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General Motors vehicles built in 2011 and later, required the use of dexos™ licensed engine oil. Many people are thoroughly confused. Is dexos™ a great new oil or just a GM shakedown?

What is dexos?

AC Delco oil that with the dexos logo

Confusing as it may be, dexos™ is not a brand or type of oil at all. Instead, dexos™ is a specification concocted by General Motors along with a license the auto maker sells to oil manufacturers. Oil specifications are nothing new. GM has found a way to make money, selling companies a license to display a logo on their products stating they meet GM specifications. To display the logo, oil makers now have to pay GM, though their products exceed dexos™.  Any brand of oil that displays the dexos™ logo is adequate to meet GM warranty requirements.

Why invent a new oil license?

GM’s stated aim is to simplify oil selection with their vehicles. In the years since its introduction, dexos™ does not appear to have accomplished this. GM states the new specification/license will help insure oil that will increase fuel mileage and help with extended drain intervals. To meet dexos™ oils will likely need to be either fully-synthetic or synthetic-blends. Requiring synthetic blend oil may help with the stated aim, but multiple organizations already rate oils.

All fees and licenses or ultimately paid by the customer

For example the American Petroleum institute (API), International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) and others already have oil ratings and are well received. Asking oil companies to purchase another license does not seem to meet the stated aim. Mobil One for example already met the dexos™ standards, before they published them. To include the logo on their label, Mobil pays General Motors a hefty fee.

Both API and ILSAC already have similar specification in place. Oil rated API SN or ILSAC GF-5 may meet dexos™ standards for gasoline engines. Even if oil exceeds the dexos™ standards, the oil producer must pay GM for a license, if they wish to display the logo. Like all costs, this is passed on to the client in the form of higher oil prices.

Is dexos™ good or bad?

Products that pay for the right to display the logo are no better or worse than those meeting the same standard that do not buy a license. The early statement from the GM website seemed to imply non licensed oils could damage the engine and void the GM warranty.

This excerpt from a 2010 GM statement, shows some strong language regarding products that do not pay for the license.

Original (2010) General Motors statement

Don’t be fooled by oils with claims on the back label such as "meets," "complies with" or "is approved for use with the dexos™ specification. Look alikes or unlicensed products that don’t display the dexos™ icon and trademark, on the front label simply don’t comply with the high performance and quality standards of dexos™.

Using engine oil other than authentic dexos™ licensed products could result in damage that is not covered under warranty.

The current GM statement seems to have backed off quite a bit. Perhaps some oil companies unwilling to pay the tribute may be standing up?

Current (2013) General Motors statement

GM has found that using substandard oil can affect engine performance and, in the worst case scenario, may damage or harm the engine. Only licensed dexos™ products have been certified by GM to meet the dexos™ specification. Unlicensed products have not gone through GM’s rigorous testing process, are not monitored for quality, and are not approved or recommended for use in GM vehicles. Unlicensed product quality and suitability for GM vehicles cannot be guaranteed and, therefore, use of unlicensed products may result in lower levels of performance and could cause engine damage that may not be covered under warranty.

Using engine oils other than authentic licensed dexos™ products could result in reduced engine performance.

Proponents of the dexos license say it will simplify oil selection. The term "synthetic" regarding motor oil in the US is very ambiguous. It was supposed to help those that do not understand viscosity, but now is coming out in multiple viscosity offerings.  Do you want 5W30 dexos™ or 0W20 dexos™?  Perhaps it may help with other oil standards like high temperature high shear (HTHS)?

2014 GM V-8 oil filler cap with new viscosity listed 

Starting in model year 2014, GM has switched the oil viscosity requirement for some of their V-8 engines. The 5.3 and 6.2 liter engines require 0W20 viscosity oil that meets dexos™ specifications. This move from the more standard 5W30 viscosity may add to the confusion, but follows the lead of other manufacturers toward thinner oil.

Is dexos™ required in my GM vehicle?

Loosely interpreted federal law says, if we require a product for a warranty, the manufacturer must supply it free of charge. GM seems to skirt this requirement as dexos™ is not a product, but a licence. Any brand of oil that displays the dexos™ logo is adequate to meet GM warranty requirements.

At the time of this writing, oil producers that wish to display the dexos™ logo, get to pay GM a fee of $1000.00 per product licence. An additional charge of $0.36 per gallon also applies. This is not a bad pay-day for the automaker. I wonder how long it will take for other manufacturers to catch on and issue their own license? Customers will inevitably pay the extra cost.

Like it or not, dexos appears here to stay, at least for now. Extended warranty companies may also follow suite requiring use of the licensed oil for coverage. New standard or shakedown? If your warranty is important, the safest route is to use the licensed oil or avoid GM products.

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