If you drive a European car, there's a reasonable chance you've seen the acronym "SAPS" thrown around for oil changes. You know you need regular oil changes to keep your car running well and maintain its longevity, but do you need to care about these additional terms? And just what does SAPS mean, anyway?

Fortunately, understanding the oil requirements for European cars isn't rocket science, and it's easy to pick the best oil to keep your vehicle healthy and on the road. Whether you drive a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, or some other brand, this guide will help you understand what you need to know about getting the best oil change for your car.

SAPS Defined

SAPS is a shorthand way to refer to three elements found in your car's motor oil: sulfated ash, phosphorous, and sulfur. While it's not something you'll commonly see advertised on a bottle of oil, manufacturers vary the SAPS requirements for their vehicles. The typical descriptions for these levels are low, mid, and full SAPS, depending on the presence of these additives.

Why does it matter? The role of these additives is to provide additional protection for your engine, but they can also result in a particulate build-up that can affect exhaust components. This build-up is a significant concern for diesel engines, but some manufacturers also recommend low or mid-SAPS oil to protect the catalytic converters found in gasoline engines.

SAPS and European Manufacturers

The primary tradeoff with SAPS levels is longevity. A full SAPS oil will potentially provide adequate lubrication for longer, but the high content and potential for sulfated ash build-up can harm exhaust components in some vehicles. As a result, vehicle manufacturers recommend motor oils based on a combination of their oil change intervals and the emissions equipment they install on their cars.

European manufacturers often use extended oil change intervals. For example, BMW recommends changing oil about every 10,000-15,000 miles for many of its cars. These extended intervals require higher SAPS content, so European manufacturers typically recommend mid or full-SAPS oil. This requirement is why you may see oil bottles with "European Formula" on the label.

Choosing the Right Oil

If this sounds confusing, don't worry. While oil requirements often come down to SAPS levels, each manufacturer typically maintains its own specifications. For example, BMW LL-01 and LL-01 FE are the specifications for many of that manufacturer's US gasoline engines. Your owner's manual should list the oil specifications used by your manufacturer for your specific oil.

The best way to choose the right oil for your car is to follow your owner's manual guidelines. Selecting an oil that meets these specifications guarantees that your oil will have the correct SAPS content for your vehicle, ensuring the proper balance of additives to keep your engine running reliably. 

For more information about oil changes, contact a local auto shop.