Many European Engines are Harmed by
Common North American Oils
(Includes Q&A section below)
European automobile manufacturers design vehicles to use specific high quality lubricants with specific properties and additives. Well over 90% of API-Licensed motor oils offered on America’s retail shelves do not meet those demanding ACEA specifications, and the European lubricants are not readily available. Those that are available are typically hard to find, and quite expensive. As a result, vehicle owners, quick-lube shops and even dealerships use standard American-market petroleum oils. This lets problems such as premature engine wear and engine sludge develop, which can cause complete failure in some engines as early as 40,000 to 50,000 miles.
Engine sludging is an American oil problem noted in the Audi/Volkswagen 1.8L turbo, for years 1997-2004, and in Saab’s 2.0 and 2.3L turbo engines in the 1999-2003 9-3, 9-5 and Viggen. Sludging refers to the creation of tar-like deposits in the engine. It occurs when petroleum oil breaks down under high heat and/or under stress such as using the oil for much longer than it can handle. Sludge deposits also afflict engines from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Toyota and Lexus. And it also hit Mercedes-Benz in a dramatic way when the courts determined that M-B did not adequately inform American car owners that standard American oils were sub-standard performance, and that they could not follow the M-B oil change intervals using those oils. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
“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 minimum 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Looking at this from yet another perspective, the United States is the only major market in the world where Group III petroleum oil can be legally labeled as synthetics. While this clever 1999 maneuver allowed a flood of petroleum “synthetics” to hit the market and command much higher profits by undercutting the manufacturing costs of true synthetics, it may well be contributing to European-vehicle engine problems. Some vehicle owners, even those aware of the need for high-performance oils, may be using these API Group III “synthetic” oils while assuming their engine will be protected. In reality, those oils are only marginally better than their cheaper siblings, and almost none of them meet the ACEA specifications. Perhaps Mercedes-Benz should consider a lawsuit against the oil companies for deceiving the American public and directly contributing to these problems.
Given this bleak engine-oil picture for American owners of European cars, the corporate hero in the American story is AMSOIL. Several years ago AMSOIL made a splash in the European vehicle market by introducing their flagship 0W-30 oil. Formulated to surpass a proposed European oil spec to enable 30,000 mile oil changes, Amsoil recommended it for 35,000 mile drain intervals. In fact, it is this oil’s world-class technology – improved again in 2008 – that enabled the Million Mile expedited-delivery van to run conservative 25,000 mile oil changes. A sub-standard valve keeper halted the engine at 930,000 miles, leading to an engine-rater’s discovery that there was almost no engine wear. [A former senior OEM engineer distilled the seven lessons of the Million Mile Van and detailed how to prevent differential failures.]
With over 30 years of leadership, the world’s only 25,000 and 35,000 mile oils, and a record of repeatedly setting new benchmarks for world-class lubricant performance, it’s not surprising to find that AMSOIL European Car Formula 100% Synthetic Motor Oils are formulated to meet VW 505.01, and Mercedes-Benz 229.51 and BMW LL-04 specifications, as well as meeting later specifications. This means the performance is so high that it can handle the most strenuous technical requirements for the highest performance vehicles, both gas and diesel, with ease. That’s not an easy task. It’s one that requires both great expertise and skillful use of the latest, most-expensive, ultra-high-performance additives. For example, Amsoil 5W-40 European car oil (AFL) is the only motor oil in North America to be recommended for the latest specifications of all three major European automakers – Volkswagen (Audi), BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Saab is a good example of how AMSOIL’s high-performance synthetics are such dramatically superior protection for European engines. The Saab engines are well designed, but highly prone to rapid turbo failure and engine failure using API Certified “synthetic” oils because they simply don’t meet the higher-performance requirements of the European oil specifications. Chuck Andrews is one of North America’s foremost Saab authorities, and writes the “Nines” Saab newsletter for owners. Since 2006 he has proven that 5,000 mile oil changes with Amsoil 5W-40 European car oil (AFL) will consistently outperform all other options in preventing and reducing damaging sludge buildup in the Nines engines, retaining good oil chemistry and minimizing engine wear. Previous to extensive Amsoil testing in the many Saabs he services, his favorite had been Mobil 1. Neither Saab nor Mr. Andrews’ dealership seem concerned that Amsoil’s product isn’t API Licensed or Saab certified. However they are very concerned with performance, and are very pleased with Amsoil performance.
Overall, the API’s system of Licensing oil-label trademarks to show minimal performance is questionably risky for consumers, while Amsoil’s reputation for pursuing extreme excellence appears well founded. Formulated with top-of-the-line synthetic base stocks and robust cutting-edge 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. [Due to increasingly harsh demands of the engine environment in meeting later emissions requirements and fuel economy mandates, AMSOIL’s Signature Series synthetic engine oils have been de-rated to 25,000 miles (17,000 miles severe service) or longer as indicated with oil sampling analysis. However, you don’t need to run long drain intervals to benefit from the extreme superiority of AMSOIL formulations: they deliver 75% wear rate reductions with 2-10% fuel economy improvements.]
Questions and Answers about Amsoil AFL 5W-40 European Formula:
These e-mailed questions have been answered by our degreed automotive engineers.
(None of them are employed by AMSOIL, Inc.)
Q: (September 2006)
I’m… a small shop owner and have a question for you. I use Amsoil in my personal cars and sell quite a bit to customers. There seems to be a lot of discussion on several boards about VW 505.01 Approval list and the fact that Amsoil is not listed. I can understand that there could be many reasons for this, but I’m about to do an oil change on a customer’s 04 Touareg in a few days and I have 4 cases of Amsoil 5W40 Euro. I wouldn’t know what to say if my customers asks if it is an approved oil. I can pick up Castrol TXT 505.01 oil at the dealer for about $5.95 a quart and end all worries, but I think the Amsoil is a superior product approved by VW or not. Worse case, if the engine blows up, totally unrelated to the oil because they would look for any excuse, could VW cause serious issues for my customer and my company? If there is even a hint of a chance, I may just purchase the Castrol and be done with it. I just wanted to get your position on this issue of meets specs, but not technically approved by the manufacturers.
Marc – from Long Island, NY
Marc – The law specifically prohibits a manufacturer from denying a claim based on unrelated aspects. But further, the law puts the burden of proof on the manufacturer to demonstrate in independent engine teardown results and in oil sampling analysis that the oil was the actual cause of a problem. Because it is very rare for any oil to be a problem, and because Amsoil has never in history been found to have caused any damage whatsoever, warranty concerns should be a non-issue. See this information about warranty concerns with Amsoil products. If a rogue dealer employee causes a problem, the OEM will not back them when the customer asks, and Amsoil loves the rare opportunity to step into these situations.
The AMSOIL “European Car Formula 5W-40 Motor Oil” (AFL) IS approved because it DOES meet the 505.01 spec. Some older lists do not have them, because for several months they (Volkswagon) would not release either the spec or testing requirements, or identify a testing lab that could perform the tests – this is a common delay/ploy intended to benefit the original oil mf’r (such as Castrol) who worked with them to formulate the spec and product. The only questions are the product code and the age of the cases you have in stock. If they have the AFL product code and have been purchased in the last six months (very rough approximation), they will have the new label, and it is certainly the new formulation.
Here’s the full scoop: If you look up any specific year and European model in the vehicle lookup, and click on any of the recommended engine oils, that takes you to the product information for that oil. If you look down the page you will see a listing of specifications that begins with a statement such as “AMSOIL European Car Formula 5W-30 Synthetic Motor Oil is engineered for use in gasoline or diesel vehicles that requires any of the following specifications”. This is your assurance that the particular AMSOIL product is designed to exceed the specification requirements.
In fact, AMSOIL’s approach is to evaluate all the relevant latest and pending European specs, and make sure their formulation approach exceeds ALL of the requirements. This enables them to provide one high-performance solution that covers a number of manufacturers’ needs.
Keep in mind that what the manufacturer requires is meeting the specification – not being licensed by the OEM for a listing in the owner’s manual, or Licensed by the API to display their trademark “starburst” logo on oil labels in exchange for a royalty fee on every gallon sold. Meeting the specification, or in Amsoil’s case typically exceeding most specification minimums by an embarrassingly wide margin, is a matter of repeated and longstanding record using the specified ASTM test results. The ASTM tests are used globally by all oil companies, and are required for API certification and SAE Service Grade classification. In every case, whether Licensed or not, the full burden for spec compliance rests on the oil company and no-one else. In this case, there is no other oil on the market that is claimed to meet all three latest specs for BMW, M-B and VW – another testament to Amsoil’s performance supremacy.
And while API Licensed oils are known to produce fatal sludging as early as 50,000 miles in a number of 1997-2004 engines from several OEM’s, Saab service experts noted that Amsoil’s AFL outperforms everything they’ve ever used in keeping engines clean and sludge-free. This shows once again that the API’s system of approving minimal performance is questionably risky for consumers, while Amsoil’s reputation for extreme excellence is well founded. We’d appreciate it if you posted a link to this information on some of the VW forums and member boards – it would help a lot of VW owners.
Recommendations and Related Articles:
- Fleet management resources include the diesel and fleet page, and the Christian ministry and business fleet vehicle maintenance page.
- Know a skeptic who thinks AMSOIL may be just marketing hype? Send them to our AMSOIL Skeptics page.
- The three greatest vehicle maintenance secrets of the automotive & truck industry.
- How to pick the best motor oil.
- No, AMSOIL synthetic oils don’t cause gasket leaks or oil-seal leaks: oil-seal leaks are caused by petroleum oils.
If you want to buy AMSOIL Products, visit our vehicle maintenance page, or the AMSOIL On-Line Store or download a clickable pdf e-catalog