We begin a systematical study on the effect of numerical viscosities. In this paper we investigate the behavior of shock-capturing methods for slowly moving shocks. It is known that for slowly moving shocks even a first-order scheme, such as the Godunov or Roe type methods, will generate downstream oscillatory wave patterns that cannot be effectively damped by the dissipation of these first-order schemes. The purpose of this paper is to understand the formation and behavior of these downstream patterns. Our study shows that the downstream errors are generated by the unsteady nature of the viscous shock profiles and behave diffusively. The scenario is as follows. When solving the compressible Euler equations by shock capturing methods, the smeared density profile introduces a momentum spike at the shock location if the shock moves slowly. Downstream waves will necessarily emerge in order to balance the momentum mass carried by the spike for the momentum conservation. Although each family of waves decays in l∞ and l2 while they preserve the same mass, the perturbing nature of the viscous or spike profile is a constant source for the generation of new downstream waves, causing spurious solutions for all time. Higher order TVD or ENO type interpolations accentuate this problem. © 1996 Academic Press, Inc.