Mismatching motor oils for European import car can have dire consequences for the vehicle's engine.
All the maintenance work done on a vehicle, the oil change is the most common and one of the most important. Here in Canada most people drive North American vehicles, the range of oils needed for that regular oil change are pretty standard.
But the import cars are getting very popular, and what happens if you buy a European car, a fast BMW for example, or an Audi or Volkswagen, maybe a luxury Mercedes, or Porsche and asks for an oil change?
Do you take your car to the shop where you used to take your domestic car? Will they use the that common synthetic oil, what they use in many of more expensive North American cars?
That might be a very costly mistake, because many of these European car makers insist on very specific types of motor oils to be used, motor oils that follow European specifications that are different from the ones that rates North American oils.
North American and European oil divide, so there is different motor oil specifications in Europe and in North America
To understand why the standards for motor oil are different between Europe and North America you first have to know how those standards are set. In a nutshell, Europe and North America follow two different paths for the minimum requirements for motor oil.
In Europe, standards follow the guidelines set out by the Association des Constructeurs Européens d' Automobiles - European Automobile Manufacturers Association a lobbying and standards group for the automotive industry in the European Union. Its ACEA European Oil Sequences, the most recent being outlined in 2007, defines the minimum quality level of service-fill oils that ACEA members demand for use in their vehicles.
In North America, those oil standards are worked out by the American Petroleum Institute (API), a U.S. based trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, representing about 400 corporations involved in the production, refinement and distribution in the industry. It sets the minimum standards for lubricants which makers of motors oils, for example, will follow for use in North American automobiles.
Those standards are made to meet two things: one is to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rating for average vehicle fuel economy, the other is to help vehicles reduce emissions.
Again, on the surface, the two ratings might seem the same, as both set out minimum standards, but there is an important difference. In Europe, the ACEA does not certify oils. In fact, motor oil standards are made with the input of the auto manufacturers themselves who will demand very specific formulation and blends to meet the specific performance requirements and tolerances of their engines.
The OEMs will actually run very specific engine tests to make sure the oil being manufactured does the job that is needed. The European car manufacturers run tests for very specifics kinds of problems and then they develop the oils to remedy those problems.
The European oils have specific additive packages that are designed to reduce wear in the engine. Some European car makers will often assist on avoiding Pi-only rated oils because they do not believe these oils have that extra protection necessary, such as friction modifiers or viscosity index approvers. When looking up the specifications one will often see ratings such as A1/B1, i3/B3, A3/B4 nd A5/B5, Al/1. These oils are intended for use in gasoline and car or light van diesel engines specifically designed to use low friction, low viscosity oils with a high temperature/high shear rate viscosity of 2.6 to 3.5 mPa.s.
A3/B3 rated oil is stable, stay-in-grade oil intended for se in high-performance gasoline and car or light van diesel engines and/ for for extended drain intervals where specified by the manufacturer and/ or for year-round use of low viscosity oils.
A3/B4 is oil that is stable, stay-in-grade oil for use in high-performance gasoline and direct injection diesel engines.
A5/B5 is a stable, stay-in-grade oil intended for use in high-performance gasoline and car and light van diesel engine designed to be capable of using low-friction, low viscosity oils, with high temperature/high shear rate viscosity of 2.9 to 3.5 mPa.s.
Just to confuse you even more, there are also ratings specifying catalyst compatible oils (Cl, C2, C3 and C4) which have to be kept in mind as well.
If you are really interested to find out what those mean, the ACEA Web site (www.ACEA.be) has all the ratings and their designations spelled out in great detail, right down to the kinds of engine tests run and the results.
And if you think, there is not enough motor oil related info at above, there is something more, to confuse you even more. Some European auto manufacturer will demand even more technology specific motor oil formulations for their vehicles, some manufacturers say the industry standards are great, but we are going to go an extra step and formulate specific oils for our engine because we have a particular type of technology. For example, Volkswagen has the injectors driven from the camshaft rather than the fuel pump. That gives you a really fine misting and a very good burn. Volkswagen has determined that the European standard is a starting-point so they start with an A3/B4 oil which is for direct-injection diesel and then they do a set of sludge tests, valve-train wear tests etc. and come up with a specific kind of oil needed.
BMW has its valvetronic technology and they have to have specially-formulated oils and Mercedes also has specific technologies which they have formulated oils for.
The consequences of using the wrong oil
So what would happen if you used the wrong oil in such an engine, or mistakenly used North American oil, one not European-rated?
The consequences can be rather severe, such as failure of the valve-train in a Volkswagen. Volkswagen already knows that if you call in with a failed valve-train, they know it is because of the oil used. If you use the proper oil, there will be no issues with the valve-train. As soon as you step away, even within Volkswagen-approved oils, but not for that application, you will see a failure of the valve-train. That particular application is very stringent and very sensitive, and if the product is not approved you will have problems. You have to be sure the oil used is specific to the engine it will be used in.
Using the wrong oil could be detrimental to the longevity of the engine, for protecting against sludge and deposits, or against the heat. The incompatibility of the chemistry could result in high-temperature volatility or burn-offs that will consume oil, for example. And if that vehicle is under warranty, not following the recommendations could void that warranty.
Another problem with using the wrong oil is viscosity. If the viscosity is not matched properly, the high shearing in some engines will reduce that viscosity to the point where metal will hit metal, causing engine problems which can be severe.
So how can you find out which oil to use? The easiest is to take a look at the owner's manual as it will specify the kind of oil that is to be used. Another way is to look at the vehicle manufacturer's Web site. Often, the oils that are rated for particular vehicles and makes are listed online.
For example, Mercedes-Benz lists the approved oils that can be used with its vehicles and Audi of America also has a technical service bulletin that lists the approved oils that meet its Audi Oil Quality Standards. However, not every vehicle manufacturer will freely list the oils that are approved. And there is not single website on the Web where the approved oils are listed by vehicle type or manufacturer, which is a shame as it would make the car owners life much easier.
The other route to take is to contact independent shops who specialize in carrying parts and lubricants for European vehicles, as they will be in contact with motor oil providers who have European-rated oils available.
Where to get the oils needed for your European Import vehicle?
We can help you, because we are specializing in European Import cars, and we have all the latest specification and information's from car manufacturer's.
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