Motor Oil Isn’t “One-Size-Fits-All”

There are noticeable differences between oil for European and Domestic vehicles


For all their benefits, like finely tuned performance, styling and prestige, European cars can be a hassle to maintain. Some makes and models are notorious for their interesting and sometimes expensive quirks. Another notable difference is the motor oil they use, which I’d like to explain today.

OEMs Create Their Own Oil Specifications

One of the biggest differences between oils for European cars and domestic cars is the performance requirements each must meet. In the US and Canada, it’s typically an industry-wide motor oil specification, such as API SP.

European original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), however, typically maintain their own motor oil performance specifications. A Volkswagen* owner, for example, must use an oil that meets the requirements of VW’s own performance specs. The same holds for Mercedes-Benz,* BMW,* Porsche* and other European cars.

Complicating matters, each OEM motor oil specification is slightly different. One OEM may require an oil that offers better performance against oxidation, while another requires better resistance to viscosity loss. And different engine models can require different oil chemistries of the same viscosity. For example, VW requires some of its engines to use a 0W-20 oil that meets its 508.00/509.00 spec, but others must use a 0W-20 oil that meets a different spec. Some BMW engines require a 5W-40 oil that meets the BMW LL-01 spec, while others require a 5W-40 that meets the BMW LL-04 spec. The specificity can easily confuse motorists.

OEM specifications tend to be more strict and require increased motor oil performance than the industry specs to which we’re accustomed. This, of course, requires more advanced (and typically expensive) motor-oil technology delivered almost exclusively by synthetics.

General Motors: for its part, has taken a page out of the playbook of its European counterparts by maintaining its own GM dexos* performance specifications. I suspect we’ll see more of this from domestic OEMs in the coming years.

More-Strict Emissions Standards

The European Union maintains more strict standards for carbon dioxide (C02) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions than we do. (Our standards for nitrogen oxides [NOx] and particulate matter [PM] are more strict, however.) Because modern diesels emit lower C02 than gasoline engines, the European market pivoted toward diesel-powered vehicles in the 1990s. Diesels also provide better fuel economy.

One drawback, however, is the higher levels of NOx and PM that diesels produce. To counteract this, diesel-powered vehicles use diesel particulate filters (DPF) and catalysts designed to reduce pollutants from the exhaust before they exit the tailpipe.

An oil’s formulation can negatively affect sensitive emissions-control devices. Certain components in the motor oil can reduce the effectiveness and life of DPFs and other emissions devices. For that reason, European specifications often limit certain ingredients to protect emissions-control systems.

Longer Oil-Change Intervals
Europeans have long practiced what’s only recently caught on in North America – longer oil-change intervals.

Europeans are accustomed to changing oil far less often, with drain intervals of 10,000 miles (16,000 km) or so quite common. One reason is the higher cost of oil in Europe. Another is the differences between manufacturer recommendations. For example, most modern BMWs require oil changes only every 15,000 miles (24,140 km). In the U.S., most people change oil around every 5,000 miles (8,000 km). The figure increases if the vehicle is equipped with an electronic oil-life monitoring system.

Longer drain intervals common with European cars require an oil capable of protecting against wear, deposits and sludge for the duration, which requires a more robust oil.

Different Viscosities

In addition, many European OEMs have historically suggested different viscosities for different operating temperature ranges. In cold weather, the OEM may recommend 5W-30. In warm weather, 5W-40. Traditionally, drivers settle on a 0W-40 or 5W-40 to offer the best of both worlds – good cold-flow at startup to protect against wear and good resistance to heat once operating temperatures are reached. However, like their domestic counterparts, European manufacturers are increasingly recommending reduced oil viscosities to help improve fuel economy.

Our updated line of 100 Synthetic European Motor Oil reflects this trend. We recently introduced two new 0W-20 products. Our full line provides an option for just about any European car owner, no matter the performance spec or viscosity. The best way to find the right oil is to use our Product Guide at or

European cars offer an excellent driving experience; be sure to protect them with AMSOIL Synthetic European Motor Oil.

Need to know which oil (and filters, transmission fluids, gear lubricants etc) your vehicle/equipment needs, check out the AMSOIL Lookup Guide to get that information. (If you are looking up information for your Auto or Light Truck, check out this link for more detailed information.

*All trademarked names and images are the property of their respective owners and may be registered marks in some countries. No affiliation or endorsement claim, express or implied, is made by their use. All products advertised here are developed by AMSOIL for the use in the application shown.

Reproduced With The Permission Of AMSOIL INC. All Rights Reserved.

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