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API SA Motor Oil

Beware of:
API SA rated Motor Oil.

API SA Motor Oil

( what you do NOT know will hurt your Engine! )



Most vehicle owners are horrified to learn that the chances are 1 in 10 that the Motor Oil that they bought or has just been installed into their vehicle in cut rate Fast Lube Outfit WILL damage their engine!

You would think that with all those Governmental agencies and "consumer watch-dogs", someone would have done something about it by now, or at least exposed the TRUTH!

But no, the real data is not secret, but it is well hidden in Oil Industry production and marketing data.

And the only "expose" exists in few Oil and Auto Industry trade publications, which are seldom or never seen by the motoring public.

This then is the expose of facts that are not secret but are so seldom revealed, that they are for all practical purpose UNKNOWN to average vehicle owner.

REAL value of Petroleum Lube Base stock

Almost daily in any financial news item you hear a quote about how many US Dollars is a "Barrel of Crude Oil".

The quoted price is of bulk Crude Oil which is being sold to producers of petroleum products.

Very few people are aware that a barrel of petroleum is a measure that is equivalent to 42 US Gallons.

The price of a Barrel of Crude Oil hovered for many years in $20.00 to $30.00 range. That is 12 to 18 cents per Quart.

The long term average is ONLY about 15 cents.

Even at historically ridiculously high price of $140.00 per barrel of crude oil, a quart of crude oil is worth ONLY 83 cents!

Gasoline and Diesel is the main reason for sucking petroleum crude from the ground, and since it is the most in demand petroleum product, it brings the MOST MONEY and MOST PROFIT for any oil company.

And you know that even with Local, State and Federal taxes and the cost of transportation you can currently buy Gasoline anywhere in the USA for less than $4.00 per gallon or 100 cents per quart.

Motor Vehicle Fuel (Gasoline and Diesel) is a product that is in DAILY DEMAND and in the USA at least, WE CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT!

Unfortunately, not ALL of the crude oil can be converted into either Gasoline or Diesel.

Illustration below shows what Crude Oil is processed into:

Fractioning Tower Output

Some undesirable fractions are left; they range from Petroleum Gas to Tar and Asphalt.

Some of this undesirable stuff is heavy oil, from which ONLY lubricants can be economically made.

If supply matched the demand for this lube oil Base stock, life would be just lovely!

Motor Oil is at best only in Quarterly Demand, or even Semi Annual.

Typical vehicle will burn about 200 to 250 gallons of Fuel before it will consume 1 gallon of Motor Oil due to Oil Change.

Unfortunately, there is presently far more low-grade lube oil stock available than the world needs.

More and more of Petroleum Lube Base stock is available daily!

The problem is that modern engines do NOT burn much oil, and with "Oil Life Monitors" the average Oil Change Interval is now slightly above 5,000 miles.

As vehicles use LESS oil each year, and are driven more so they burn MORE fuel, but use LESS motor oil. The lube oil stock essentially becomes a  nearly worthless commodity, which becomes a nuisance to get rid off.

Major Oil Companies "sell" lube oil Base stock (API Group I) for not much more than cost of transportation to the lube producer.

Essentially they give it away FREE.

Since FREE is "too good to be true" Lube Base stock producers do post a per US Gallon price for the Base stocks.

To see current and historical Lube Base stock pricing see our dedicated page: Base Oil Prices

The above web page also defines what API Group Base stock definitions are for each recognized Group.

The API Group I pricing is however a "phantom" pricing, as all Motor Oils that are produced today to satisfy the current API SN performance category require API Group II+ or API Group III Base stock in order to satisfy the minimum performance benchmarks.

How FREE gets to cost a $2.50

Oh MOTOR OIL costs more than 89 cents per quart!

At currently relatively high price of about $100.00 per barrel of crude oil, a quart of crude is worth only 59 cents since a barrel of petroleum is a measure that is equivalent to 42 US Gallons.

In the old days, if there was too much of an undesirable petroleum by-product left from the refinery stream, the oil was burned, or pumped back into abandoned oil wells.

Either practice has been however illegal since about 1985 in the USA.

To export unneeded motor oil Base stock to other countries for dumping is way too expensive, except if you are very close to MEXICO.

The really BIG Oil Company like ExxonMobil does not even consider motor oil Base stock to have any value.

Their FINISHED Petroleum Motor Oil is sold almost for the cost of the packaging or the cost of transportation.

They can and do beat every other motor oil in the market place that is of the SAME quality level in price, every time!

It is virtually a non profit item, that because of the huge volume of Gasoline or Diesel oil sales these giants can afford to give motor oil away.

Now think of this, you need to get rid of stuff like Base stock oil as quickly as you can because you have no place to store it, and you will have more the next day, it just has to go somewhere...

When you are giving stuff away, free at or below "cost", would you strive to give to the recipient the HIGHEST POSSIBLE QUALITY?

Or would you choose the MINIMUM ACCEPTABLE QUALITY?

But even when the actual lube Base stock is FREE it costs to package it (oil bottle cost about 15 cents, the cap about 4 cents and the labeling about 20 cents), transport it (One quart of Motor Oil weighs in at about 2 pounds) and market it (Advertising costs are the major cost of finished Motor Oil).

Of course the merchant or mechanic that sells you the oil wants to make few pennies of profit, so now the Motor Oil costs you $2.50

But you are getting just what you are paying for, the bottle, transportation and advertising, and not much more.

If you think that this $2.50 buys you engine protection, superior lubrication or anything else, quite frankly, you have been CONNED!

Con the Con-sumer

In the USA there is a very respectable organization called API (American Petroleum Institute) and you should when you have a time visit their excellent website which is filled with lot of consumer oriented data as well as lot of technical stuff.

API is also the "rating" that can be found on most motor oils on their back labels with cryptic letters like API SJ or API SH/CF; stuff that 99% of consumers have NO IDEA what it means or represents, and nor do majority of car mechanics.

You can go to API web and spend time to educate yourself about what it all means.

Or you can purchase the latest copy of API 1509 document (17th Edition) that will give you all the technical and legal specific for each current API "S" or API "C" motor oil rating.

Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System
Edition: 17th Edition
Document Number: API 1509
American Petroleum Institute
136 pages

Should you be interested it is available from API.

The LOWEST POSSIBLE API rating for Motor Oil is API SA - this is rating for which NO TESTING is required and it can be applied ONLY to PURE petroleum oil with NOTHING ELSE IN IT.

It is essentially the pure Base stock that the refinery got rid off, since they had no use for it.

If you go to just about any independent gasoline station, convenience store, or supermarket, and if you take the time to check the BACK label of some "off-brand" motor oil, you will be certainly able to find one or more bottles that sport the API SA "quality" rating.

Well "A" must be good, after all when you got "A" in a school it was the BEST you could have achieved, and many products that are labeled as of "A" quality are the BEST!

Not so with Petroleum Motor Oil!

"A" is not BEST, it is the absolutely WORST you can do for your MODERN car!

But, how can that be?

Simple, when in 1960's API decided to come up with the API motor oil quality rating scheme, they decided to start with A, to represent motor oil that is basically the Base stock with nothing added i.e. pure petroleum.

The next level would be SB, oil that had some corrosion inhibitors, and so on.

Having more stringent and therefore BETTER motor oil category as the letters go up the alphabet.

Currently the most common available API RATING is API SM, introduced July 1, 2001 after more than two year delay.

The currently BEST API RATING available is API SM .

If you are naturalist or ecologist you may think that putting nothing but PURE API SA rated motor oil is the best think you can do for your car, but is it?

PURE petroleum does not have ANY of the following:

Additive Name Additive Function
Antioxidants oxidation control
Dispersants varnish control
Antiwear agents minimize valve train wear
Antifoamants retard foaming
Anti corrosion prevent corrosion (Fe)
Lubricity additives improve metal wetting
Metal Detergents keep surfaces clean
Viscosity modifiers high temperature viscosity increase
Pour point depressants allow oil flow when cold
Seal swell agents ensure seals do not leak
Metal deactivators reduce catalytic effect of metals
Corrosion Inhibitors prevent rusting (Cu, Zn, Sn)
Extreme pressure additives  prevent scoring and seizure
Friction modifiers reduce or increase friction

And that may be just fine if you have one of those low compression automobiles that were built prior 1930!

But not if you have 2005 or newer model with the latest technology.

Almost ALL the above Motor Oil additives are essential for reliable engine operation if Petroleum Motor Oil of typical quality is utilized.

Here is what SAE - Society of Automobile Engineers - has to say in their "official" publication on oil quality:

The API SA motor oil should be NOT used in any automobile engine manufactured after 1930" there are fewer than 0.1% of vehicles in the USA that cold use this API SA motor oil"

Marketer or Producer SHOULD label any API SA quality motor oil with following WARNING LABEL:

This oil is rated API SA.
It contains NO additives.
It is NOT suitable for use in most Gasoline powered automotive engines built AFTER 1930.
Use in modern engines may cause unsatisfactory engine performance or equipment harm in modern automobiles".

What does an oil industry have to say about that one?

According to Industry data 10 to 15% of ALL motor oil sold in USA is API SA rated or plain pure petroleum motor oil, majority of which is of SAE 30 viscosity.

The SAE 30 is too thick for typical machine oil or industrial oil use, and historically almost all of it is used as motor oil in engines.

There is less than 250,000 cars in the USA that can even use API SA motor oil, and most of these are NOT driven regularly.

Yet, enough API SA rated oil is sold in the USA every day to satisfy 100,000 oil changes daily!

Either those crazed pre-1930 car collectors change their oil EVERY other DAY, or more likely MOST if not ALL of this API SA motor oil ends up in recent model vehicle engines where it does SERIOUS harm!

The excuse the OIL industry has: "there is substantial and consistent demand for this (API SA) quality motor oil", statement worthy of a politician!

"Of the record" comment from CEO of a major oil company which still markets API SA motor oil under their national brand was this: "As long as there are stupid people who buy this crap and put it into their cars, there will be someone selling it, and it may just as well be us"

So the only advice we can give you: DO NOT BE STUPID, become EDUCATED on motor oil quality (see and DO NOT BUY that CRAP (API SA) and above all DO NOT put it into YOUR engine. But then if you really, really, hate someone, or their car, then...

The ONLY responsible motor oil brand in the USA that DOES NOT sell bottled API SA quality motor oil to consumers is MOBIL, however you can still buy API SA motor oil from ExxonMobil in bulk or in drums!

There is however ONE big advantage to API SA motor oil it is 100% bio-degradable, so if you have one of those per-1930 cars that burn and leak motor oil quicker than you can pour it in, you do have good environmental excuse for using it.


Next time you are shopping for a "quality" major national brand petroleum motor oil, realize why companies like " Pennzoil - Quaker State" used spend over $47 million annually on advertising to promote "3,000-mile Oil Change" and hope that consumers will buy their more expensive oil because they perceive it as "better".

However, now that you know better, and KNOW that you really are paying for:

You know that there really is NOT too much real value in $2.00 Quart of Petroleum Motor Oil.

Do you really WANT to put it into your engine?

You certainly do NOT want to keep it there for very long, that is why the Oil Industry promotes the "3,000-mile Motor Oil Change" and that is why 95% of Professional Auto Mechanics agree that it is EXACTLY what you should do, because they have ALL seen what happens to your engine if you keep that $1.50 motor oil in your engine for just a bit longer than is safe.

Most vehicle owners and auto mechanics blame the "Dirt in a Motor Oil" for all the possible and inevitable engine ills.

But that is a BIG mistake, they should blame the Oil Companies for selling you in 21st century a product that is 83 years out of date for modern cars.

The real problem is the Oil itself, not any DIRT in it!

See "Dirty Motor Oil" for more shocking revelations!

Final Proof

Since 1984 we at SynLube Incorporated have been bringing attention to the API SA

Motor Oil availability in USA and the fact that many motorists use it in their vehicles without any knowledge of the impeding harm they are causing.

Only few other individuals were equally bold to expose this fact.

One of them is David McFall (now retired) who actually worked for API for about 5 years and latter wrote articles for LUBES-n-GREASE MAGAZINE


In last few years thousands of engines of several major manufacturers suffered from "Sludge" problems. It is our opinion that many of these problems are simply caused by the use of inferior lubricants in these engines.

The case of the famous TOYOTA & LEXUS engine oil "gel" from which over 9,000 engines die annually, is perhaps only the tip of the "iceberg"!

See our article "SLUDGE" for more details.

In 2003 State of California finally did something about the API SA Motor Oil, not because of the damage it may do to consumer's vehicles in California, but because those damaged vehicle engines may pollute the Air

Here is link to a reprint article from: 
LUBE REPORT July 9, 2003 .

FINALLY there is PROOF !!!

In an internal report dated November 8, 2004 the "Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers" (Members at that time were: BMW, FORD, DaimlerChrysler, GM, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota and VW) compared the obsolete but still widely available API SA engine oil with in 2004 current API SL category (ILSAC GF-3).

The two oils were tested using two standard ASTM tests:

ASTM Sequence IVA  = low-temperature Valve train wear test
ASTM Sequence VG   = test for sludge and deposits

No surprise: the API SA oil failed both tests !


Oil Filter clogging, extreme scuffing on camshafts, oil starvation on cold start up.


"Engine life would be short, regardless of the oil change interval"

In November 2004 Alliance of International Auto Manufacturers (AIAM) said it has concrete evidence that API category SA engine oils -- long obsolete but still widely sold -- are "likely to cause serious damage" and lead to increased emissions if used in engines built since the 1940s. AIAM then wanted the American Petroleum Institute (API), SAE International (SAE) and other lubricant industry organizations to help educate consumers not to use such products, which typically lack engine-protecting additives.
To view complete test report see: .

You can also read this magazine article:  LUBE REPORT January 12, 2005 article, which comments on the above referenced report.

Today in 2014, not much has changed and API SA Motor Oil is still sold Nationwide and with the exception of California available to consumers and vehicle owners without any warning of the certain damage it will cause if used in modern engines.

The only organization that is currently exposing the substandard and falsely labeled Motor Oils that are available in use is Petroleum Quality Institute of America. - their website is definitely worth visiting !

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