Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2001   by Auto Service World

Countertalk For the Counterperson: A New Motor Oil Standard

A new motor oil standard began arriving on your shelves starting July 1, but do you know what it means?

The Japan Automobile Man-ufacturers Association, Inc. and representatives from DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, through an organization called the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC), jointly developed and approved an ILSAC GF-3 minimum performance standard for gasoline-fueled passenger car engine oils in order to raise the bar for engine performance and life.

This standard specifies the minimum performance requirements (both engine sequence and bench tests) and chemical and physical properties for those engine oils that vehicle manufacturers deem necessary for satisfactory equipment performance and life, determined through a battery of tests with names like the “ball rust test” or “ASTM Sequence IIIF.”

While many of the so-named testing standards may seem esoteric and disconnected from the day-to-day sale and use of motor oils, they’re not.

Dick Clark, product associate at the American Petroleum Institute–which performs the testing and certification–says that a major driver of the new standard is that engine designs continue to change, as do the demands of the consumer. “They continue to want more and more from their automobiles and their engines.”

He says that the reason for the new GF-3/API SL standard, which replaces the GF-2/SJ standard introduced in 1996, are also connected to the need for auto manufacturers to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

“Basically there are three things that are coming with GF3/SL for the average motoring public. These are better oxidation resistance, lower volatility, and improved fuel economy,” says Clark.

Really two standards linked, the ILSAC GF-3 portion only applies to 0W20, 5W20 and 10Wx weights. “It is possible to put a GF-3 mark on a 10W40 but you have to have the test data to prove it.” It’s not possible for a 20Wx oil to qualify.

“Since there are no 0W20 weights (on the market), when you’re talking about GF-3, you’re talking about 5W20, 5W30 and 10W30 oils.”

Under SL, oxidation performance has improved to meet the requirements of hotter running, faster spinning engines. Linked to this is lower volatility, which means that oil levels will be maintained longer, and less oil will end up in the combustion chamber, which has emission implications. These two, says Clark, are linked to the operating conditions of the engines.

The third change is in fuel economy. Energy Conserving capabilities, always measured at the initial start of testing, are now measured at the end of the test as well. To meet the SL Energy Conserving requirements, some energy conserving performance must be maintained for useful life of the motor oil.

It is important to note that an oil could be API SL, but not the GF-3 standard, if it doesn’t meet Energy Conserving ratings. “The SL standard is a larger standard, those that meet the EC rating are a smaller group, and the GF-3 is a smaller group still.” To display the “ILSAC Starburst” an oil must meet the GF-3 standard.

For more on oil standards, consider visiting the API’s website at

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