One way to make products cheap is to compromise their quality, in ways that the consumer might never notice. Like fewer threads in the weave of a shirt or blue jeans, or inner parts made of plastic instead of metal. Or, in a case settled this week in Monterey County, California, compromising the thickness of gear oil for trucks and large machinery. Fox 35 New reports this week that Wal-Mart was caught in a greasy scheme to sell a product that did not meet its labeled specifications. Wal-Mart agreed to pay $357,800 to settle a civil law suit filed against the giant retailer. Monterey county’s District Attorney, Dean D. Flippo, said that his office, along with the District Attorneys in four other counties (Sonoma, Napa, Shasta, and Solano) had settled the suit againt Wal-Mart, and a company named Warren Distribution, for false labeling of a SuperTech gear oil. The manufacturer, Warren Distribution, is based in Nebraska, and makes the 85W-140 and 75W-140 SuperTech gear oil, used by large trucks and heavy equipment. These products are supposed to meet the viscosity levels as advertising on the product — but an investigation by state and county Weights and Measures officials determined that the oils being sold at Wal-Mart did not meet the viscosity standards. This means that the gear oil would not meet performance standards, could break down and not function correctly at high temperatures. Fox News says that Wal-Mart and the manufacturer cooperated with prosecutors during the investigation and as part of the settlement agreed to undertake additional testing procedures to ensure compliance with the law. In such settlements, the offending parties do not admit wrong-doing. They just pay a “civil penalty,” with in this case was $257,800, plus $75,000 to pay for the cost of the prosecution, and $25,000 in restitution. A total of $357,800 was paid as part of the settlement. Reportedly 5,000 bottles of the ‘non-compliant’ gear oil were sold in California alone from 2004 to 2006. There were no figures on how much inferior gear oil was sold around the nation by Wal-Mart.
Consumers were buying a product that they assumed would meet the product standards set by the government. But Wal-Mart was selling a product that did not meet the advertised standards, and could have damaged the expensive equipment the oil was made for. This story is just another reminder that you sometimes don’t even get what you pay for. Most consumers are totally at the mercy of the retailer to be selling products that perform as they are advertised. For example, in a recent forum for Mustang car owners, one consumer wrote: “Hey, I was curious to know what you guys have to say about Super Tech Gear Oil, as I was working (walking around store) I checkout Walmarts oils and they had SuperTech Full Synthetic 75-140 for 10 dollars I believe it was, so I wanted to know what anyone had to say about the Oil. I know there are much better brands but I have checked out and supposedly the makers of Super Tech Oils are Quaker State. Let me know what you guys think because I am going to go check out oils tomorrow, and I wanna have a idea. I am getting my gears installed next week and need to bring with me.” In another car forum, a consumer wrote: “Has anyone used the Walmart supertech full synthetic oil? Who makes it for them? It costs a lot less than other synthetics but I wonder if it’s as good as Castrol Synetec or Mobil One.” Now these consumers have their answer. Warren Distribution says it is a Nebraska Corporation with its corporate offices in Omaha. Warren employs approximately 300 people. “We are committed to the continuous improvement of our products and processes,” the company boasts. Their website says nothing about this latest supertech gear oil controversy. Readers are urged to email Wal-Mart customer service at http://walmartstores.com/contactus/feedback.aspx with the following message: “Dear Wal-Mart, If you settled a civil suit in California which said that your super tech gear oil did not meet viscosity standards, shouldn’t you be pulling that product off all your shelves across your 3,500 stores in America? Or is this only a problem where you get caught? I didn’t see any press release about this settlement on your websites. How are consumers to be warned not to buy these products for their trucks or cars if you don’t admit there is a problem? Shouldn’t this be treated like a recall? How many other products on your shelves do not meet quality standards. I guess the moral of this story is: ‘You get less than you pay for at Wal-Mart.'”