Many Popular North American Motor Oils may
be Harmful to European Engines
European automobile manufacturers design vehicles to use
specific high quality lubricants with specific properties and
additives. Most motor oils offered in America do not meet the
demanding specifications, and the European lubricants are not
readily available. As a result, problems such as premature wear
and engine sludge develop.
"Europeans build their cars and impose higher requirements on
the type of oil than we are used to here in North America,"
remarks an oil industry source. "They have more of a multi-tier
system within their specifications, whereas the API uses the
lowest common denominator as a guideline. It is by its own
admission, within API 1509, a minimum Spec.,,
While the American Petroleum Institute (API) sets oil standards
in America, the Automotive Manufacturers Association (ACEA)
sets them in Europe. "ACEA standards reflect a wider complexity
of the offering of engines on the market right now," says Herve
Blanquart, VP Automotive of Motul North America. "On top of
that, manufacturers have introduced their own standards, most
of which start with the ACEA standards, and go further in
specific tests to solve specific problems and address specific
In the U.S., the API adopts one standard for all engine oils.
"For example they are working on ILSAC GF-4, and the problems
they are running into is that this oil will be too thin for a
lot of older engines," explains Blanquart. "In Europe, they
decided from the beginning that they would not adopt a linear
standard - rather a standard for each type of application -
gas, diesel, turbo, etc."
European vehicle manufacturers keep tight control over which
lubricants they, allow to be used in their vehicles.
Inner-company bureaucracies are in charge of keeping the
approved lubricant lists up-to-date with the latest
requirements, and a few companies apply some of the regulations
to North America. European aftermarket service stations must
stock different lubricants for different automobile brands.
Sometimes different models put out by the same manufacturer
require different lubricants.
Do-it-yourselfers are less prevalent in Europe. Qualified
repair shops, franchised or tightly controlled by the vehicle
manufacturers in order to dictate the type of oil being used,
typically perform most of the oil changes.
The high quality oils used in Europe allow Europeans to enjoy
longer drain intervals. However, when European vehicles are
exported to the United States, the concept becomes
"There is in general a longer drain associated with the higher
tier oils in the European system," remarks the oil industry
source, "so the thought process is if we don't allow the longer
drain in North America, consumers should be able to get by with
API spec oils - but it leaves manufacturers open to the type of
problem Mercedes-Benz recently experienced."
A recent class-action lawsuit brought forward by owners of
certain 1998 through 2001 Mercedes-Benz vehicles claimed they
weren't informed that synthetic motor oil was required in order
to take advantage of the extended drain intervals afforded
through the use of the vehicles' Flexible Service System (FSS).
Many using conventional oils experienced premature wear
problems, and the settlement will cost the company over $32
"The long drain indicator used by Mercedes is predicated on
using Mercedes-Benz-approved oil, which is a very top quality
synthetic oil," explains the oil company source. "When those
vehicles came to the States, somehow dealerships weren't
impressing upon the consumer the need to use the right oil. And
whether or not the dealers were doing so, some consumers were
putting in regular API-spec oil, resulting in problems."
Although synthetic motor oils are generally of higher quality
than conventional oils, not all synthetics can meet the
stringent European specifications. "A good quality synthetic
could solve the problem," says the source, "but in the case of
M-B, for example, you're dealing with an extremely high-spec
oil. Not every synthetic is going to meet that spec. Some only
meet the baseline API specs. Just because it's a synthetic
doesn't mean it's a top tier product.
"Shop owners must keep in mind that there are numerous special
requirements for European vehicles and that they shouldn't
always be knee-jerking to the stuff in the big tank. If you
call M-B, Volvo, or VW, for example, they should be telling you
that their vehicle needs ACEA spec products."
Although it's easy to assume that the more expensive the
vehicle, the better quality the lubricant it needs, that's not
always the case. For example, the mid-priced Volkswagen TDI
requires a very specific, high spec lubricant.
Formulated with top-of-the-line synthetic base stocks and
robust additive packages, AMSOIL synthetic motor oils provide
superior protection and performance over competing synthetic
and conventional motor oils and meet or exceed the most
stringent European oil specifications. AMSOIL synthetic motor
oils provide superior protection and performance in both
foreign and domestic automobiles for extended drain intervals
of up to 35,000 miles or one year, whichever comes first.
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