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Engine Oil Specifications: Why They Matter For Your Engine

An engine oil cap. An oil tech can help you matched OEM specs to the right oil for your vehicle.

Engine oil specifications from most major car and truck manufacturers can get very, very detailed. We’re talking beyond simply matching viscosity ratings and brands — today’s companies often have in-depth requirements as to what oil you can put into their vehicles in order to properly protect the motor while maintaining peak performance.

How strict are these expectations, and why do they exist? Let’s take a quick look at oil specifications and how they are determined.

Acronym Soup

Once upon a time, car companies were content to list basic requirements such as synthetic, conventional or basic SAE viscosity ratings in the owner’s manual under recommended oils.

Today, all of that largesse has gone out the window. Instead, automakers are increasingly referring to specific industry standards to which an engine oil must adhere in order to be considered safe to use in a given motor. These engine oil specifications and standards come from a wide variety of places and are typically linked to where the vehicle was manufactured, and where it is being sold. Some of the most common include:

  • API (American Petroleum Institute)
  • ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association)
  • JASO (Japanese Engine Oil Standards Implementation Panel)
  • ILSAC (International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee)

Each of these organizations offers multi-tiered engine oil ratings and their own internal standards for oil performance.
Oil cap
Adding to this somewhat confusing array are the seven car companies (Volkswagen, Ford, BMW, GM, Fiat, PSA Peugeot Citroen, and Mercedes-Benz) that also impose their own unique standards on top of, or sometimes incorporating, those listed above.

Why Does It Matter So Much?

If all of this is making your head spin, don’t worry — as an owner, you only have to worry about matching your vehicle’s recommended engine oil specifications with the appropriate lubrication. Your owner’s manual will list the specification code relevant to your vehicle, which you can then show your mechanic or oil change technician. From there, it’s simple to pair the code to a corresponding engine oil.

Why do you need to make the right match? As engines are built to increasingly tight internal tolerances, oils that can keep up with the heat and punishment inside a given motor become increasingly focused in terms of their formulation. Using the oil that was designed for your vehicle will provide the best protection, long-term, for your mechanical components. It will also keep you in the good graces of your service advisor, as choosing the wrong oil type could leave you open to a warranty claim denial should something go wrong down the road.

Check out all the lubrication equipment available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the additives in engine oil, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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