Smitty’s Supply, Inc. and Rural King face a proposed class action over their alleged marketing and sale of tractor hydraulic fluid marked as meeting “303” specifications despite the numerical designation being obsolete and unavailable for more than 40 years.
According to the suit out of Kentucky, the defendants’ 303 hydraulic fluid is not suitable for use given its lack of anti-wear and protective properties. Moreover, the 303 hydraulic fluid is mixed from what the case claims is line wash and other lubricant products not suitable for use as ingredients in tractor hydraulic fluids.
“Despite use of these inferior ingredients and inadequate protective additives, the 303 [tractor hydraulic fluids] are labeled and marketed to unsuspecting purchasers as meeting manufacturer specifications and providing certain benefits and anti-wear properties,” the lawsuit reads.
The 36-page complaint details a timeline that dates back to the early 1970s, when John Deere made a widely used tractor hydraulic fluid called JD-303. The company’s formula for its 303 tractor hydraulic fluid, for which sperm whale oil was the essential ingredient, remained the same until the mid-1970s, when a number of laws were passed to protect endangered species and the use of sperm whale oil was banned. This meant John Deere could no longer make or sell its now-obsolete 303 formula, and was forced to create a new tractor hydraulic fluid with different additives, the lawsuit says.
Over time, other hydraulic tractor fluids of varying qualities entered the market, and products with an array of ingredients, viscosities, and additive specifications, such as J14B, J20A and J20B, appeared and were through the years subsequently phased out, the suit continues. John Deere itself, per the complaint, ran a licensing program called Quatrol to keep tabs on the quality of hydraulic fluids on the market until the program was discontinued around 1989. It was around this time, according to the case, that the absence of quality control around tractor hydraulic fluids produced in the market a “free for all” that benefited “unscrupulous manufacturers and sellers” who continued to falsely use John Deere’s specifications on their products.
The suit claims that the defendants “deceptively and illegally” traded on obsolete and non-existent designations and specifications, and that there existed no way for them (or anyone else) to truthfully claim that the products complied with industry standards as the “303” designation no longer exists. Still, the companies, according to the lawsuit, continued to produce the following products as “lower cost alternatives” to other hydraulic fluids:
Super S Super Trac 303;
Super S 303 Tractor Hydraulic Fluid; and
Cam 2 Promax 303 Tractor Hydraulic Oil.
Despite the defendants’ claims, the lawsuit argues that other than the name on the bottle, there’s not much separating these products from each other. From the suit:
“While Cam2 Promax 303 Tractor Hydraulic Oil, Super S 303 Tractor Hydraulic Fluid and Super S Super Trac 303 Tractor Hydraulic Fluid are three separate product names, they are all the same product: the fluids come from the same ingredients, the same tanks, the same formulations and blends and the same manufacturing plant. These THF Products have been sold with eye-catching photos of modern tractors and industrial equipment and are sold in bright, yellow 5-gallon buckets. By name dropping a list of equipment manufacturers, Defendants seek to create an impression of quality and take advantage of consumers’ lack of understanding of the multitude of complex manufacturer specifications.”
In addition to boasting an obsolete designation, the 303 products, the case continues, are made with “poor quality base oils, waste oil, line flush, used oils and diluted additive packages” in order to keep the defendants’ manufacturing costs down. Those who purchase the defendants’ 303 hydraulic tractor fluids are exposing their equipment to not only an increased risk of wear and gear damage, but excessive wear in “the planetaries, improper and poor shifting, seal leakage, and improper operation of the wet brakes.”