For all the grin-inducing benefits of owning a European car – finely tuned performance, sophisticated styling, prestige – they can be a pain. European cars such as BMW are higher maintenance than Japanese cars.
Not only that, but they require specialised oil that differs in many ways from car engine oil you use in your Ford. Here are four reasons why.
The European Union maintains stricter standards for carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions. Because modern diesel car engines emit lower CO2 than petrol engines, the European market pivoted towards increased use of diesel cars in the 1990s. Diesel-powered European cars also provide the advantage of better fuel economy.
One drawback, however, is the higher levels of NOx and PM diesel cars produce. To counteract this, diesel-powered European cars are equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF) and catalysts designed to reduce pollutants from the exhaust before it exits the tailpipe.
Here’s where engine oil comes into play.
An oil’s formulation can have a negative effect on sensitive emissions-control devices. Certain components in the engine oil formulation, such as sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur (known collectively by the pleasant term SAPS), can reduce the effectiveness and life of DPFs and other emissions devices.
For that reason, engine oils formulated for European cars often contain lower SAPS levels to protect emissions-control systems.
Europeans have long since accepted the longer intervals on car oil change. Not many drivers are blindly practicing 5,000-km (3,000-mile) car oil changes.
Europeans are accustomed to changing car oil far less often, with drain intervals of 16,000 km (10,000 miles) or so quite common. One reason is the higher cost of oil in Europe. Another is the differences between manufacturer recommendations. For example, car oil changes for 1999-2013 BMWs are required only every 15,000 miles. Most people change car oil around every 5,000 miles. The figure increases by a few hundred miles if their vehicle is equipped with an electronic oil-life monitoring system.
Longer drain intervals common with European cars require an engine oil capable of protecting against wear, deposits and sludge for the duration, which requires a more robust engine oil.
Check the owner’s manual of most European cars for which viscosity of 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 an 0W-40 or 5W-40 engine oil to offer the best of both worlds – good cold-flow at start up to protect against wear and good resistance to heat once operating temperatures are reached.
Staying in your owner’s manual, the OEM also recommends you use an engine oil that meets a specific performance standard.
European OEMs are different. They typically maintain their own engine oil performance specifications. Drivers of Volkswagens, for example, need to use an engine oil that meets the requirements of Volkswagen’s own performance specifications. The same holds for Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and other European cars.
Complicating matters, each OEM engine oil specification is slightly different. One OEM may require engine oils that offer better performance against oxidation, while another requires better resistance to viscosity loss.
OEM specifications tend to be stricter and require increased engine oil performance than industry specifications. This, of course, requires more advanced (and typically expensive) engine oil technology delivered almost exclusively by fully synthetic oils.
These differences mean you’d better make sure you’re using the correct engine oil in your European cars. Fortunately, we make it easy for you by formulating a full line of fully synthetic oil for European cars. If you don’t know which your car requires, reach out to your local distributor for a chat.