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Preventing Oil Issues

by: Jeffrey Harmening
Modern engine design and the need to reduce CO2 emissions have led to the development of additional engine oil categories and a growing number of engine oil viscosity grades for diesel engines. In 2016, the launch of two new diesel engine oil categories (API CK-4 and API FA-4) required shops to properly accommodate numerous oils. From this, specific planning and training have been necessary to avoid mixing oils and pouring incorrect oil into engines.

Training technicians and service people in specific applications is essential to avoid misapplications and potentially result in expensive engine damage or voiding of manufacturer warranties. API has several proper storage and handling tips to prevent misapplication.

When it comes to the storage and handling of engine oils in a shop, there are some important things to keep in mind to ensure safety and maintain the quality of the oils. The designated storage area for engine oils should be cool, dry, well-ventilated and away from electrical equipment. Also, avoid storing engine oils near chemicals or substances that may cause contamination.

When receiving new shipments of engine oils in drums, bottles, or pails, ensure that all containers are tightly sealed and undamaged before storing them. Damaged containers may lead to oil leakage or contamination.

Storing oils in a stock room or shop requires some planning:

  • Maintain a well-organized storage system to prevent confusion and ensure proper inventory management.
  • Arrange the containers in a way that allows for easy access and clear labeling.
  • Consider using shelves, racks, or storage bins to organize the oils.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by assigning specific storage areas for different grades or types of engine oils to keep them separate.
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While engine oils have a fairly long shelf life, it's important to rotate your stock to ensure that older oils are used before newer ones. Follow the First-in-First-Out (FIFO) principle by using the oldest stock first to avoid potential degradation of oils due to extended storage periods. In addition, proper storage applies to diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) which has a shelf life of about 18 months if stored in room temperature conditions. Following FIFO is highly recommended for this fluid, as well.

Handling Engine Oils in the Shop
The following tips can help streamline operations and help minimize issues relating to productivity, mixing of different products, and misapplication.

  • For all oil offerings, dedicate and clearly mark tanks/storage, dispensers, tools, etc., to avoid comingling of different products and misapplication. At a minimum, identify the product name, viscosity grade and performance level. In this manner, you will also meet weights and measures regulations that have been adopted in over half of the states in the U.S.
  • Reassess your shop’s need for all the oils you stock and eliminate older category oils such as API CJ-4. Thanks to the backward compatibility of current CK-4 oils, older specification oils are unnecessary. Also, evaluate specific viscosity grades and adjust inventory to ensure you stock the proper supply of the most commonly recommended oils for your customer base.
  • If you plan to change oil product offerings, set a specific date, and communicate this information to staff so everyone understands what is changing and when.
  • When replacing one type of oil in bulk tanks with another, clean all tanks being transferred to a new oil.
  • All dispensing equipment should be properly labeled to prevent misapplication.

Technicians should know the current diesel oil categories and requirements for each. The API Motor Oil Guide provides current information.

API has developed the best practices referenced below, which may help your business, and these are available free of charge at

API 1525 - Bulk Oil Testing, Handling, and Storage Guidelines provide recommended equipment and procedures for properly handling incoming and outgoing shipments of lubricants to prevent contamination and spillage and protect product quality. The guidelines cover finished lubricants in bulk, drum, or pail.

API 1525A - Bulk Engine Oil Chain of Custody and Quality Documentation provides procedures for managing the bulk engine oil chain of custody to ensure oil quality from the point of manufacture to installation in a consumer’s engine.

If you have questions or need additional information, contact the API Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System at

Jeffrey Harmening is a Senior Project Manager – EOLCS at American Petroleum Institute.

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