Industry should be aware of a rise in counterfeit lubricants due to cost-of-living crisis, warns VLS chairman, Mike Bewsey.
Rising costs are putting immense pressure on workshops and operators alike to save money where they can. As a result, our industry trade body, the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS), is expecting a rise in counterfeit lubricants as the black market looks to cash in and sell cheaper alternatives to genuine products.
Counterfeiting affects many vehicle parts and accessories, and lubricants are no exception. Modern vehicle engines are highly complex. They require sophisticated lubricants using advanced chemistry, backed by the investment of millions of pounds, dollars or euros by major additive companies.
These additive companies use extensive bench, laboratory or real-life engine testing to guarantee performance standards and safety. Although the vast majority of lubricants on the market are genuine, types of counterfeit oils might include:
- Virgin base oil with a sub-standard additive pack or lower spec base oil being used
- Virgin base oil with no additive pack at all
- Used oil that has been repackaged and presented as new oil
- Re-refined product that is unsuitable for its stated application
- A lesser-spec oil presented as a premium specification
Compared to standard formulations, counterfeit products might have fewer or even no additives at all. This can significantly affect the lubricant, resulting in poor or possibly even dangerous performance compared to genuine products. Just like using the wrong oil, using counterfeit oil could lead to accelerated wear in gears and bearings, the formation of lacquers on surfaces such as pistons and the development of sludge that could restrict oil flow. All of which could lead to increased maintenance costs and, if left unchecked, eventual engine failure.
The cash-strapped vehicle owner may also try to buy oil themselves to save money. With limited knowledge in such a technical area, they risk buying counterfeit oil online or from other unscrupulous sources, which aren’t what they purport to be.
If a product looks too good to be true, it probably is
VLS is urging workshop owners, mechanics, technicians and end users alike to take a series of common-sense steps to reduce the risk of buying and using a counterfeit product:
- Purchase lubricants from reputable sources such as official distributors or well-regarded motor factors. Avoid purchasing finished lubricants from unofficial sources or less reputable internet sites where the source of the product is unclear.
Avoid products that appear to be heavily discounted or are being sold in a hurry, such as ‘fire sales’ or ‘stock must go’ end-of-line promotions.
Check for authentic marks on packaging, such as batch codes. Most reputable lubricant blenders use batch codes as part of their ISO quality assurance processes. If a product does not have a batch code or authentic serial number, there is a greater risk that it might not be genuine.
If a lubricant manufacturer is claiming ACEA specifications, check to ensure that they are a signatory to the European Engine Lubricants Quality Management System Letter of conformance for lubricant manufacturers.
Check any packaging and product labels carefully. Fraudsters will aim to maximise revenue at minimum cost, so they may use lower-quality packaging or labelling. Does the packaging look and feel of appropriate quality and as you would normally expect? Looking at the product label, is the spelling and use of grammar correct? Is the colour on the label an exact match against previously purchased authentic products or are the colours slightly washed out? Are the text and images clearly printed or a bit blurred and not as sharp and well-defined as they could be?
Is the pack integrity supported by a tamper-evident seal that is evident?
Ask for technical and safety data sheets. Reputable suppliers should have no problem producing these or advising you where to access them. Suppliers trying to pass off counterfeit lubricants may be evasive about providing this important information.
Taking these simple steps can ensure counterfeit products don’t cause unnecessary breakdowns, damage your reputation or worse damage your customer’s vehicle.