As the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) marked its tenth anniversary in 2023, CVW spoke to head of the Technical Review Panel, Alan Outhwaite, about the organisation’s impact on the lubricants industry.
Back in 2013, the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) was formed amid concerns that some lubricant products were being sold with claims that did not seem to be believable. Closer inspection found that occasionally sub-standard formulations were being passed off as the latest specifications or even failing to perform effectively.
The vast majority of lubricants sold in the UK market at the time were fully compliant. However, out of this concern, reputable lubricant blenders and manufacturers came together to launch VLS, an independent organisation providing a credible and trusted means to verify lubricant specifications, bringing transparency to the lubricant marketplace and protecting and educating end users.
Since its formation, VLS has investigated over ninety different lubricant complaints, from cold weather properties to compliance with industry standards and market regulations. Over the years, the types of cases that VLS has handled have changed, and it has adapted to reflect market needs.
Non-compliance with stated specifications is the most frequent cause of complaint. Most cases have involved marketing claims, whether it be compliance with the ACEA, the European Association of major motor manufacturers, European Engine Oil Sequences, other market standards, or conflicting or unevidenced OEM approvals. End users must be confident that a product can deliver what it claims and is suitable for use in the given application.
The number of cases received each year has varied quite significantly. The launch of VLS was met with an expected influx of cases due to pent-up demand. COVID-19 impacted case levels as the industry dealt with shutdowns and closures. In 2023, VLS has received the highest number of cases since 2016, with a greater diversity of cases than ever before, as awareness of VLS extends across all aspects of the UK lubricants industry. Looking back over all the cases investigated over the past ten years, some of the key learnings for lubricant companies have been:
- Lubricant marketers must avoid making mutually exclusive performance claims or sweeping statements about which applications/vehicle marks lubricants are suitable for
- Lubricant marketers are responsible for updating all publicly facing materials, websites, print and labels
- Lubricant marketers must regularly audit product claims to ensure compliance
- Lubricant marketers should consider proactive quality assurance programmes to assess product performance to a given range of standards to support performance claims
- Lubricant marketers claiming any ACEA performance standards must be signatories of the European Engine Lubricant Quality Management System (EELQMS) marketers Letter of Conformance
- Additive companies must provide appropriate support for current claims
When VLS was formed in 2013, there was clearly a lack of understanding in some areas of the marketplace. VLS is confident that ten years later, the message around compliance is being heard.
A good commercial example of the work being done to promote better understanding is Volvo’s VDS-5. This is a new heavy duty fuel-efficient diesel engine oil specification with an SAE viscosity of 5W-30. Designed for the latest 13l engines (Euro VI Step D), it is not backward compatible with previous Volvo Long Drain Specification fluids such as a Volvo VDS 4.5 SAE 10W-30 grade.
The lower viscosity can result in lower oil pressure, which could lead to multiple dashboard warning triggers. It is, however, expected to deliver over 0.5% fuel economy improvements versus 10W-30 oils.
VLS has worked hard to help manufacturers and marketers understand and adjust to these changes, including highlighting where claims can and cannot be made or removing retired or obsolete ACEA engine oil sequence claims that may be misleading end users and are no longer relevant.
Lubricant blenders, manufacturers and distributors alike know that they will be held to account by VLS to ensure that lubricants are correctly described and really can deliver what they claim. But as the industry evolves, a recent influx of cases shows that there is still work to be done to ensure an open and fair marketplace in which end users can have confidence.
For more information, you can read Complex Chemistry: 10 years of VLS investigations 2013 – 2023 on the VLS website. To do so, click here.