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
"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
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 issues."
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
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 distorted.
"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
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 million.
"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
"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
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
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