Re-refined Oil

Re-refined Oil Facts

Re-refined oil has go meet the same standards as virgin oil if the manufacturer is licensed by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and displays the API "Donut" or the ILSAC starburst symbol.

No automobile warranties prohibit the use of re-refined oil. As long as the oil meets the warranty requirement, which many re-refined oils do, the warranty must be honored.

As catastrophic and as graphic as the EXXON Valdex spill was to all of us, it pales in the wake of Do-It-Yourselfers harm to the environment. Every ten days the equivalent to the EXXON Valdex spill occurs over the mainland of the United States. Re-refined oil manufactures create a responsible demand for used oil that may diminish the irresponsibility's dumping of it in ditches, backyards, and farm fields.

Many other countries are re-refining used oil at a much higher rate than the United States. Canada, for example, re-refines 6% more used oil than it burns for energy recovery.  The United States, on the other hand, re-refines 75% less used oil than it burns for energy recovery.

Quality and Performance

Modem re-refined oil products are equivalent in quality and performance to products formulated using virgin oil. Extensive laboratory testing and field studies conducted by the National Bureau of Standards, the U.S. Army, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that re-refined oil is equivalent to virgin oil, that it can pass all prescribed tests, and that it occasionally outperforms virgin oil. The chemical composition of re-refined oil and virgin oil are so similar that a chemical analysis lab would conclude they are identical.

Mercedes Benz engineers have conducted studies showing that many products based on re-refined oil are of the same quality as those from virgin oil based on performance criteria critical to engine life, such as friction reduction, wear minimization and viscosity invariance. Today, Mercedes Benz installs re-refined oil in every new car manufactured in Germany.

Countries all over the world, including South Africa, Israel, Pakistan, India, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, and New Zealand, re-refine 20 to 60 percent of the available used oil into lubricating oil base stocks, compared to just 10 percent in the U.S.


As car engines became more and more complex, the requirements for lubricating oils also became more stringent. The older re-refining processes could not always remove all of the impurities. As a result, there were problems with some re-refined oils, which created the misconception that all re-refined oils are inferior to virgin oils. This is not true. In the last 65 years, the recycling of used oil has evolved from simply removing water, insolubles, and dirt, to more complicated removal of heavy metals, nitrogen, chlorine, and oxygenated components. Today, there are no technical impediments to producing re-refined oil products which are equivalent in performance to virgin oils.

Re-refined oil products today are subject to the same stringent refining, compounding, and performance standards that apply to virgin oil products. API licensed re-refined oils, for example, must pass the same cold start and pumpability tests, rust and corrosion tests, engine wear tests, high temperature oil thickening tests, and phosphorous tests that virgin oils do.

The API and the American Automobile Manufacturers Association (AAMA) together have developed the Engine Oil Licensing Certification System (EOLCS) to ensure that all engine oils consistently meet specifications. Under this program, products labeled under the API certification marks are spot tested in the market place to verify that they are in compliance with the quality designation listed. Guidelines set by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, American Petroleum Institute, Society of Automobile Engineers, American Society of Testing Materials, and Chemical Manufacturers Association do not distinguish between re-refined oils and virgin oils.

Environmental Advantages

Used motor oil is at times contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, PCBS, and halogenated solvents. One gallon of used oil can pollute more than

one million gallons of drinking water. Re-refining used oil into a reusable product can prevent damage to land, air, water, and health.

Because of its adverse impact on human health and the environment, it is important to recycle used oil rather than letting it enter the wastestream. The most common end use for used oil is burning for energy recovery. Currently, 85 percent of used oil recovered in the U.S. is burned for energy recovery. Once burned, however, used oil is destroyed and can not be used again. Some people do not consider burning for energy recovery to be recycling.

Rather than using the oil once, re-refining extends the life of a non-renewable resource by converting it to a usable material that can be recovered and used again. Most of the used oil can be re-refined over and over with no compromise in the quality of the lubricant.

Re-refining is an energy efficient and environmentally beneficial method of managing used oil. Less energy is required to produce a gallon of re-refined base stock than a base stock from crude oil. And once water and contaminants are removed from collected used oil, one hundred percent of every gallon is returned to a full and useful life as a re-refined base oil (65%), asphalt extender (18%), or as a supplementary fuel (17%).

Of the 1.3 billion gallons of used oil generated each year in the U.S., some 150 million gallons are salvaged and sold as re-refined oil or as blended oils not advertised as re-refined. This capacity could be expanded as demand increases. Local governments and businesses, for example, have begun adopting a "closed-loop" approach whereby they buy a re-refined product and arrange for their used oil to be re-refined back into lubricating oil.


The U.S. contains 4% of the world population, yet it uses 25% of the world's oil production. If all Americans collected and re-refined used oil, it would keep 35 million car engines running smoothly for a year, reduce our growing dependence on foreign oil, provide jobs for Americans, and reduce our trade deficit by $150 million.

Environmental clean up costs place an enormous burden on society. Ninety-nine Superfund sites are contaminated with used oil at an estimated cleanup cost of $2.1 billion. One Superfund site alone identified 125 generators to share a $60,000,000 remediation cost. Local governments can minimize exposure to Superfund liability by having their used oil chemically changed into a non-hazardous product - lubricating oil.

In most cases, re-refined oil prices are comparable to equivalent virgin oil product pricing. WAL-MART, a national distributor of oils, is currently selling a re-refined oil for 10% less than virgin oils. Re-refined oil prices are affected by a number of variables, however, including transportation costs, regulatory compliance, availability, used oil feedstock costs, and testing costs. Since these factors are site-specific and variable, the best method of determining price is through the market place. Other variables affecting the economics of a re-refined oil include oil prices, used oil disposal costs, and clean-up liability.


Although re-refined oil can meet all automobile warranty requirements that virgin oils do, concern about vehicle manufacturers voiding warranties if re-refined oils are used still persists. This is not a legitimate concern if a quality re-refined oil is used. AD three of the major U.S. automobile manufacturers (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) now recognize that re-refined oils can meet the performance criteria specified in their warranties. Warranty requirements are based on performance criteria, not on the origin of the base oil. As long as the oil meets the warranty requirements, there should be no concern about the validity of the warranty, regardless of whether the product is based on virgin or re-refined oil.


Not all re-refined oils meet industry standards. It is very important that re-refined oil products meet the same specifications that the equivalent virgin oil products meet. Engine oils must be licensed indicating that they meet the current API designations to guarantee good performance, and a valid warranty. With the exception of bulk oils, API licensed oils display a donut, and certain viscosities also show the starburst symbol with the API designation in the center. The 1994, 1995 and 1996 gasoline powered vehicles require API Service "SIT' designated oil (or CF4 or CD11 for heavy duty diesel engines.)

Case Studies

United States Postal Service

A1988 EPA procurement guideline requires government agencies to give preference to re-refined oils. Ironically, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is not required to implement a Buy Recycled Program under these guidelines, but has had the greatest success in buying re-refined lubricating oil of all Federal agencies. In response to the EPA guidelines, USPS voluntarily used re-refined oil in 14,511 vehicles, saving approximately 20 cents per gallon compared to virgin oil. After numerous vehicle miles, chemical analyses of re-refined and virgin oil samples taken from Post Office vehicles showed that using re-refined oil was no different than using lubricants based on virgin oil.

In 1994, USPS used approximately 500,000 gallons of re-refined oil in 105,600 vehicles nationwide. USPS began a closed loop recycling program whereby their used oil is collected and re-refined for further use. The Postal Service saved up to 5 cents per gallon by switching to the closed loop system. This means considerable savings for the world's largest civilian fleet. For more information, contact Richard Harris at 202/268-3576.

Snohomish County, WA

In one year, 20 public sector and 6 private sector vehicle fleets switched to re-refined oil in Washington State. Those fleets which have tested their used oil following the change to re-refined oil have not identified any changes in oil performance or engine performance.

Snohomish County began by using nearly 5,000 gallons of re-refined oil in 1991. Since then, it has used nearly 30,000 gallons of re-refined oil in all of its 1,242 unit fleet and returns its used oil to be re-refined. After conducting nearly 3,000 oil analyses, Snohomish County has confirmed that re-refined oil is substantially equivalent to virgin oil. Each of its vehicles displays a bumper sticker promoting the county's use of re-refined oil. For more information, contact Allen Mtchell 206/ 388-3131.

San Diego, CA

As part of a joint DOD/EPA program, San Diego used -refined oils for 3 years in its 1,500 vehicle fleet. After 10,000 miles of service, 6 of the engines were examined and compared to the engines from another city's fleet, which had used virgin-based motor 0", No differences were found between the engines.

Who's Using It?

Mass. Highway Department Peter Fallon, Mgr. Materials and Controls, 508-541-4128 "We are now using re-refined oil on 100% of the vehicles we use and service, mostly trucks > 1 ton, and we are very happy with it"

State of Vermont has been using it for hour years and last year converted their entire 810 vehicle fleet over to re-refined oil.

US Postal Service recently used 500,000 gallons in almost 73,000 vehicles

Mercedes Benz currently uses re-refined oil in all of their new cars and has been doing so since the early 1990's

Ford, Chrysler and GM have stated in writing that re-refined oils certified by API will not void any warranties for any of their vehicles.


Expiration 9/24/98

Cost Consumption

5w-30/12 Quarts
Re-refined=$12.20 Virgin=$12.20

5W30/55 Gal. Drum
Re-refined $147.95 Virgin=$147.95

10W-30 12 Quarts
Re-refined=$12.24 Virgin=$12.33

10W30/55 Ga. Drum
Re-refined=$147.40  Virgin=$47.95

10W-40/12 Quarts
Re-refined=$12.24 Virgin=$12.33

10W-40/55 Gal. Drum
Re-refined=$147.40  Virgin=$47.95

15W40/55 Gal. Drum
Re-refined=$147.40  Virgin=$47.95

15W40/12 quarts
Re-refined=$13.12 Virgin-$13.17

Facts, Features & Benefits


Big Three U.S. Auto Makers Positions on Use of Re-refined Motor Oil

General Motors Position

"General Motors recommends for use in its vehicles engine oils which meet the performance requirements specified in the latest International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) Minimum Performance Standard, and which are certified. by the American Petroleum Institute for use in gasoline engines..."

"Engine oils meeting these requirements can be made with either virgin or re-refined base oils..."

"General Motors encourages the use of properly qualified re-refined products which consistently satisfy recommended performance requirements as a mans of conserving vital petroleum resources..."

Chrysler Corporation Position

"The engine oil used in Chrysler vehicles must meet the Owners manual recommendation to satisfy warranty requirements. this recommendation is to use an oil displaying the American Petroleum Institute Certification Mark. it must also be the SAE viscosity grade appropriate to the temperature, as shown in the Owner's Manual."

"Oils that display this registered mark... are certified to meet all the requirements of the International Lubricant Standatization and Approval Committee... This specification does not differentiate between products make form virgin base oils or re-refined base oils..."

"Oils made from from re-refined base oils can meet these requirements; however, not all of them do. By careful control of re-refining and blending processes, some marketers produce good quality oils from re-refined base oils. These are acceptable for use under the Chrysler New Vehicle Limited Warranty..."

Ford Motor Company Position

"Regardless of the origin of the base oils, a non-Ford engine oil is acceptable for use if manufacturing and quality.control practices ensure the oil continuously meets Ford's performance requirements."

"Ford recommends using engine oil meeting Ford Specification ESE-M2C 153-E and licensed as CERTIFIED FOR GASOLINE ENGINES by the AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE (API Certification). Both virgin and re-refined engine oils are capable of meeting these requirements by qualifying against a series of rigorous tests designed to ensure their suitability for modern gasoline engines."

"Customers considering the use of engine oils made with re-refined base oils should be aware that the final product quality may vary if improper manufacturing controls are used.... It is Ford's view that a re-refined oil produced with stringent manufacturing controls and batch to batch testing of low temperature viscosity performance and other significant characteristics would comply with Ford's recommendations."

Unique Opportunities

Contact the "Buy Recycled" Campaign for any of the following information:
1) How to receive three FREE cases of re-refined oil*;
2) A list of re-refined distributors in your area;
3) Automobile manufacturers' warranty statements on the use of re-refined oil;
4) How to participate in the "Executive Order Challenge"**;
5) Comparability studies on other recycled products; or
6) Information on how to set up a "Buy Recycled" program.

Government Contact:
U.S. Conference of Mayors
"Buy Recycled" Campaign
1620 "Eye" Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Fax 202/429-0422
Private Sector Contact:
National Recycling Coalition
Buy Recycled Business Alliance
1727 King Street, Suite 105
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax 703/683-9026

*To qualify to receive a free case of re-refined oil you must meet one of the following criteria: Represent a municipality with a population of over 30,000 or a company with a minimum of 50 service fleet vehicles.

**The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties are challenging local governments to voluntarily mirror the President's Executive Order on Recycling. This executive order requires federal agencies to use re-refined oil, retread tires, and 20% post-consumer recycled paper. Cities and counties participating in this effort have been recognized in several municipal and recycling publications.

This publication is produced by the "Buy Recycled" Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and its affiliate the Municipal Waste Management Association in cooperation with the National Recycling Coalition's Buy Recycled Business Alliance. The Conference of Mayors Buy Recycled Campaign is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Page provided by Slippery Rock University Health and Safety Department