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API SP/Resource Conserving and ILSAC GF-6 Went Live Today!

Today is the first day that passenger car motor oil can officially be licensed as ILSAC GF-6/API SP/Resource Conserving. According to API close to 700 ILSAC GF-6 products will be added to its directory of licensed products today and more will be added in the near term all around the world.  

This marks the end of a long journey and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment by industry in the development of the latest ILSAC category since ILSAC GF-5 was first launched on October, 1 2010. Hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years! Ten years represents the longest gap between ILSAC categories since the classification system was introduced in the early 1990s. It should be noted that API SN Plus was introduced as a supplemental category on May 1, 2018. This was an urgent OEM need to help protect newer gasoline direct injection and turbo-charged engines from Low Speed Pre-Ignition issues, but had no impact on the Starburst certification mark.  


It is likely that most of the motor oil in the market today has already been converted to ILSAC GF-6, although marketers could not call or label the product ILSAC GF-6 until today. At the same time, however, it is unlikely we will see a rapid penetration of the new API SP/ILSAC GF-6 and accompanying certification marks on product labels in retail stores and DIFM service facilities for at least several weeks. It could even be months in some cases before the new labels push out the existing inventory of API SN/SN Plus products on the shelves and in warehouses. This is because Inventories are turning at a significantly slower rate than in the past due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. To emphasize this point, consider that the frequency of oil changes is a function of miles driven/fuel consumed and demand for gasoline is down close to 50% since the start of the lockdowns.

Considering the unprecedented state of the economy and the monumental challenges presented to businesses by COVID-19, oil marketers, additive companies and the API are to be commended for their efforts and a seamless rollout of the new technology with availability of the new products on schedule.  

While consumers generally do not fully understand the changes and many will not even know they are getting a superior product, the American Petroleum Institute (API) published a new Motor Oil Guide to help educate and inform consumers as well as service providers about the new API SP/ILSAC GF-6 specifications and certification marks. In addition, the Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA) published a Quick Reference Guide today that provides a concise summary of the salient points of the new specifications.

Until May 1, 2021, motor oils displaying the ILSAC Starburst can represent either API SN/SN Plus or API SP. This allows a transition period so all marketers have sufficient time to upgrade their products. On May 1, 2021, all products displaying the Starburst must meet API SP/Resource Conserving. During the transition period, one needs to look at the API Donut to be sure you are getting the latest technology.  

Although the Starburst certification mark looks the same and the “Donut” can now display “API SP,” there is an important change regarding the ILSAC standard. Whereas in the past there was a single standard (ie. GF4, GF-5), the new ILSAC GF-6 is split into two specifications: 

ILSAC Starburst

Images of Certification Marks Courtesy of API


Covers 0W-20, 5W-20, 0W-30, 5W-30, and 10W-30 SAE viscosity grades

API Shield

ILSAC GF-6B covers only SAE 0W-16 
Prior to ILSAC GF-6B, SAE 0W-16 or 5W-16 were not recognized by ILSAC Starburst, even though they were added as part of API SN/SN Plus Resource Conserving. SAE 5W-16 was also specifically excluded from the definition of ILSAC GF-6B.  The new “Shield” certification mark was to make it clear that the product is not backward compatible with prior ILSAC specifications which did not include SAE 0W-16.  

Motor oils meeting the SAE 0W-16 ILSAC GF-6 standard will have a new certification mark called the “Shield.” This mark distinguishes it from legacy viscosity grades and make it clear that it is a forward-looking product that does not have back serviceability. Many may have already seen some SAE 0W-16 products in the market, but until today those motor oils could not display the ILSAC certification mark but could be sold as API SN or SN Plus/Resource Conserving via the API Donut.  

According to Steve Haffner, President of SGH Consulting who has been involved with these efforts since ILSAC GF-1, “Although there is a potential for another supplemental category similar to API SN Plus, a major upgrade is likely seven or more years away.” 

To this, Haffner adds, “Industry is currently looking into a test that can measure Low-Speed, Pre-Ignition durability for the life of the oil drain which would be a desirable feature for OEMs, but implementation is at least 2 years away. There is also the possibility that some OEMs may want to introduce viscosity grades below SAE 0W-16 (i.e. 0W-08/12), which would need to be covered by a new specification but would not necessarily require a major upgrade of the current performance specifications from an engine test view point.”

It should also be noted that although there was only one industry standard upgrade for ILSAC in the last 10 years, General Motors introduced GM dexos1™ in 2011 and upgraded that to a second generation product in 2017. Industry is now waiting to see when GM will introduce its 3rd generation dexos1™ product now that GF-6 is in place. As with General Motors, all OEM’s can upgrade their performance specifications without waiting for official industry upgrades. 

For now, we can finally celebrate API SP/ILSAC GF-6.

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