Owning a European car comes with challenges but, finding the right motor oil doesn’t have to be one of them.

Michael Meuli | Vice President, Technical Development

I spend way too much time in my car not to enjoy the driving experience. That’s one reason I’ve always been a car guy. And it’s also why I love European cars. In my opinion, they represent the pinnacle of craftsmanship, quality and performance. Although, in recent years, a handful of U.S.-made cars with outstanding performance have given their European counterparts a run for their money. That’s not to say, however, there haven’t been drawbacks to having owned a BMW*, Porsche*, Saab* and other European cars in my lifetime. Although today’s foreign cars are largely reliable, many of their predecessors suffered from odd and expensive problems that resulted in the stigma that European cars are a pain to own.

Adding to the challenge, European cars require a different motor oil than what you use in your Ford*, Chevy* or Dodge*. Today, I want to talk about those differences and how AMSOIL offers a solution for European car owners.

1) 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 increased use of diesels in the 1990s. Diesels also provide better fuel economy.

One drawback, however, is the higher levels of NOx and PM diesels produce. To counteract this, diesel-powered European vehicles are equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF) and catalysts designed to reduce tailpipe emissions.

Here’s where motor oil comes into play. An oil’s formulation can have a negative effect on sensitive emissions-control devices. Certain components in the motor oil formulation, such as sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur (known collectively as SAPS), can reduce the life of DPFs and other emissions devices. For that reason, motor oils formulated for European vehicles often contain lower SAPS levels to protect emissions-control systems.

2) Longer Oil Change Intervals
European automakers have recommended longer oil change intervals for years. In the U.S. and Canada, however, the traditional 3,000 mile oil change is still around.

Europeans are accustomed to changing oil far less often, with drain intervals of 16,000 km (10,000 miles) or so. One reason is the higher cost of oil in Europe. Another is the differences between manufacturer recommendations. For example, oil changes for 1999-2013 BMWs* are required only every 15,000 miles.

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.

3) Viscosity Differences

Check the owner’s manual for which viscosity oil to use, and you’ll likely find a chart that suggests 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 heat resistance once operating temperatures are reached.

4) OEM Approvals

Staying with your owner’s manual, the OEM also recommends you use an oil that meets a specific performance standard. A Volkswagen* owner, for example, must use an oil that meets the requirements of VW’s own performance specs. The same holds for Mercedes*, BMW, Porsche and other European cars.

Complicating matters, each OEM motor oil specification is slightly different. One OEM may require oils that offer better performance against oxidation, while another may require better resistance to viscosity loss. OEM specifications tend to be more strict and require better motor oil performance than the industry specs we’re used to in the U.S. and Canada, such as API SN Plus or ILSAC GF-5. This, of course, requires more
advanced (and typically expensive) motor oil technology delivered almost exclusively by synthetics.

All these differences can be confusing and leave you scratching your head over which oil to use. Fortunately, we remove the guesswork with our Synthetic European Car Formula motor oil line. It’s specifically formulated to meet the strict emissions requirements, viscosity needs and OEM performance specifications of today’s sophisticated European vehicles. Use our Product Guide at amsoil.com to find the specific oil for your vehicle or equipment.

Owning a European car may still present challenges, but finding the right oil to maximize protection and performance won’t be one of them.

This article from the Summer 2018 issue of the AMSOIL Preferred Customer Magazine

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