Effective July 1, 2013, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s new oil labeling convention took effect in many states. * The regulations require oil distributors to include adequate oil descriptions on their invoices to operators. They also place responsibility on the operator to ensure invoices carry the appropriate language for the consumer.

What does this mean specifically for operators? Basically, it means many operators need to “clean up” their oil descriptions.

I have worked with hundreds of operators and have seen countless variations of oil line item descriptions on customer invoices. Some invoices simply describe “MOTOR OIL” without brand name or SAE viscosity grade classification. Others include only limited brand detail like “Rotella” without distinguishing T Triple Protection, T5 synthetic blend, or T6 Full Synthetic. These and countless other examples do not fulfill the requirement to fully inform the customer as to the oil installed in their vehicle.

Below is a summary of the requirements.

  • Name, brand, trademark or trade name of the motor oil
  • Viscosity grade classification preceded by the letters SAE
  • Type of oil and the API and ILSAC designation
  • Obsolete oil is also required to be labeled as such

A further challenge for operators is providing the description within the amount of space allowed by their point-of-sale system. Fortunately, the Bureau of Weights and Measures allows use of abbreviations so long as they are deemed to be discernible. A full description of Pennzoil Gold SAE 10W30 API SN ILSAC GF-5 could be abbreviated as “PZL GLD SAE 10W30 SN GF-5” or even “PZLGLDSAE10W30SNGF-5”. Shell Rotella T Triple Protection 15W40 could be shortened to “SH RTLA T3 SAE 15W40 CJ-4”. Operators may need to work with their local Bureau to clarify the definition of discernible.

Brand listings need to be specific. For example, listing the brand “Pennzoil” will not suffice. The description needs to include detail such as Ultra, Platinum, Gold, High Mileage, or Conventional. In this case, Ultra and Platinum designate the oil as synthetic. Gold signifies a synthetic blend and, of course, High Mileage and Conventional are self-descriptive.

The letters “SAE” must be listed in the description. However, the letters “API” and “ILSAC” are not required because it is believed there is enough general understanding of the API rating and ILSAC. Alternately, operators may configure inventory items with the API and ILSAC information as the description, such as API SN ILSAC GF-5, and attach it to each oil meeting that specification.

It may take more than one line on the invoice to fully describe your oil without confusing your customer. Using the above example, the oil could be described as follows.

Pennzoil Gold SAE 10W30


Finally, it is important to properly designate obsolete oil. Any oils with an API classification of SH or earlier are currently considered obsolete and must be labeled as such. On the diesel side, anything classified CG-4 and earlier is considered obsolete.

This is a great time to look at all your oil descriptions and make sure they are current. Take the time to verify correct spelling and valid, discernible abbreviations. Think in terms of the oil description as marketing to your customers by including complete information with a professional image. A quality invoice is important to building customer trust, so it is well worth the time polishing the details.

*Currently not all states have adopted these regulations. Each operator should check with their state agency to determine whether the new standards apply.