EDISON - A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds consumers are on their own when it comes to protecting themselves against unsafe motor oil sold at New Jersey gas stations and convenience stores. The state of New Jersey does little to regulate the quality of motor oil sold, the investigation finds, and buying motor oil at well-known gas station chains is no guarantee that the oil sold inside will be safe.
At the Raceway gas station on Woodbridge Avenue in Edison, News 12 New Jersey's Walt Kane found only two brands of motor oil for sale: US Economy and US Spirit. But as you saw in the first part of Kane In Your Corner's investigation on Tuesday, lab tests showed both could be harmful to most cars on the road. US Economy contains abrasive material that can damage your engine. US Spirit, manufactured by the same company, contains a warning in small print on the back label saying it is only safe for cars made before 1930.
The manager, Abanoub Shehada, said he had no idea he was selling oil that might damage his customers' cars, but conceded that "if it says it's no good for cars, then it's not".
That wasn't the only time Kane in Your Corner found a gas station bearing the logo of a well-known chain selling oil that tests found were unsafe. A Raceway on Route 27 in Edison sold Black Knight, an oil lab tests also show can damage your engine. Black Knight contains abrasive material and its formula is only safe for cars built before 1951. News 12 New Jersey also observed Black Knight oil for sale at a Shell and Delta station in Middlesex County.
Tom Glenn, president of the Petroleum Quality Institute of America, says the Kane In Your Corner investigation confirms what the organization's own research has found: the name on the outside of a gas station is no guarantee of the quality of the motor oil sold inside. Most stations are independently owned or operated, he says, and the gas station chains "don't have the right to tell them what they can sell."
Raceway Petroleum, based in Piscataway, agrees. In a written statement, Raceway's Michael Loucopoulos says the company's independently operated stations "control any items sold in the stores such as…motor oil." He says the company provides station operators with a preferred vendor list, but they are not obligated to use it.
Consumers also don't get much help from the state of New Jersey. While several states, including Michigan and North Carolina, have ordered brands of motor oil off store shelves after they failed the same tests performed for this investigation, Glenn says he has not been able to convince regulators in New Jersey to do the same.
"It's sometimes quite embarrassing when we get calls from people who say 'The PQIA is in New Jersey, why isn't New Jersey doing something about it?'" Glenn says.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs declined interview requests. In a written statement, the agency's director, Eric Kanefsky, said that in response to the Kane In Your Corner investigation, he has instructed his staff "to determine whether any violations exist in our State with regard to the sale of motor oil." Kanefsky also said his agency "has reached out to the Petroleum Quality Institute of America for additional information."
But until action is taken, Glenn says, "the deck is pretty stacked against the consumer."
Tomorrow: What you can do to protect yourself