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Bruce Smith March 21, 2010


A close look at engine oil labels and understanding the abbreviations

By Bruce W. Smith / Editorial Services

No matter what brand or type of oil container you grab, there’re a number of symbols and abbreviations listed on the label that help you make the right oil choice. 

To start with, SAE is an abbreviation for the Society of Automotive Engineers and the SAE abbreviation on oil packages tells what viscosities the oil is capable of and, indirectly, at what ambient temperatures the oil is to be used.

Most automobile manufacturers recommend API (American Petroleum Institute)-certified oil in their engines. In fact, use a non-API-rated oil and you risk voiding engine warranty.

API certification is so highly respected because it also involves the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), vehicle and engine manufactures, technical societies, and industrial associations such as the American Chemistry Council to determine the tests and procedures that will adequately reveal the characteristics of the oil.

Certification of a manufacturer’s oil is contingent on API determining that it meets the standards set forth by the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC).

Beyond that are more detailed abbreviations on an oil container that help designate an oil’s suitability for various uses.

Gasoline-engine oil designations

  • SL       For use in all automotive gasoline engines thru 2003. Formulated for better high-temperature deposit control and lower oil consumption.
  • SJ        Usable in all 2001 and earlier engines.
  • GF-3 Oil meets the minimum OEM certification for 2001 gasoline engines—and all earlier models
  • GF-4 Oil meets the minimum OEM certification for 2005 gasoline engines—and all earlier models

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