Engines need motor oil, but they need the correct motor oil — one that protects them while operating. Because anything less than that means you’re driving toward serious and expensive repairs. Motor oil quality in North America has fallen behind engine development, notably with the introduction of Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) and Turbocharged Gasoline Direct Injection (TGDI) engines. If you own a BMW, MINI or Mercedes vehicles, chances are you have a GDI or TGDI engine. Here’s what The Shop VA believes you need to know.
Smaller, More Powerful, Turbocharged Engines Are Now the Norm
Fifteen years ago, most automakers began shifting engine production to GDI, and more recently, to TGDI powerplants. Both engine types are downsized, but more powerful, more fuel efficient, and exhaust fewer emissions. So why the shift? First, the engines greatly help automakers to meet the challenging 2025 regulatory fuel economy requirement for 54.5 mpg. In addition, consumer demand for more efficient and better-performing engines has grown.
The trend toward TGDI engines is real. Since 2015, according to leading industry researcher IHS Automotive, more than 50% of new vehicles sold have GDI or TDI engines. By 2024, IHS projects more than 80% of new vehicles sold will have TDGI engine. That’s the majority of vehicles coming through service facility doors for oil changes; it’s even higher for European brands sold worldwide.
If Only Motor Oil Formulations Had Kept Pace with GDI and TGDI Engines
While smaller, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient, these engines also run hotter and at higher pressures. Most engine oils sold in America don’t allow complete combustion, nor do they provide the wear protection or lubricity these advanced engines, it turns out, require. Incomplete and premature combustion has led to a number of problems — some of which can be resolved, others that can be catastrophic.
Carbon deposit build-up on various motor parts and the sooner-than-normal accumulation of engine sludge, and advanced timing belt wear are three problems the auto mechanics see here at The SHOP VA in Richmond. Both lead to a drop in performance and fuel economy but can be resolved. Other problems — such as broken connecting rods, pistons and other internal engine parts — kill engines. Auto repair facilities are seeing the occurrence of these issues increasing all over America, but there are proactive steps that owners can take.
Your Choice of Motor Oil Matters
In the presence of higher operating temperatures and internal cylinder pressures that these engines produce, inadequately formulated motor oil is the culprit. They carry soot, which the oil/soot mixture then dilutes the fuel being injected into engine cylinders, setting up an engine environment that wears more rapidly than normally expected. More critically, instead of a fine homogenous fuel mist being injected, larger droplets can be
That sets up engine cylinders for uncontrollable combustion, a condition technically name Low-Speed Pre-Ignition (LSPI), which if it happens, is not only earlier that engineered, but the fuel detonation is at a much higher pressure than during normal combustion. The result: the soot acts like shrapnel.
Over time, pistons and other internal parts are pitted, scored, and otherwise damaged — which can gradually degrade engine performance and the pleasure you feel driving. And eventually, just one LSPI event can obliterate an engine’s critical parts and stop your vehicle in its tracks.
Here’s a video from Lubrizol, an additive manufacturer, explaining LSPI:
But Here’s the Rub … Europe Doesn’t Have Our Problems
In North America, oil formulation standards are set by the American Petroleum Institute (API), comprised of lubricant manufacturers, additive companies, as well as Domestic and Asian, but NOT European automakers, who use their own standards body. In addition, North American motor oil quality standards are less stringent and more generalized than standards in Europe — you know, where BMWs, MINIs, and Mercedes come from.
Of note, the aforementioned engine problems occur here in the U.S., but the same engines on the same model vehicles in Europe don’t have them when they use automaker-specified engine oil. Period. That’s because in Europe, motor oils have been engineered and formulated to better match specific engine types — like GDI and TGDI — unlike here, where motor oils have been developed to match a broader group of engine types.
The advent of GDI and TGDI engine issues here showed what happens when their motor oil formulation is the wrong dance partner. Even the latest North American oil standard — for the techies reading, API SN (a GF-5 category) motor oil — just introduced on May 1, 2018, is still well below motor oil formulated for use in Europe for GDI and TGDI engines.
What’s a BMW, MINI, or Mercedes-Benz Owner to Do?
Here are three recommendations we suggest you consider if your vehicle has a GDI or TGDI engine:
- Follow our recommendations that meet the automaker’s specifications for your specific engine. Yes, they’re more costly, but that added cost is less expensive than remedying the problems inadequately formulated motor oil can cause.
- Consider having periodic, but regular oil analyses were done when your oil is changed. Think of them as engine blood samples. A series of regular oil analyses can reveal your engine health history over time, and specifically, show the development of issues that are better addressed sooner than later.
- If your engine has some issues developing, our auto mechanics may recommend a service to clean out carbon deposits or accumulated engine sludge. Or they may suggest a shorter interval for an oil change and filter service, to keep fresher and less contaminated motor oil in your engine.
The SHOP VA appreciates you choosing us for your vehicle’s maintenance and repair needs. We’re dedicated to providing you with exceptional customer experiences every time you visit us. If you or someone you know have any questions about engine oils or any other auto concerns, we invite you to please contact us or schedule an appointment online. We’re thankful to be your transportation partner!