Bimmerfest - BMW Forums

Bimmerfest - BMW Forums (
-   E39 (1997 - 2003) (
-   -   How to CHOOSE the right oil for you for your E39 (

bluebee 05-04-2010 09:52 PM

How to CHOOSE the right oil for you for your E39
How to CHOOSE the right oil for you for your E39 based on what is printed on the can!
(Note: Please improve as needed so as to form a reference for others!)
Double Note: Read the spec sheet to select oil based on other characteristics (such as viscosity at other temperatures than freezing & boiling).

Choose motor oil by:
(a) quality,
(b) cold start,
(c) viscosity,
(d) type, &
(e) cost (in that order)

Never by brand!

a) QUALITY: Perhaps the most contentious of oil-selection issues shouldn't be an issue at all, because quality selection is (almost) as simple as reading the can. The can should say:
- LL-01 Approved (not "LL-01 recommended").

Note (thanks to 540M-Sport): LL-04 spec oils are NOT recommended for BMW's with gasoline engines in North America. From "What we can tell you now is that for most newer gasoline BMW models in the US the required oil must meet BMW LL-01 (approved not recommended for) specifications. There is further confusion because BMW LL-04 is recommended in gasoline and diesel engines for most other countries. In the US it will be required only for the new Advanced Diesels. The issue with the LL-04 oil in the US is that even though the sulfur content in gasoline has decreased in the US it is still not consistent. The inconsistency in levels makes the LL-04 oils not recommended in the US gasoline engines. Since the new sulfur requirements of diesel in the US require consistent levels LL-04 can be utilized in these applications."

The problem is BMW LL-01 approved oil is listed on the can of very few motor oils readily available in the USA (e.g., the only Mobil-1 that is approved is the Mobil1 SAE 0w40 variety; and you might be able to find German-made Castrol Syntec SAE 0w30 European Formula if you're resourceful, or even Pentospeed SAE 0W30, or Pennzoil Platinum European Formula Ultra SAE 5W-30, or Valvoline SynPower SAE 5W-30, etc. For more choices, please see this document listing the available LL-01/LL-04 motor oils available for sale in the USA.)

Strictly speaking, in the USA, for E39s, LL-01 is all you need to know about quality. Never assume a brand name automatically equates to the desired quality. It doesn't. Never did. Never will. Not all Mobil1 oils are LL-01 approved, for example.
- If you can't find LL-01 rated oil, then some will tell you any fully synthetic oil rated ACEA A3/B3 or better meets BMW specifications; but again, the problem is finding an oil locally available that has ACEA A3/B3 printed on the can.
- Otherwise, historically, at least in the United States, the main reliable measure of quality has been the American Petroleum Institute (API) "Service" rating (buy API SL for older BMWs or API SM or better for newer BMWs) printed on every can of oil sold in the US. This more readily available API quality designation is chronological, i.e., SA, SB, SC, SD, SE, SF, SG, SH, SI, SJ, SK, SL, & SM. Over time, this API quality designation moved higher and higher in the alphabet as more and more problems are specified and overcome by the petroleum engineers (note SA is special in that it is unspecified, and note each specification exceeds the prior specification).
- Note that anyone who says "use Castrol" or "Mobil1", without suggesting the BMW or ACEA or API quality rating, isn't providing enough information to make the right quality decision for you; brand and price and label hype are meaningless for this purpose (for example, even some BMW-branded oils don't meet BMW specifications for M cars).

b) COLD START: Depending on where you live, pick an appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) winter (W) rating based on the range of temperatures you expect to start the car in while that oil is in the vehicle and on what is recommended in your owners manual.

It's a simple but important decision. If it's really cold where you start the BMW, use a lower SAE W rating; if it's warm, then use a higher SAE W rating (the point being to minimize the SAE spread, even for synthetics but especially for dino juice). Just remember the oil will be in the car for a few months so you have to factor in the coldest expected temperature during that time period.

Bear in mind, the SAE W rating only holds true for the first few minutes no matter what climate you live in.
This rating is probably the least understood of all motor oil descriptors, but, since most wear occurs at startup, it's an important measure. Since engine oil viscosity decreases logarithmically with temperature, the SAE W rating of, say "SAE 10W", tells you that the oil "acts like" a straight SAE 10 weight oil would act at 0 Fahrenheit (F). Remember, it is NEVER an SAE 10 weight oil! It just acts like an SAE 10 would at 0F (i.e., before the engine is warmed up). After the engine is warm (212F) the SAE W rating is meaningless. It is important to understand that a straight 30 weight oil acts exactly the same at engine temperatures as does a 5W30, or 10W30, or 15W30 motor oil. It is also important to understand the logarithmic decrease in viscosity still applies at all temperatures below 212F, even though the only listed temperature is the 0F W rating. See included charts for more details.

c) VISCOSITY: Depending on engine factors, you'll choose a warmed-up SAE oil viscosity (measured as kinematic or Saybolt) that suits you and your engine. Just pick a warmed-up viscosity that your owners manual lists as an option. That's pretty much it.

People make a much bigger issue of selecting the warmed-up viscosity than they need to. In my humble opinion, if you don't already know, before you got here, exactly which warmed-up viscosity you prefer, then simply choose the warmed-up viscosity by one of the other factors below this one in the selection criteria.

Bear in mind, it is known for dino juice the greater the spread between the SAE W rating and the SAE warmed-up rating (measured at 212F)
, the greater the tendency of the dino oil to carbonize in your engine. Synthetics, I'm often told, do not have such a propensity to carbonize so the viscosity spread is much less of an issue. However, for dino juice, the simplest advice is to lean toward the closest multi-weight spread listed in your owners manual.

d) TYPE: Almost all BMW posters recommended synthetic motor oil for longevity, reduced wear and tear on gears, reduced incidence of oil oxidation, and lower sludge formation (as compared with similar quality traditional motor oils); but there are always tradeoffs, not the least of which are price considerations.

In addition, the viscosity spread, if you're going with something like a 0W40, will tend to carbonize much less with synthetic than with dino juice. However, as with many of these factors, if you change your oil religiously, in my humble opinion, it really won't make that much of a difference even theoretically; and from a practical sense, it will make even less of a difference, mostly due to the cost differential balancing out the benefits.

e) COST: Duh. As low as you can get. Buy Internet. Buy bulk. Stock ahead. If you buy good-quality (as measured by the API or BMW rating) oil, brand is nearly meaningless (see Consumer Reports' canonical diatribe on motor oil quality consistency over time).

Note (thanks to 540M-Sport): One really needs to read the specification sheets which are available online for most oils. You will find pretty significant differences between 5W-30 synthetic oils, both in viscosity at cold start up, and at operating temperatures.

More about LL-01 here ...
If you want to truly be an oil expert, read here:

cn90 05-04-2010 10:07 PM

Thanks bluebee.

However, I have my own personal thoughts about engine oil. Having had a Honda Civic, Volvo etc. with 300K miles using standard dino oil, I have mixed feeling about synthetic and BMW LL01 oils.
If one has money to buy synthetic, by all means, use synthetic.

I am a "practical" kind of person and am also cost-conscious (I have a tight budget to operate the car) and go for the most bang-for-the bucks and since I live in cold climate:

- WINTER: 5W30 synthetic oil for easier cold start.
Whatever brand I can get for $3.99/qt. Menards hardware store here goes on sales quite often and I can buy synthetic for $3.99/qt.

- SUMMER: 10W30 dino oil for $2/qt.

I change my engine oil every 4-5K.
My daily trip is 12 miles/each way.
At 106K, my engine runs smooth like butter.

BMW "LL" is for marketing purpose of long-life oil change and does not sound very scientific at all. So I don't pay attention to LL01 spec. since I change my oil every 4-5K.

My 0.02...:)

aioros 05-05-2010 08:00 AM

Thank you bluebee, this is very informative. I kindda follow the same path as CN90. but if I can get an ACEA A3/B4 or BMW LL01 for the same price as any other synthetic I'll go for it. Plus just like CN90 I will never wait more 5k miles to change the oil.

One thing I would like to add is if any of you can check this you will find the difference between dino oil and synthetic.

IMO, I will never use dino oil again.

bluebee 05-30-2010 04:49 PM

1 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by aioros (Post 5159332)
I will never use dino oil again.

I'm perfectly happy with the Mobil1 5W30 & 5W40 synthetic (California almost never gets cold).

There is a great description of the reasons behind BMW owners-manual recommendations by edjack here in a recent thread.

Basically, I conclude, if the viscosity range is within the BMW recommendations, and it meets the temperatures you'll expect between now and your next oil change, then, I conclude, it's perfectly fine for your E39.

bmw_n00b13 05-31-2010 06:29 AM

Whenever BMW recommends something that's easier than harder on the face of it, it tends to be a bad idea (lifetime fluids, long-life oil, run-flat tyres). Just sayin'. (OTOH I like to stay with BMWLL oils).

Hooray! 05-31-2010 07:25 AM

Check this link out... read all of it... more then meets the eye on the oil debate:
Flow rate at cold temp MOST important.
Warm oil weight at 10 NEXT most important
Oil PSI at higher RPMs NEXT most important.
Syn or dino less important, but Syn can do the above better the dino, hence why Syn is preferred... lots to read before even going to the bobistheoilguy web site.

540 M-Sport 06-01-2010 01:28 AM

Bluebee, sorry, but I found a minor error in your oil recommendations, related to the "cold start". This is an important characteristic, but is not chosen based on the SAE "W" weight rating. You find out the cold flow characteristics of an oil, by looking up the oil data sheet on the manufacturer's website. The key data you need to look for is the "Viscosity @ 40 degrees C". That is still pretty warm spec (100 degrees F), but unfortunately, as cold as they go...but good for comparison. Compare Mobil 1 0w-40 with most synthetic 5w-30 oils, and you will see that the Mobil 1 is considerable thicker at cold start. Granted it is a 40 weight at operating temp, and is probably the thinnest 40 weight you are going to find at cold start, but you need to see the trade off. In other words it is not going to flow as well at cold start as a 0w-30 or 5w-30 synthetic...even though it rates a "0W" on the SAE rating.

bluebee 06-01-2010 05:50 AM


Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport (Post 5226442)
The key data you need to look for is the "Viscosity @ 40 degrees C".

Good point. I don't doubt that this, and many other interesting and useful criteria are printed in the spec sheet.

I should have noted that my recommendations assume you need to make a choice on two oils in the store based on what is printed on the can.

Given only these printed-on-the-can items:
- marketing rah rah
- brand name rah rah
- SAE rating
- API rating
- any other rating printed on the can (e.g., LL or ACEA, etc.)
- price
how I'd choose the oil is listed in post #1 above.

If, however, we were comparing oils based on having all their spec sheets lined up, then I'll let you guys point out the major items to compare against as tradeoffs (as there would now be muuuch more information available to you).

Hooray! 06-01-2010 02:16 PM

If you want to get serious about it, go to the bobtheoilguy web site and READ, READ, READ. After about 20 pages you will start to see what guys that are into oil and oil analysis based on chemical test results think... bottom line, flow rate at cold temp and adequate oil PSI at higher rpms is what you are after... assumes the oil mfg can get a 10 weight oil at 200 degrees (which not all can).

bluebee 08-05-2010 09:07 PM


Originally Posted by Hooray! (Post 5227822)

There are many opinions on motor oil selection and change interval.

When opinions vary, a good solution is simplicity.

Here's an excerpt from here that outlines the simplicity while taking into account the complexity:

Oil and Filter Intervals

BMW recommends their Castrol 5W-30 synthetic motor oil in all BMWs except contemporary M cars, for which they recommend their Castrol 10W-60 synthetic motor oil. The factory oil change interval is controlled electronically, but is presently about every 15,000 miles. If you are running BMW's oil, I recommend an oil and filter change interval between 5,000 and 7,500 miles.

I use Red Line synthetic oil ( in 5W-30, 10W-40, 15W-50, or 20W-50, depending on factory recommendation, ambient temperatures, and severity of service (track use, sustained high rpm use), with a drain interval 7,500 to 15,000 miles depending on engine and severity of service. Under racing or track conditions I'd use a short interval; same for carbureted engines which tend to get some fuel into the oil. I would run the same intervals with very high end "designer synthetics" such as Agip, Amsoil, Lubrication Engineers Monolec Ultra, Lubro Moly Vol-synthese, or Motul.

All other commercially available synthetic oils, 5,000-7,500-mile drain intervals.

BMW's High Performance Synthethic 5W-30 and their Motorsport 10W-60 can go 7,500 miles.

Old fashioned petroleum oil, same viscosities, 3,000-to-5,000 mile drain intervals

The following information is courtesy of
"Redline is Group V (polyol ester) based (POE or esters).

"Amsoil and Mobil-1 are Group IV (poly-alpha olefin) based (PAO or synthesized hydrocarbons SHC).

"Castrol Syntec and all the others calling themselves synthetic are Group III (hydrocracked slack wax).

"The petroleum motor alls are all mineral oil based and make up Group II.

"We really should group Red Line by itself, and put the others in separate categories (according to the groups) because their performance is so different.

"See motorwatch>AutoMotiveBible>Oil Change Intervals>oil classifications

"AutoMotiveBible> Oil Change Intervals>oil change intervals"

Original BMW filters are recommended for price and quality, or MANN, Mahle, Bosch, or Knecht filters

bluebee 10-30-2010 12:07 PM

This summary guidance for selecting motor oil, from this thread today, is useful to repeat here:

Given the BMW "official" recommendations, I still buy oil by applying these criteria in the order listed:
1st. quality = highest API rating only (all others disregarded)
2nd. cold-start = expected ambient temperatures (desired SAE W rating)
3rd. warm viscosity = desired viscosity (desired SAE rating)
4th. slipperiness = type (synthetic or dino, both work, I go synthetic)
5th. cost = lowest available
6th. If necessary to break a tie, I limit the spread between #2 & #3

As cn90 intimated, in the end analysis, anything more complicated is overkill, keeping in mind, marketing people LOVE overkill when they can make something simple "sound" complex (PT Barnum was right), they can manipulate the price inversely proportionate to the stupidity of their consumer & directly proportional to the price of the investment (the engine) that is being protected.

540 M-Sport 10-31-2010 08:11 PM

Here is the simplest way to choose a motor oil, for those that want a definitive answer:

bluebee 01-19-2011 02:14 AM


Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport (Post 5588898)
Here is the simplest way to choose a motor oil, for those that want a definitive answer

Hey! Guess what. I just had an epiphany!

Notice what you said. One one hand, you mention simple. On the other hand, you note that a definitive BMW-approved list already exists.


I just realized, from another thread, that there are (might be?) THREE camps of knowledgeable people when they choose oil.

And, I'm assuming, if you're in one camp, you won't easily switch to another religious camp - yet - there will always be someone in another religious camp wanting to convert you.

Check out my newly forming hypothesis here:
- The three "oil" camps (no, this is not another "what oil should I use" thread)

bluebee 02-06-2011 07:59 AM

My revelations after reading this thread from Bill:
Hey Blue, check out this great oil article-really
  1. Synthetic refers to "properties" and not ingredients nor how it's made (same with semi-synthetic, i.e. "the big lie").
  2. The stock oil lasts the life of the engine; viscosity breaks down fast.
  3. "Synthetic oils made from pure PAOs or Diesters hold viscosity longer.
  4. Minimize viscosity spread by DIVISION (not subtraction)!
  5. Just because it says API SM doesn't mean it has been tested to be an API SM (I still need a better description of the visual-identification cues to understand how to reliably tell the difference)!

98540iA 02-06-2011 11:01 AM

K.I.S.S. "keep it simple stupid"

Use BMW 5w30 synthetic. The old BMW guys at the service and parts counter at my local dealership, as well as the younger guys all recommend this oil. It's genuine "BMW" parts so it certainly is not going to be worse than any other oil out there. At a similar price to Mobil1, I don't know why anyone wouldn't use it.... I use it for every oil change, along with the BMW oil filter that I also buy from the dealer.... total cost of filter and 9 quarts = $77. Probably the same or maybe even a little less than getting Mobil1 and a filter from anywhere else. I do all my oil changes this way since acquiring my car at 46k miles. I change the oil and filter every 5K-7K miles and my M62 runs great at 106k miles and running.

All this debate over which oil and why.... again, K.I.S.S.

uncmozo 02-06-2011 05:40 PM

Yesterday, I paid $5 a quart at K-Mart for Mobil 1 5W30. A great sale price that definately helped influence my decision on which oil to use. Bought 14 quarts so I'm all set.


PS...... I always use Mobil 1 5W30 anyway!

DominguesE30 02-06-2011 08:50 PM

Hey bluebee,
Just a quickie, would you in all honesty recommend using a 0w oil in my m54b25? It's done 190,000km. I'm planning to so an oil change next Monday for the first time and I'm just stuck on this.
Also I don't know when the last time my air filter and spark plugs where changed. Should I change them while I'm at it?

Sent from my iPhone using BimmerApp

bluebee 02-06-2011 09:39 PM


Originally Posted by 98540iA (Post 5828658)
All this debate over which oil and why.... again, K.I.S.S.

I think there is only "all this debate" when people are of different religions:
- The three "oil" camps (no, this is not another "what oil should I use" thread)

Within any one religion, there is really very little debate!


Originally Posted by uncmozo (Post 5829346)
I always use Mobil 1 5W30 anyway!

That's one of the worst, for viscosity spread. Just so you know.
30/5 = 6

If you used 10w30, that would have a viscosity spread of only 30/10 = 3.
15W30 would be even better (i.e., 30/15=2).
Same spread as with 20w40 (i.e., 40/20=2).

But, in reality, the viscosity spread matters little (look at the BMW recommendation, for example, in post #4 above).

"All long life oils approved by BMW are suitable for operation at any ambient temperature. You consequently do not need to pay specific attention to the viscosity class".

You car will not blow up no matter what viscosity you use. Yes, wear and tear is mostly in the startup, and especially in cold temperatures, so, use your common sense. See, for example:
- What are the key factors that govern (all) our decisions when it comes to E39 fluids?


Originally Posted by DominguesE30 (Post 5829775)
0w oil in my m54b25?

Look at the BMW attachment in post #4. The viscosity choice, if reasonable, doesn't really matter.

You seem to be in cold country, so 0w seems just fine; but, for folks like me, any common viscosity would work just fine. The only caveat I would add is to minimize the spread (divide the cold viscosity into the hot viscosity and minimize that number if at all possible).

Hmmm... I just realized ... that doesn't work with "0w" weights. So ummm.... how do you calculate the viscosity spread when the cold viscosity is zero?

DominguesE30 02-06-2011 10:02 PM

I'm in warm country :) gets up to 47 degrees celcius. Thanks for that info bluebee!!! I might stick with a 5w30 BMW recommended. I might just leave the car 10mins warm up before driving :)

Sent from my iPhone using BimmerApp

bluebee 03-16-2011 12:43 PM

For the record, this thread today:
- Castrol vs. Bmw

Got me thinking about adding a line to the bestlinks so that every question has an answer (over time) in the bestlinks:
- Why does BMW mold "Use Castrol" on the oil filler cap (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) & what is the definitive list of BMW-approved motor oils (1) (aka BMWCurrentListing_of_SyntheticOils.pdf).

Notice the marketing horseradish in the top and bottom of this link (below): Castrol Motor Oil and Lubricants - BMW.pdf

AnotherGeezer 03-16-2011 12:55 PM

The right oil for me?

Virgin Olive will do just fine.

540 M-Sport 03-16-2011 01:53 PM

Of course there is marketing and promotion of the relationship between BMW and Castrol, that is a mutual agreement between them, so get over it. What is incontrovertable, is BMW and Castrol do INDEED share technical information and collaborate on product development. It is up to each individual owner to decide if that weighs enough in their decision making process on whether they choose to purchase the "official" BMW branded oils, or simply purchase one of the other BMW "approved" oils, of which there are several alternate brands Or in the alternative, they can simply buy whatever they like, and ignore the manufacturer....their car, their choice.

Remember the phrase is "BMW recommends Castrol"....BMW does not DICTATE or MANDATE. ;)

bluebee 03-16-2011 03:02 PM


Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport (Post 5923047)
so get over it.

I'm not sure where you're going with that. I simply ask for the answer. That's all. And, I back up whatever answer is found, with whatever material is found.

And, I already know the answer (from prior research).

All I was doing today was consolidating because someone asked, over here:
- Castrol vs. Bmw

To help 'that' person, I had to dig up these links. And, I 'hate' digging up links twice. So, if that is what you mean for me to 'get it over with', no, I'm sorry ... I refuse not to consolidate links so that every single question has a previous answer.

The entire goal is to start the inevitable NEXT similar question where we left off.

That's something I'm not going to 'get over' with.


Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport (Post 5923047)
It is up to each individual owner to decide if that weighs enough in their decision making process on whether they choose to purchase the "official" BMW branded oils, or simply purchase one of the other BMW "approved" oils,...Or in the alternative, they can simply buy whatever they like

I think we took this obvious assumption to the next level (which is the entire point of these combined discussions) when we began to discuss the various dogmatic decisions 'people' make when selecting their BMW oils:
- Fundamental BMW fluids decision-making religious camps (1) and algorithms specific to motor oil selection (1), coolant choice (1), & gasoline dogma (1)

Again, that's the beauty of these forums.

When I started this thread, I was perplexed by the seemingly bewildering array of 'recommended oils'; but now, much later in the game, I realize that people fall into one of three major dogmatic camps.

And, they are in those camps, seemingly, for life.

It's the wiring of their brain. Some wholeheartedly follow BMW recommendations (and that's OK); others find an equivalent, perhaps more convenient or more price effective solution (and that's OK); while the third group refuses to drink the Jim Jones punch and simply uses selection criteria that everyone else uses (and that's OK).


Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport (Post 5923047)
Remember the phrase is "BMW recommends Castrol"....BMW does not DICTATE or MANDATE. ;)

I don't think anybody said otherwise so I'm not quite sure why you bring that up.

All that matters, with regard to Castrol, is that people who see the molded oil-filter cap (or the ingenious BMW/Castrol joint-marketing blurbs), who are smart enough to ask the question of us, simply get the answer that we've determined.

Which is elucidated in these threads (AFAIK):
- Why does BMW mold "Use Castrol" on the oil filler cap (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) & what is the definitive list of BMW-approved motor oils (1)

If you know of BETTER threads that answer the question for newbies, as always, I'm all ears (and fingers).

Good luck!

540 M-Sport 03-16-2011 09:28 PM

Yes, if you are looking for a definitive answer. The only way to it is to drop your often repeated "dogma" term and start looking at this by DOCTRINE. To form your doctrine, you need to reasonably peice the information to formulate it.

The first information comes from the builder of the engine, they made it, and they should have a very good idea of what is required to ensure reliability and longevity:

Second, you need to broaden your knowledge of oils in general, and how they interact with engine temperature, versus ambient temperature. And how the various qualities related to wear, and operation. One of the best reads I have seen, that seems to be well accepted for by experts is this:

bluebee sorry if you mistook my "get over it" comment, I was simply saying you are always repeating that BMW recommends Castrol for marketing reasons...of course they do! ;) But that is obviously NOT the only reason they recommend Castrol.

540 M-Sport 03-16-2011 09:34 PM


Originally Posted by bluebee (Post 5923221)
And, I back up whatever answer is found, with whatever material is found.

(constructive criticism) sometimes you don't filter enough, and indeed you do provide whatever material is found ad nausem...with endless data, some that has not been vetted and edited.

I admit you provide some VERY USEFUL information, and a valued asset here. But also (at times) you simply "barf up" gobs of data that really could use a more thoughtful approach of research and verification to confirm it's usefulness.

I hope you don't take offense...

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 12:49 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
© 2001-2015 performanceIX, Inc. All Rights Reserved .: guidelines .:. privacy .:. terms