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What are the differences between "API Licensing" and "API Service Classifications"?

These two are related but also stand independent of each other. You certainly want to follow API Service Classifications (SJ, SL, SM and SN) but the requirement to use a API Licensed oil in your motor is a myth and your warranty will not be voided if you don't use an API Licensed product. Oils can still meet API Service Classifications, but not be API Licensed.

Ever wonder who has API Licensed products?

Follow this next below link to see for yourself.

For a real-time directory of Engine Oil Licensees, visit the API EOLCS Licensing Directory.

API EOLCS - Click here

If you don't want to visit the above link and search your brand, below are some results of the more popular brands used in various motorcycles and whether they are API Licensed. It might surprise you that most of the oils we all use in our motors are not API Licensed but they do meet the API Service Classifications. No need to worry as they will likely exceed the API License minimum performance standards. Any API licensed formula is restricted or locked down and not innovative.

  • AMSOIL MCF 10W-40 - No, product is not API Licensed
  • Royal Purple 20W-50 - Yes, product is API Licensed
  • Lucas 50W - Yes API License
  • Spectro 20W-50 - No API License
  • Red Line 20W-50 and 20W-60 - No API License
  • Mobil 1 V-Twin 20W-50 - No API License
  • HD Syn 3 20W-50 - No API License
  • Bel-Ray 10W-50 - No API License
  • AMSOIL 20W-50 MCV - No API License
  • Torco T-4SR 10W-40 - No API License
  • Valvoline 4-Stroke  - No API License
  • Spectro, Platinum SX4 10W-40 - No API License
  • Royal Purple Max-Cycle 10W-40 - No API License
  • Motul 300V Factory Line 10W-40 - No API License
  • Mobil 1 Racing 4T 10W-40 - No API License
  • Castrol Power 1 Racing 4T (All Viscosities) - Yes API Licensed
  • Lucas High Performance 10W-30, 10W-40 and 20W-50 - Yes API License

What do API Service Classifications mean?

The current API Service Classifications for gasoline engines are SJ, SL, SM and SN. For more on API Service Classifications follow this link for an explanation...

API Service Classifications Explained - Click here

These API Service Classifications (SJ, SL, SM and SN) are the gasoline engine oil service categories that assure you the product meets the minimum performance standards that a licensed product will meet in order to affix the API starburst and/or donut seal with the 2 digit "S" category on the packaging. If no seal or symbol is on the packaging because the brand is not API Licensed the packaging will still inform the consumer of the Service Classification or multiple Service Classifications that the product will cover with the 2 digit "S" category on the package. See the API starburst and donut seals below. 

Do I need to use API Licensed oil or my warranty will be voided? 

Your warranty cannot be voided because you use one of the many brands that meet (and exceed) the API Service Classifications.  Many of today's Synthetics will exceed the API standard and the motorcycle/automotive manufacturers know this. They cannot void warranty and when a failure does occur the burden of proof is on them.

As a consumer your right to choose a better product is protected by law.

Using Non-API lubricants in place of OEM-branded lubricants, or practicing extended drain intervals, does not void new vehicle or equipment manufacturer warranties.

Concerns about the voiding warranties have been covered numerous times by pointing out the Magnuson-Moss Act. Below is a link to a plain English (no legal speak) government website that explains your rights.

Auto Warranties  Routine Maintenance | Consumer Information - Click here 

Why would I not want to stick with the API Licensed products?

You can stay with API Licensed only products and be assured of meeting the minimum standards. But, maybe a definition of what API Licensing is would be helpful....

Quote...

An API (American Petroleum Institute) license indicates that a specific motor oil formulation has passed the minimum performance standards as defined by a series of laboratory bench, physical, chemical and engine tests. These tests and minimum performance standards are determined by the API Lubricants Committee to address specific areas such as engine wear, deposits, fuel economy and emissions. The committee is comprised of representatives from automobile, oil and additive companies.

...End Quote

There are lots of oils to choose from and some brands have the API license starburst or donut symbol on the packaging that tells you that the oil passes the API minimum set of performance standards. API Licenses are restrictive to the formula that is licensed. Once you use that API license formula you would be restricted to the base stock and additive package in the license unless you retest to prove you still meet the minimum performance. Therefore most companies such as AMSOIL will not restrict themselves to licensed formulations. They want the flexibility to adopt new technologies and don't want to be driven to use one supplier of raw materials. If all motor oils were API licensed, the companies like AMSOIL could not source new raw materials from multiple suppliers, which would greatly increase the threat of supply disruption and the likelihood of extraordinarily high prices. Many companies do not want to limit their formulation to what the API license will permit. When you API license a formulation you have no flexibility to change it unless you retest and the retesting needs to prove the new formulation still meets minimum API performance specs for the "S" classification. That means more cost, the license is not free. API fees are costly. 

In conclusion:

  • Today's modern oils will all likely do the job, regardless of the brand.
  • Select the proper API Service Classification (SJ, SL, SM or SN) and viscosity and follow a oil/filter change interval that protects your investment. 
  • Oils that don't have the API starburst or donut symbol on the packaging can be used without fear of your warranty being voided.  
  • Any API Licensed oil that has the API starburst or donut symbol on the packaging meets the formulation for the minimum performance specifications for the API Service Classification (SJ, SL, SM and/or SN).
  • Oils that don't have the API starburst or donut symbol will likely exceed the API Licensed formulation and their websites will say they meet and exceed (do your own research on your brand's website).

All AMSOIL products and formulations outperform API Licensed oils because they are engineered for top performance from the very beginning.

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