What You Need To Know About Your Car’s Oil
By Anthony Gelinas
Is there a difference between “approved” and “meets or exceeds” on that bottle of oil you are about to purchase for your late model European car? The answer is yes!
When you buy “approved” oil, the manufacturer of the oil has taken the time to develop a product that has been formulated to a precise set of standards. Take the clean diesel engine on the new ’09 Jetta TDI, for example. Volkswagen spent years developing a clean diesel engine that could be sold in all 50 states. Three things makes clean diesel possible: a new low sulfur fuel, urea injection systems, and a particulate filter to remove the soot from the exhaust so you don’t see massive black clouds bellowing from the rear. In order for that very expensive part to last, one of Volkswagen’s requirements is that the lubricant has low sulfur, low phosphorus, and low sulfated ash rates. The reason is if the sulfated ashes are too high, it will clog the diesel particulate filter (DPF) causing an expensive repair and the car to fail emissions testing.
This is why it is extremely important to check the owner’s manual of your vehicle to see what the manufacturer approvals are. They come in an alphanumeric code, for example: BMW (LL-04), Mercedes-Benz (MB229.3), and VW (502.00). It is important to make sure that the bottle of oil you purchase has these OEM approvals because it can save you massive amounts of money on future repairs. Approved oil is the lifeblood of your engine, so to prevent being caught in the middle of BFE and being a half a quart low, keep a quart of approved oil in the car. In an emergency, my Audi manual says it is OK to top off with non-approved oil that meets certain industry standards as long as you don’t use more than half a quart. Before long trips, check oil levels before you leave, which is an especially good idea if you own an Audi.
The phrase “meets or exceeds” can be a misnomer. At first glance the word “exceeds” makes you think that it is better than “approved.” Keep in mind that unlike standard oil industry approvals, where an oil can get a grade by being within a range of criteria, OEM-approved oils use a set of standards that have been tested on your vehicle and been proven to work. I would be surprised if a company that uses the term “exceeds” spent the money to have an OEM test its oil only to receive a letter that says, “We’re sorry but your product is too good, we can’t offer you approval.” The same thing holds true with the use of the term “meets.” Since the other oil companies don’t spend the time and money to have the OEM, how would they know it meets the requirement? Plus, if it did really meet the requirement then it would be an approved oil.
So I’m wondering, if the car manufacturers are the ones doing the testing, which costs money, did they spend the money for the test or is it just an assumption?
Some people like to cry foul and say that they don’t think it’s right for a car manufacturer to dictate what type of oil to use, especially if another oil company says their product exceeds their specifications. The other oil company might throw up some test and show some proof that their oil is superior to an approved oil brand. But there really is only one test for approval and that’s the real-world test, which includes extensive testing of emissions, oxidation, wear-and-tear distribution on moving metal-to-metal parts, fuel economy, and severe wear-and-tear testing (about 600 hours of continued use) on your type of vehicle.
When it comes down to it, it’s your car and you can do whatever you want, just don’t be surprised when something fails and the dealer voids your warranty. These oil approvals are like octane ratings: If your gas door says to use 91-octane or higher, there is a reason why the manufacturer spent the time and money to put that sticker there. It’s against the law for a car manufacturer to mandate that you use only their approved products, charge outrageous prices, and prevent other manufacturers from seeking approvals. All car manufacturers open the approval process up to any oil manufacturer who is willing to submit their product and pay for the test. Approved oils are inexpensive (as cheap as $4.99) and they are available almost everywhere. It is not illegal for them to say the use of non-approved oil can adversely affect your new vehicle warranty. Bottom line: To avoid a headache at the dealership when something fails, always use high-quality oil filters, approved oils, and always keep the receipts to show that you purchased an “approved” product. Keep in mind the dealer can run a simple test to determine if you were using approved oil or not.