 0-40 is the particular type of oil specified for many Mercedes cars and that description told consumers they were getting the right stuff for their Benz.

Now our invoice is a little more detailed.  Today that same line would read Mobil 1 ACEA A3/B3, A3/B4 API SN, SM, SL 0-40 synthetic oil MB229.3/229.5 VW 502 Porsche A40 BMW Longlife 01, 9 quarts.

The ACEA and API codes are the industry standard ratings for that particular oil.  The MB, BMW, VW and Porsche codes mean this oil was tested and approved by those manufacturers. Decoded, they tell you what cars Mobil 1 040 is right for.  We stock nine different blends of Mobil 1, each for a different application.  There are also a few cars that don’t use Mobil 1 – like the newest M-series BMW.  We have even more exotic oils in stock for them.

I use the word "exotic" because few oils meet the specifications of high end carmakers.  Walk the aisles of your local mass merchandiser.  Read the labels on the backs of the fifty-some different oils they should have in stock.  You will be lucky to find one single product that meets the Mercedes 229 spec, and you may not find any!  The same will be true for the VW or BMW requirements.   If you install an oil that does not meet specs for your car you are taking a big risk.

Every oil has its own unique description.  A BMW M3, a Mercedes E350 and a Range Rover all need synthetic oils, but the specific requirements for each car are different.  The result: we stock three different synthetics for those cars alone, one for each make and model.  And that's just motor oil for three sample vehicles - there is just as much variation in transmission fluid, coolant, and every other fluid in a modern automobile. A shop like ours has a lot of different fluids in stock!  

Oil technology is complex, and engines can be damaged when the wrong oil is used.  The requirement for a detailed description on the service bills allows motorists to look and see if the correct lubricant was used.

A 2003 Mercedes engine damaged by using the wrong oil
There are quite a few benefits to using the right fluids in a modern car.  The biggest benefit is that the use of correct oils and regular service can virtually eliminate wear.  Take a look at these two images, showing the same area on two engines; one had the wrong oil, and not enough changes.  The other one used the correct Mobil 1, changed every 7,500 miles from new.   As you can see, one motor is junk while the other looks as clean as the day it left the factory.

This 100,000 mile engine looks new, thanks to good service and the right oil

You will always get the right fluids at Robison Service, and with any luck, this change may encourage others to follow that lead.

John Elder Robison is a NY Times bestselling author and the founder of J E Robsion Service of Springfield, MA.  Robison Service is a long established Bosch car service specialist, with expertise in BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Porsche, and Rolls Royce/Bentley motorcars. Find them online or in the real world at 413-785-1665


D&R Autoworks Blog said...

I think you missed one more important fact, the correct oil filter! Many times a vehicle will come in with the wrong oil filter in the vehicle. If a vehicle requires long life oil change intervals, then the proper long life filter must be used. The wrong filter can break down after 3-4,000 miles and send particles through out the engine causing several problems with vvt systems and other issues. Most consumers and repair shops don't know about using the correct filter, they just know about whats the least expensive one!

Eric Stephens said...

I use Wix or NAPA Gold filters. NAPA Gold are re-labeled Wix filters. I have 199,000 miles on my 1993 Range Rover. Castrol 20w50 and Wix have been good to me.

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