Dollar General, a national discount chain, is facing multiple lawsuits over its store-branded motor oil by consumers who claim the products are out of date and the chain allegedly failed to give adequate warning.
“GMA” Investigates went undercover to four of the chain’s New Jersey outlets to take a look at the oils, accompanied by Tom Glenn, president of the Petroleum Quality Institute of America, which tests motor oils for compliance with industry standards.
Glenn told "GMA" Investigates that he considers all three DG Auto oils "GMA" Investigates examined to be obsolete. The American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization that represents America's gas industry and sets petroleum industry standards, has determined that some older formulations of motor oil are now obsolete and are not suitable for modern cars, as newer oils offer greater protection against engine wear and corrosion. All three DG oils fall into “obsolete,” categories.
The front label of the DG 10W-30 oil looks like any other oil, but a warning on the back of the bottle advises that the product is “not suitable” for “engines built after 1988.”
Our team noticed only a few bottles of the motor oil on the stores’ shelves. A clerk said the product, which is cheaper than all the other brands next to it, was a big seller.
“I don’t think any consumer who saw this product next to other motor oils on the shelves would have an idea that this was an obsolete oil,” Edgar Dworsky, editor of the consumer website MousePrint.org, told “GMA” Investigates.
The DG oil 10W-40 has that same warning on the back. The same clerk told us she doesn’t know a lot about cars, but thinks the product is like the brand-name oils, just cheaper. That’s not true, however. The brand-name oils next to it are meant for modern cars and the DG oils are not.
Our expert says that another DG oil on the shelf, SAE 30, is meant for some small engines like select lawnmowers or air compressors, but we found it on the auto shelf. Its warning reads “not suitable” for “engines built after 1930.”
Glenn says he worries that people who pick it up by mistake could damage their car.
“Call it a compressor oil, something else so it’s not so confusing to consumers,” Glenn said.
Tennessee-based Dollar General defended its products, saying in a statement: “For more than 75 years, Dollar General has been committed to providing our customers quality products at everyday low prices. We are confident that our DG-branded motor oil products meet not only our standards for quality and value, but also all applicable federal and state labeling requirements where they are sold."
“In addition, the labeling on these products contains obvious and unambiguous language regarding the products’ intended and appropriate use. Dollar General intends to vigorously defend against the claims raised in the recently-filed lawsuits regarding these products, including the filing of motions seeking their dismissal.”
The chain of variety stores also took issue with the term "obsolete," saying its motor oil can be used in the millions of cars on the road built before 1988.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed across the country against Dollar General. The suits claim DG is misleading consumers by selling obsolete oil on the same shelves as oils meant for newer cars without giving “adequate warning.”
Joe Wood is part of one of those suits. He says he never thought to read the back of the bottle, and that his engine died after he started using the DG oil.
“I didn’t think anything was different from any of the brands. I just thought that was marketing,” Wood says.
Glenn says Dollar General is not the only company selling obsolete oils. “GMA” Investigates went undercover to other stores in New York and New Jersey to see whether they sell these oils. Out of eight other retailers, half were selling oils that Glenn considers obsolete.
So what should you look for when buying oil? First, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to make sure you’re using the right oil. And just as important, look for the API code on the back. Several formulations of oil have codes that are not obsolete; The latest code is API "#SN." For more information on what to look for when buying motor oil, go to PQIA’s website.