European vs. American Engine Oils

Help your customers know the difference

Passenger Car Passenger Car

Have you ever wondered what makes European engine oil different from standard or American engine oil? If you’re servicing a European car, how do you choose the right oil?  In this article, we will explore the unique characteristics and advantages of European engine oil, and how it can improve your vehicle's performance and longevity.


Main Features and Benefits of European Engine Oil


Higher viscosity index: Viscosity index is a measure of how much the oil’s viscosity changes with temperature. A higher viscosity index means the oil maintains its optimal viscosity over a broader temperature range, providing consistent oil film thickness and easier engine starting at low temperatures. Many European engine oils have a wider viscosity range, such as 5W-40, 0W-30, and 0W-40, which provide great performance in extreme weather conditions. To achieve these viscosity grades, premium base oils such as Group III and Group IV (PAO) are needed. These base oils have a higher viscosity index that provides better oxidation stability and overall performance compared to the base oils used in most standard engine oils.


Lower volatility: Volatility is a measure of how easily the oil vaporizes at high temperatures.  European oils with low volatility help to minimize oil loss, hence they help to ensure proper oil level is maintained between oil changes.


Enhanced additive packages: European automakers such as BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, or Porsche often develop unique engine oil tests based on the design of their engines or turbochargers. Their performance specifications tend to be stricter than the industry standard. Meeting these specs requires exacting formulation science with enhanced additive technology, such as advanced detergents, dispersants, antioxidants, wear inhibitors, and friction modifiers. These additives provide superior performance on thermal stability, shear stability, anti-wear, anti-corrosion, anti-foaming, and anti-oxidation properties.


After-treatment system protection: Europe has tough emission regulations, and exhaust after-treatment systems can be very sensitive to sulfated ash, phosphorus, and sulfur content – collectively called SAPS – in engine oil. These components form non-combustible deposits during combustion that build up and clog the after-treatment device, impeding engine power, fuel efficiency, and emission control. Reducing SAPS levels in European oils has helped mitigate these impacts.


Longer oil change intervals: To help consumers control costs, many European oils are formulated for longer intervals between changes – as much as 10,000 miles or more – compared to American cars that typically require changes every 5,000 miles. European oils are also formulated for specific engine types, usually smaller, higher-powered engines.


Can I Use American Oil in European Cars?


Oils designed for American cars are generally incompatible with European engines, and vice versa. This can lead to performance issues, increased wear and tear, reduced fuel efficiency, increased emissions, and even engine or catalytic converter damage.  Using a non-OEM specified American oil on a European car may also void the warranty.


All of this means that European makes and models should use oils specifically formulated to the automaker’s standards of quality and performance. In view of the large number of European cars on the road in the U.S. and Canada, Chevron’s Havoline® line has expanded its full synthetic motor oil portfolio to include two new European-style viscosity grades, 0W-30 and 0W-40, available in North America. These add to our selection of engine oils formulated to the specifications of European OEMs, enabling you to meet the needs of more customers who drive European cars.


Anita Leung
Anita Leung has held various technical positions at Chevron specializing in engine oil development, including research on next generation additives and product development of Chevron's latest line of GF-6 passenger car motor oil. She is currently the North America Product Technical Specialist responsible for passenger car and motorcycle engine oil, as well as the Techron branded aftermarket fuel additive. Anita also holds a U.S. patent on a gasoline additive manufacturing process. She has a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and a M.S. in Environmental Science from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Other articles you may be interested in.