ALERT! New Transmission Fluid Labeling Requirements

DECEMBER 7, 2017

On January 1, 2018, updated labeling and documentation mandates for transmission fluids go into effect automatically in 19 States based on amendments to NIST Handbook 130 adopted this past summer by the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM).

The 19 States are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

While the remaining States need to take affirmative action to adopt the Handbook 130 amendments, they are a de facto national labeling standard for transmission fluids. ILMA's Ethics Committee will review member complaints about transmission fluid labeling under the Association's Code of Ethics by applying the requirements from Handbook 130.

The key provision in the Handbook 130 amendments deals with properly identifying performance claims for automatic transmission fluids (ATFs):

Container Labeling. – The label on a container of transmission fluid shall not contain any information that is false or misleading. Containers include bottles, cans, multi-quart or liter containers, pails, kegs, drums, and intermediate bulk containers (IBCs). In addition, each container of transmission fluid shall be labeled with the following:

... (d) the primary performance claim or claims met by the fluid and reference to where any supplemental claims may be viewed (for example, website reference). Performance claims include but are not limited to those set by original equipment manufacturers and standards setting organizations such as SAE and JASO and are acknowledged by reference; and...

This provision recognizes that many oil marketers make and sell "suitable for use" or "multi-vehicle" ATFs. In reviewing their product labels, ILMA members should ensure that, unless the formulation is licensed from the OEM or meets a published specification, any performance claims should indicate that the ATF is suitable for use in automatic transmissions identified by OEMs to use certain fluids, rather than claiming to meet a non-published specification(s). While this Alert is not intended to provide legal advice or dictate performance claim language, use of descriptive words, such as "all," "universal," and "world," should be carefully considered. The Handbook 130 amendments do permit label references to a company's website for further product and performance information. 

From a weights and measures enforcement standpoint, evidence of current OEM licensing for the transmission fluid by the oil marketer is acceptable documentation of performance against the claimed specification. Suitable-for-use performance claims, including for multi-vehicle ATFs, are to be based on appropriate field, bench and/or transmission rig testing, including such testing done by additive suppliers. If the product performance claims are based on the claim(s) of one or more additive suppliers, documentation from the additive supplier(s) can be submitted upon request to the state agency. Accordingly, ILMA members should ensure that, unless they have conducted their own testing, they have or have access to additive company test data for their suitable for use or multi-vehicle ATF performance claims. 

ILMA members should be aware that the Handbook 130 amendments do not provide for a "sell-through" period for any transmission fluid labels; therefore, on the face of the provision, all products must meet the applicable labeling and documentation requirements in the 19 identified States by January 1, 2018, regardless of when they were manufactured or distributed. ILMA is aware that at least one organization has asked NCWM to interpret the Handbook 130 amendments to provide for a reasonable "sell-through" period. 

The California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) says it plans to propose adoption of the Handbook 130 amendments some time in 2018. The State's proposal likely will include some modifications; however, ILMA and others will have an opportunity to comment during the rulemaking process. ILMA will follow efforts to adopt the Handbook 130 amendments in those State that do not automatically recognize the latest version of Handbook 130. 

ILMA members can access and download the 2018 edition of Handbook 130. Please contact the ILMA office if you have any questions.