DIY – Choosing the correct motor oil for your BMW

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September 12, 2013 by quirkyuncle

Buying motor oil for your car is not as easy as it used to be. Unlike the past, there is more to choosing the correct motor oil for your BMW than merely picking a bottle off the shelf with the recommended weight that is made by a reputable brand.




BMW oil cap

Note: While some of the information in this article is applicable to any type of vehicle, this article was written to address motor oil selection for BMWs (and Minis that use the BMW oil spec) with gasoline engines in the US market (except for the BMW Motorsport ‘M’ vehicles that have different maintenance requirements).

One of the most read articles on this website is Quieting the infamous BMW lifter tick. The statistics I receive for the BMW lifter tick posting shows that its readers are from all over the world, making me believe that ticking lifters in a BMW is not a USA-only issue, as I had previously suspected. While the suggestions I make for driving differently in Quieting the infamous BMW lifter tick have remained effective at preventing lifter noise in my 2007 BMW Z4 3.0i, and I’ve receive no feedback from readers to indicate that these techniques are ineffective, it still makes me wonder what the root causes of this problem might be.

While the final solution that BMW offers to correct lifter knock is replacement of the entire cylinder head, the variable that my mind keeps returning to is the motor oil. Lifters are hydraulic components and all hydraulic devices are sensitive to the fluids that they use.

I’ve owned a couple non-BMWs that had hydraulic lifters which were oil sensitive and would periodically make a lot of noise. Effective solutions for these vehicles included: changing the oil sooner, using heavier oil, using lighter oil, or using a particular oil additive. Each situation and its solution was unique. The common thread was changing the characteristics of the motor oil in the engine, which is acting as the hydraulic fluid within each hydraulic lifter.

I’m not a petroleum engineer. Volumes could be written about motor oil ratings, viscosity, additives, and brand comparisons. I’m not going to do that here. My goal is to write a short and simple article about purchasing the correct oil for your BMW. The other technical details about oil are really interesting and I might discuss some of them in another posting. For now, if you have an interest, you can certainly find out more than you’d ever want to know about oil elsewhere on Internet.

What do we know (and assume)?

The following basic motor oil facts for my 2007 BMW were easily found:

  • All late model BMWs use synthetic motor oil (it’s in the owners manual).
  • Approved BMW oils belong to the 5w-40 and 5w-30 weight (viscosity) classes (it’s in the owners manual).
  • BMW recommends the Castrol motor oil brand (it says so on the oil filler cap of the car).

BMW also recommends doing oil changes for my car at 15,000-miles. For synthetic oil, I always change mine at the 7500-mile interval. With any oil, the lubricating properties of diminish as the oil ages and gets dirtier. This easily seen in the following photo. See Recommended oil change intervals for more information.

7500-mile to 15K-mile oil comparison

Being old-school, I went to a local retailer that sold motor oil and bought 7-quarts of Castrol synthetic 5w-40 (the heavier oil weight option, it being summer) and an oil filter. The oil change was simple, and I was done for another 7500 miles. I suspect that this is what most folks do: purchase a reputable brand of oil that is of the specified weight. BMW specifies Castrol: it’s a good brand that you’ve heard of, so you buy it… unless maybe another known brand is on sale.

It all seems simple enough, but it’s not.

If you go digging for information about motor oil on the BMW-USA website, you’ll eventually end up at the BMW recommended oils page. Here, as of August 2013, it says:

  • BMW Genuine Oil SAE 5w-30 Synthetic Oil is recommended for scheduled oil changes.

It goes on to say that oil changes should only be performed by an authorized BMW center and that if you need to add oil and don’t have BMW Genuine Oil SAE 5w-30 Synthetic Oil, you need to go to an authorized BMW center to have it topped off.

When I did this research a while back, the BMW-USA website had a list of approved synthetic oils for the US market that was dated January 2008. It listed several brands, classifying all of them as oils with a “BMW long-life rating of LL-01.” The BMW LL-01 spec oil options listed were:

  • Castrol Syntec European Formula SAE 0w-30 (rumor has it that this is the oil BMW relabels to sell as BMW Genuine Oil SAE 5w-30 Synthetic Oil)
  • Mobil 1 SAE 0w-40
  • Penzoil Platinum European Formula Ultra SAE 5w-30
  • Valvoline SynPower SAE 5w-30

What happened between 2008 and 2013 to make BMW stop listing several oil manufacturer options? I have no idea. However, if you go to the Mobil Oil website, right now in 2013, the Mobil 1 0w-40 oil specs still list Mobil 1 0w-40 as being BMW LL-01 compliant.

Note: Gasoline used in the USA market can contains ethanol that can cause the oils specified for use in other parts of the world, such as those with a BMW LL-04 rating, to break down prematurely when used in the USA.

So, what should you buy?

If you want to follow the letter of BMW law, you’ll need to purchase BMW Genuine Oil SAE 5w-30 Synthetic Oil from a BMW dealer or other distributor.

If you are OK with an oil listed in 2008 as fully meeting BMW specs, you need to pay attention to the details, since BMW is listing very specific oil weights and types produced by each manufacturer. Most of the oil type and weight combinations listed in as OK by BMW in 2008 are not commonly available where I live: the only LL-01 oil on the shelf in local stores was Mobil 1 SAE 0w-40.

Oils that are BMW-spec compliant are listed as such on the rear label of the oil bottle. Note that not all oils by a manufacturer or even all weights of a specific oil type are considered LL-01 compliant. Check the label to be 100% certain it says BMW long-life oil 1, BMW LL-01, or some similar phrase.

BMW LL-01 compliant

Why Mobil 1 and the other LL-01 spec oils from 2008, aren’t on the BMW list any more, is anyone’s guess. It’s up to you to decide if they are still appropriate to use in your vehicle.



What’s my personal experience?

I’ve been running Mobil 1 0w-40 (with LL-01 compliance listed on the bottle), for the past five months (about 3000 miles). During that time, I’ve not had any lifter knocking issues. While I am driving the car as indicated in Quieting the infamous BMW lifter tick, there are instances where the car has had short low RPM runs around town, or sat idling for a while, and no ticking has resulted. I’m thinking that using an LL-01 spec oil has helped the situation.

I plan to continue using LL-01 spec Mobil 1 0w-40 oil in both my BMWs, as long as my success continues. If it doesn’t, you’ll be the first to know.

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Updates:


38 comments »

  1. Kirk O. says:

    Thanks, Kirk!

    I’ve not personally used Amsoil, but know some folks that do swear by it. Here is some info from Kirk, in case anyone is interested.

    -QU

    ——————-

    I own an E90 3 Series, an E60 5 Series, and two BMW Motorcycles (2012 K1600GT, and 2005 R1150RT).

    Specifically, for my E90 and E60, I have used AMSOIL’s European Synthetic Motor Oils for years. Personally, the best stuff I’ve used for the price and high quality. It’s guaranteed and warrantied by AMSOIL, Does Not Void Factory Warranty (Warranty Link), and meets the LL-01 or LL-04 Specs. The best thing is that the LL-01 rated stuff is only $5.70 / Quart at the wholesale price by being a member of their Preferred Customer Program, and it ships right to my doorstep. I also get the Mann Oil filters (BMW’s filter OEM manufacturer), for my BMW’s from AMSOIL at wholesale prices. I just paid $19.00 for the oil filter for my 550i. AMSOIL is available to USA and Canadian Customers, Factory-Direct.

    LL-01
    AMSOIL EFM 5W-40
    http://www.amsoil.com/shop/by-product/motor-oil/european/european-car-formula-5w-40-synthetic-motor-oil-efm/?code=EFMQT-EA&zo=1727348

    LL-04
    AMSOIL AEL 5W-30
    http://www.amsoil.com/shop/by-product/motor-oil/european/european-car-formula-5w-30-synthetic-motor-oil/?code=AELQT-EA&zo=1727348

    AMSOIL AFL 5W-40
    http://www.amsoil.com/shop/by-product/motor-oil/european/european-car-formula-5w-40-synthetic-motor-oil/?code=AFLQT-EA&zo=1727348

    Their Preferred Customer Program is here
    *Add this to your online cart first. Then all products will be at the reduced prices.
    http://www.amsoil.com/shop/by-product/buy-wholesale/?subcategory=50&zo=1727348

    They also have a great Look-Up Guide – Here
    http://www.amsoil.com/mygarage/vehiclelookup.aspx?zo=1727348

  2. JS says:

    Great write-up and follow-up to the “Quieting the infamous BMW lifter tick” article. It’s been several months since the time of this article. Are you still running the Mobil1 oil, and have you had ANY instances of the ticking resurface? Best.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Thank you!

      Yes, I’m still running the BMW speced Mobile 1. It has ticked a couple times in the interim, but only when I take short trips at low RPM. It is far less susceptible to the problem with this oil. I do think that driving it harder is the real key.

      • Bob says:

        I have an 07 E83 that had persistent lifter noise, I was using mobile 1 5w40. I switched to the euro spec 0w40 a week ago and it purrs like a kitten now. Problem solved. Thank you!

  3. Nick says:

    Let me just say this to those of you who are thinking about switching to 0W-40 (because it says “European car formula” on the cap) and you have previously ran 5,10w30 or 15w-30 and have not had any lifter noise. DONT DO IT! I ran 5w40 and 15w40 and for some reason I decided to try 0w40 because towards the end of my oil change my lifters were a little loud on start up. Worst decision ever, my lifters ticked constantly until I drained it a week later and put 15w40 with some Lucas synthetic oil stabilizer in it.

    Moral: don’t switch to it if you don’t have issues

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      The issue is using the oil that is speced for your car. Mine are speced for the 0w-40. Different years are speced for different weights. I had cars in the past that speced 20w-50 and ran great – I’d expect bad results if I ran 0w-40 in them.

  4. anneallman says:

    Good day!

    Thank you for your thoughtful and valued comments and information. I’ve been using Royal Purple for years in my two Z4’s (E86 coupe and E85 roadster) and have been very happy. No lifter tick whatsoever. I’m in the Southeast (Savannah, GA)

    Thanks, again.
    Anne

  5. Ivan says:

    Hello quirkyyncle,

    I own a 328i 2007 Canadian spec, and I’m having a bit of a lifter(so it seems) noise on start up in the cold. I was wondering, which oil did you use prior to the Mobil 1, and also have you tried the OEM BMW 5w-30 SAE offered at the dealer, does it meet LL-01? I don’t mind buying the Mobil 1, it’s just the BMW offering is half the price literally. What would you recommend?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      The lifters on my 2007 Z4 started ticking after the warranty had expired (bad timing). Up until that point, it was serviced by the dealer. I’m assuming that they used the OEM brand oil. As mentioned in the posting, there are several brands that meet the spec. Mobile 1 was the only one offered at a local retailer. If BMW is selling their oil at a better price, by all means use that.

  6. Trent says:

    Really liking the articles you’ve posted! I kept my 98 M3 (S52 motor) on Castrol “German Castrol” 0W-30 (LL-01 approved) and it really seemed to help diminish lifter tick. I autocrossed that car very frequently and in sustained high G scenarios it seemed lifter tick would rear it’s ugly head, but only occasionally, even with ) )W-30 GC. With any other oil, it was incessant on track. one other thing of note is that 2-3,000 on the tack also lessened the tick while staging for the next run.

    I say all this to pose the question; I wonder if sustained high G scenarios makes the newer N52 tick, as well?

    I’m looking at purchasing a 2008 E91 328i currently, and am very relieved to hear about the oil issue in correlation to lifter tick. I’ve looked at a couple vehicles and wasn’t enthralled to see head-off surgery in the past due to customer tick complaints.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Sustained high G operation can cause oil starvation which could cause the lifters to bleed down. Back in the day, people would overfill their oil slightly so that enough remains in the sump under hard cornering. It is a delicate balance. A little too much oil increases windage (oil droplets flying around below the crankshaft), which can reduce power. Way too much oil gets in the way of the crankshaft counterweights, which really reduces power and can cause foaming and other issues. Check the BMW message boards to see if anyone who races has addressed this issue. Thanks for reading and for your feedback!

  7. tina says:

    My Z4 (E85) has JUST started making a ticking noise (sounds like tappetts) but ONLY when pulling away in first, or accelerating in 3rd……..My car HAS recently had some work done on it, (vacuum tube which is joined to brake servo had collasped so car was chuffing out loads of white/grey smoke – its had the tube renewed and two new sensors – but now this ticking noise which it never had previously. It had an oil and oil filter change in April this year prior to the brake servo vacuum hose problem and wonder if I simply get another oil change and new filters again if this might solve the problem of the noise that sounds like tappets (My bmw motorbike does the same – but that is ancient!!) Any ideas? – or shall I just get an oil change done anyway as a matter of course? The car is perfect other than that. Drives like a dream.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      I’ve been thinking about this and it sounds like a different issue. The tappet noise is generally RPM dependent. A noise during acceleration in 1st and 3rd seems more of a load dependent issue – gear ratios can present different loads on the engine in different gears. Does the sound diminish as you level out in speed? Can you identify the physical location of the noise (hard to call when moving). If you can present more detail, maybe I or another reader can assist.

  8. A Alshami says:

    Hi ,I can I use full synthetic Castrol Magnatec 5W/30 C3 on my BMW petrol 2006?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      The oils used outside the USA are different and I’m not familiar with them. See if the oil is listed as BMW approved on the bottle.

      I have found greater success controlling the lifter tick on my ’07 Z4 using the BMW approved Mobile 1. Our ’06 X3 used Castrol synthetic, of the weight indicated in the owners manual up until this point without problem – we switched all of ours to Mobile 1, just to keep things simpler, since there was a noted improvement with the Z4.

  9. Beast Mode says:

    Brother,

    You just provided the cure for “BMW Lifter Ticking Cancer.”

    I been racking my brains, and loosing sleep for the past 3 weeks researching and attempting to troubleshoot that Ticking noise. For all in doubt it works! It’s 3am here in Baton Rouge, La., and my 2001 beamer is no longer making that lifter Ticking noise!

    Cleo Washington

  10. Rock says:

    I have the same issue o my 07 328xi wagon.
    Also the car will not go reverse, then the ticking noise 3 days after

  11. James says:

    I have a 1994 530i with the 3.0 v8, t speed, it’s a wonderfull car, but I am young and it’s my first BMW, it has 237600 miles on it, and I have no clue when it had its last oil change as I just got the car 2 days ago. I need to know what I need to change the oil. What weight brand etc…, I have heard that BMWs require a crushable washer seal for the oil drain plug? I will be buying the oil, oil filter, and if needed the crushable drain plug seal, and taking the car to a local shop that a friend owns and having him change the oil. Any info would be great.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Looking around a bit on message boards, I found this thread that discusses oil for your specific car:
      http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=229475

      I would stick with non-synthetic oil, unless it is already using synthetic, because using synthetic in an older engine that never used it can result in oil leaks.

      Most of the filters I’ve bought recently come with a crush washer for the oil pan. If the filter you buy does not, they stock them at the parts stores – just ask. I’ve been using Bosch and Mann filters on my cars, I believe that both produce the OEM filters for BMW.

      I’ve not worked on a mid-90s BMW, so am not sure what type of oil filter it uses. Before you start, make sure that you have the tool needed to remove the filter. Our X3 required a very large metric socket – attempting to remove the filter cap with pliers or an adjustable wrench proved futile and only served to mangle the cap a bit. Our Z4 and 535ix needed a special filter wrench that fits the cap.

      I’d suggest changing all the fluids (transmission, rear end, brakes, coolant, power steering, etc.), unless you have maintenance records that indicate this has already been done. Many times these fluids are ignored and are kept past their useful life.

      Enjoy the new car!

  12. Keith Gill says:

    I have used Amsoil for everything from my Kubota diesel t my Harley. What do you think of Amaoil European Formula 5W30 for my 07 Z4 3.0i 6 speed manual?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Same car as mine! Amsoil is a good brand from what I’ve read. Not sure if it is BMW certified. Most people don’t even know about that – I only found out about it while researching the lifter tick. That being said, it might be a bit thin for warmer climates.

  13. ebony says:

    does 20 w 50 engine oil is recommended for BMW X3 2007 petrol engine?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      My guess is that 20w-50 would be too thick for a 2007 X3. I have a 2006 X3 and a 2007 Z4 and 20w-50 is thicker than specified for these two vehicles. That being said, you should check your owners manual for specify requirements.

      I’m not seeing a lot of cars using that weight, these days. Back in the ’70s and ’80’s I ran 20w-50 all the time. Now the manufacturers have moved to thinner oils to meet fuel economy ratings and have adjuster their internal engine tolerances accordingly.

      I recently read an article about why installing a metal shift knob, or resting your hand on the shifter can throw off the spacing between gears in a manual transmission – point being that the tolerances are THAT tight.

  14. Tim says:

    Mobil 1 FS 0w-40 no longer covers BMW LL01. There are several other options, Warren Oil makes a good 5w-40 European oil covering LL01 (they make car quest products). Even though not API certified Amsoil had a decent European line, and the it’s liquimoly just be careful which bottle you grab add they look similar but aren’t.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      It is best to check the labels. I’ve noticed that several Castrol oils now list compliance.

      Thank you for bringing this up and for reading!

  15. Rudy C. says:

    2007 BMW X3 – constant lifter noise at 103000 miles. I will be taking it into the dealer for an oil change to see what they say about the constant noise. Recently purchased from a Mercedes dealer (came from a trade-in, but vehicle appears to be in excellent shape).

    Don’t have an oil change appointment until 11/23… Outside of the annoyance of the noise, does anyone know if I should be really concerned? Thanks.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Generally the noise is annoying but won’t cause damage. Best to have it checked by an experienced mechanic to be certain.

      In the past, cars used solid lifters – cylinders of metal, not the ones you see now that pump up with oil to self adjust. The solid lifters were adjusted when the engine was hot and clattered like crazy when the engine was cold. Point being, for these engines it was normal operation and caused no damage.

  16. Stalen says:

    Hi I drive a BMW 525i E60 2006/7 model and I am in a summer country were by it’s very hot this time and my car always ask me to add one (1) litter what is the best Engine oil to use for E60 in a weather like where I am right now please help!

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Best to check the owners manual. Thicker oils can be used in hot weather, but should meet the specs for your vehicle to ensure correct lubrication.

  17. garora says:

    I drive a 2008 X5 (E70). Noticed exactly the behavior listed here related to ticking noise. So far I have been using the dealer provided oil (I think 5W-30) . After reading this I was planning to switch to Mobil1 0W-40. But learned that the new Mobi1 0w 40 is not BMW LL-01 approved.

    https://www.amazon.com/review/RAW7N422OMA0T/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00HG76A9A&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=15684181&store=automotive

    Anyone bought and used Mobil1 recently?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      The Mobile1 0w-40 European Car Formula still meets the BMW LL-01 specification – I just looked at the jug in my garage to verify. Oddly enough, the European Car Formula is not listed on the Mobile1 (Exxon/Mobile) website.

      You can purchase this oil at several of my local auto-parts stores.

      • Bmwtechguy says:

        Hello quirky uncle, I have had success to quiet down noisy hydraulic lifters with a can of German-made Liqui-Moly hydraulic lifter additive. I gently cleans the tiny hydraulic passages in the lifters and gets the full oil flow back through them. I’m with you on cutting the oil change intervals down to 5000-7500 miles, esp for cars that see lots of short trips that don’t get the engine oil up to full temp for at least 15 min to burn off all the moisture and fuel that always gets in oil during cold operation. Cold climates worsen the problem as it takes even longer to get the oil to full hot. In older, higher mileage BMW engines, I have had very good results with Mobil 1 full synthetic High Mileage oils. These oils are not BMW LL-01, but still work very well, gently cleaning any left-over gunk from less-than-stellar maintenance previously, and help prevent leaks and consumption. For colder climates, I prefer the 5W-30, but for our SC temps, we use the 10W-30 year round. For engines that consume oil such as some older M52s or M54, we have had great success with the M1 High Mileage 10W-40. For newer engines with miles less than 100,000 we have been using Castrol Edge 0W-40 European (BMW LL-01).

        • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

          Some good information! Thanks!
          I recently switched to the Castrol Edge 0W-40 European (BMW LL-01) to see how it works. My initial observation is that the gas mileage has increased by somewhere between 0.5 and 2.0 MPG. Hard to tell until I drive it for a while to get more balanced input data.

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