The complaint for this class action alleges that specifications for 303 tractor hydraulic fluid (THF) no longer exist, and that current 303 THF products may even be harmful to equipment. Why don’t specifications exist? The original 303 product contained sperm whale oil, which may no longer be used. The defendants are Smitty’s Supply, Inc. and Tractor Supply Company.
The class for this action is all persons and entities who bought any of the products listed below in Arkansas, not for resale, between August 30, 2014 and the present:
THF is a lubricant that can be used tractors and other equipment. It is used as hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid, and gear oil. The “303” designation originated with a popular variety made by John Deere in the 1960s and early 1970s called JD-303. The complaint calls it a “high-quality and then effective product.”
However, an essential ingredient in the oil was sperm whale oil. In the mid-1970s, the use of this oil was outlawed when the sperm whale was declared an endangered species. Deere moved on to create other THF products with different specifications, such as J20A and J20B.
For a while, Deere had Quatrol, a program to police the quality of THF products made by other companies. The program required competing makers to provide test data and get Deere’s approval before they could use the J20A or J20B designation on their labels.
J20A and J20B became obsolete as Deere began making low-viscosity THF designated as J20C or J20D. Around the same time, the company stopped its Quatrol program. At that point, the complaint claims, [t]he subsequent lack of a quality control program or policing of the products in the market resulted in a ‘free for all’ … and the opportunity for unscrupulous manufacturers and seller to falsely use the Deere specifications … on the labels of the THF products they sell.”
Now, the complaint alleges, companies “use poor quality base oils, waste oil, line flush, used oils and diluted additive packages in their 303 THF products…” Because of this, their 303 products “not only lack the required lubricant and protective benefits offered to purchasers, the fluids actually expose purchasers’ equipment to increased wear and risk of damage to the spiral gear, excessive wear in the planetaries, improper and proof shifting, seal leakage, and improper operation of wet brakes.”
In 2017, Missouri tested fourteen 303 THF products and found them all to be, as the complaint says, “underperforming to the point that damage was likely to result from use.” In November of that year, Missouri banned companies from making or selling 303 THF products; Georgia and North Carolina later did the same.