Question of Motor Oil Qualities

I decided to change oil on bowtie6 and headed to AutoZone with three jugs of used oil and responsibly disposed of the old stuff in their recycling tank.  Since they let me do this, I try to keep business with them so I picked up an Ecotec compatible K&N oil filter and a 5 quart jug of Mobil1 5w-30 oil.

The fellow behind the counter scanned the goods and said the bill was almost $50.  This didn’t make sense because the posted price for the oil was $29.  He said that is the price with a Mobil1 oil filter; otherwise the price of the oil is $38.  This is a scam because the Mobil1 filters are slightly double what the K&N filters go for.  So at the end, the price is almost the same.

I told him I would pass on the oil; instead I just bought the K&N filter.  This is when I asked him why the price discrepancy because I can buy the same jug of Mobil1 oil from Wal-Mart for $23.

His reply was very interesting…

Before he started answering my question, he informed me he was a previous manager at a Pep Boys and had also been in charge of an automotive department at a Wal-Mart before working at AutoZone.  And, he gave me the “look”, as if to say what he was about to say was the inside dope on matters.  Then, he proceeded to tell me that Exxon-Mobil makes two different qualities of oil.  AutoZone gets the premium batches while Wal-Mart gets the scraps.  Thus the difference in price between the two.

According to this fellow, the AutoZone Mobil1 oil gets certified as premium oil.  He then informed me that the Mobil1 oil sold at Wal-Mart is of a lesser quality.  In his words: “the Mobil1 sold at Wal-Mart is the bottom of the mixing vats and the size of the molecules is not up to par with the batches they sell at AutoZone”.

Hmmmm…  Again, I did some Google searches on this subject and indeed it is a matter of debate.  All I have to say is that given the law-suit friendly climate prevalent in our nation today, why would a huge company like Exxon-Mobil expose themselves to loss by making two qualities of oil branded under the same name?

Yet more food for thought:  what about the Mobil1 sold at Costco?  They don’t sell the jugs, instead they carry the six-packs.  Yet the price is comparable to the Wal-Mart price.  Reckon this has to do with volume of good sold and not necessarily quality?

What are your thoughts on this?

Like my Dad used to say, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”.  😉

Until next time…

7 thoughts on “Question of Motor Oil Qualities

  1. Hy

    Sort of surprised no one went to the source to verify…
    FWIW here is Mobil Oil’s official take on the issue:

    Oct. 20, 2007

    “I have a question about the 5-quart Mobil 1™ motor oil jugs I buy at Wal-Mart. Is the oil in the 5-quart Mobil 1™ 5W-30 jugs the exact same oil that is in the 1-quart containers sold elsewhere? I ask because I have heard that Wal-Mart gets a cheaper formulation made to their specs in order to allow them to sell for less and you do not get the same quality of oil when you buy it. When I compared the labeling on the 1-quart containers at Advance Auto Parts to the 5-quart jug I got at Wal-Mart, I noticed that the 1-quart container says ACEA A1/A5 B1/B5 and the 5-quart does not say ACEA at all. Both have the HTO-06 and are, I believe, both API SN and ILSAC GF-5. Frankly, I doubt that any company would risk their reputation by packaging a different product for a chain store under the same name but I thought I would ask.”
    Paul Sceva, Plainfield, Illinois

    You are right: The formulation and quality level of our motor oils are the same wherever the product name is the same, regardless of the package size in which it is sold. The difference in ACEA claims you are referring to sounds unfamiliar to us. Was it the exact same product in both cases?

    It would seem to me that if they were being deceitful and someone proved otherwise it would not only open them up for a massive class action lawsuit but would also go a long way to discredit them and their product (though it wouldn’t be the first time).

  2. tysonhugie

    Wow, this is very interesting. I would have always thought that a motor oil sold under the same name and packaging should have identical properties, but now it sounds like the qualities are different depending on WHERE it’s purchases and the price point. I think one of the only ways to get to the bottom of this might be to do some sort of science experiment. Change the oil with AutoZone’s oil, run it X miles, send an oil sample to Blackstone Laboratories for analysis. Then change the oil with WalMart’s oil, run it the same miles, send a sample to Blackstone. I would be very curious to hear if they find any material difference in terms of oil life / properties.

    1. bowtie6 Post author

      HA! Sending samples to Blackstone would be interesting to do. Maybe later in the fall when things cool down I might take you up on your idea. I think it would be interesting to:

      1. Buy the oil from Walmart, drain and fill the engine with a new oil filter.
      2. Mark off a 100 mile loop (or some other drive that could be done in the same day).
      3. Go back home, drain the oil and record mileage.
      4. Repeat step 1 except this time with Autozone sourced Mobil1
      5. Drive the same loop as in step 2.
      6. Go back home, drain the oil and record mileage.
      7. Then send both samples to have them analyzed.

      I suspect this would take about $100 plus another $50 for the samples to be read by Blackstone. Certainly would make for a good article for sure!

  3. Michael Yount

    I think he was misinformed Joe. The same gallon or qt of Mobil1 (or any other oil) any place is all rated to the same API spec (unless someplace has very old stock). WalMart’s price is lower in part because they’re MUCH bigger and have a lot more purchasing power; they also know most of their customers are also buying a bunch of other stuff, they’re whole model is a lower margin on bigger volume. Autozone is the opposite – bigger margin on less volume., Autozone knows that for a lot of their buyers – if they’re already in the store getting other stuff, they’ll pay more rather than having to make another stop. If you’re price shopping oil – WallyWorld, Costco, Amazon….the auto parts place is my last choice. It’s the same oil.

    What would probably surprise us is this – how many of the different oil brands use THE SAME base stock? Interstate, Bosch, Duralast, Everstart, Diehard – all made by Johnson Controls. As is Kirkland at Costco – all the same batts with different packaging….

    1. bowtie6 Post author

      Agree with you Michael, 100%.

      The volume that Walmart does is enormous compared to Autozone. I also agree that the majority of the folks at the parts stores don’t want to shop around because as you stated, they don’t want to make another stop. In my case, the Walmart is just down the street from the Autozone, so it was no problem going to get the oil there.

      Finally, the stuff made with the same base stock… I did not know that. I need to spend more time over at BITOG for more details I suppose.


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