What Happens When You Put The Wrong Engine Oil in Your Car

Most people use the wrong engine oils due to their unawareness or negligence in failing to read the manufacturer’s manual to find out about specific engine oils. Other people prefer using different engine oil that is cheaper than the recommended.

Have you used the wrong engine oil unintentionally without knowing? There is no need to panic! This article comprehensively highlights the important information on the engine oils, symptoms of using the wrong oil, and the possible remedies. Keep reading to get more insights from our Cargister staff.

Why is engine oil important?

Engine oil is the air that cars breathe. It is essential being that it helps lubricate engine parts, thus preventing them from rusting. Engine oil also controls heating and friction between the engine parts. While performing all these functions, a time comes when the oil breaks down, having become thinner due to a decreased viscosity; therefore, one has to change it regularly for the effective operation of the car or vehicle.

Engine oil is not all about the brand; what really matters is the viscosity grade of the particular engine oil and the American Petroleum Institute Service Rating. Using engine oil without considering the viscosity and API will possibly cause major damage to your car which we will discuss further below.

I have fed my car with the wrong engine oil; what could happen?

  • The noisy engine in cold weather

When one uses the wrong engine oil, the engine acts in a manner showing that it is repelling or refusing to take in what it has been fed. You will, therefore, in most instances, hear the engine seem louder or making some ticking, knocking, or tapping sounds immediately after starting your vehicle, especially during cold weather. Most likely, these could be the sounds of the valves or valve filters hitting each other due to improper lubrication.

  • Difficulty in starting the engine

Proper lubrication of the engine parts is an essential requirement for a car to start. Using the wrong engine oil may impede the proper lubrication, thus making it difficult to start the engine. This could also happen during the cold weather seasons. If the engine oil used is too thick, with higher viscosity than recommended, it is highly likely that some parts of the engine would not be properly lubricated hence causing significant resistance. The resistance may make it difficult to start the car.

  • Leakages

The use of wrong engine oil could also cause leakages since various synthetic engine oils have different flow features; therefore, you might notice some oil spills under your car, either in the parking bay or in your garage. Oil leak is the most common cause of low engine oil pressure, which can be shown by the P0524 trouble code if you get your car checked by a trusted OBD2 code reader. Even though oil leaks would not create long-term or permanent damage, they could cause a mess, such as making the parking bay or garage dirty. Oil leaks would also increase the oil expenses since one would have to make frequent refilling.

  • The smell of Burning Oil

Sometimes, one could also feel a burning smell while driving; the burning of the oil results from non-lubrication of the engine parts meaning that frictions occur at a high rate hence burning the oil. Clouds of white smoke from the exhaust could sometimes accompany the burning smell or occur independently. This could lead to premature wearing out of engine parts or permanent damage to the engine parts if not remedied as soon as possible.

  • Reduced fuel economy and reduced mileage

What about the costs? Does filling your car with the wrong engine threaten your budget in any way? Yes, it does. Just like low viscosity, the use of too thick engine oil could also affect your car or, even worse, to the extent of disrupted performance. The use of low viscosity engine oil or engine oil that is too thick reduces the fuel economy. Since the engine would be struggling and working extra harder to keep going with the wrong engine oil, you will realize that you are refilling the car several times. The refilling could be the same for the case of engine oil. Reduction in mileage of the car caused by a wrong engine oil viscosity, especially the use of thicker engine oil than the required, could also increase costs and expenses.

  • The reduced life span of the engine

Moreover, feeding your vehicle the wrong engine oil also damages the most expensive parts of your engine, thus threatening your engine’s life span. Remember, engine oil is the breathing air of engines. Too thin engine oil does not have the required sheer resistance for the engine. This has the effect of reduced oil pressure. On the other hand, too thick engine oil does not penetrate the areas that thin oil would. This causes the metal-to-metal contact on the engine parts to wear away so fast. The result is that your engine would have a shortened life span.

What should I do now?

As I have stated hereinabove, using the wrong engine oil may not stop your car from running. In fact, your engine might be functional until the next time you are servicing your vehicle. However, frequent and prolonged use of wrong engine oil will likely cause severe damage to your vehicle. Therefore, it is advisable that when you notice any of the warnings named above, you should probably get your car checked as soon as possible and ensure that the wrong engine oil is changed to avoid further damage.


Should I prefer Synthetic oils to conventional oil?

The car manual provides everything you need to know about the engine oil to use. However, synthetic oils are distilled, refined, and have no impurities; thus perform better than conventional oils. Although synthetic oils perform better, they are more expensive than conventional oils, cheap but low economy.

What happens when I mix synthetic oil with conventional oil?

This should not worry you since it has no effect at all unless the viscosities are incompatible. But again, it is always safer to abide by your car manufacturer’s instructions.

Is it harmful to mix thicker oil with thinner oil?

Thicker oils do not transfer heat effectively as thinner oils do. Mixing the two would increase operating temperatures, thus accelerating chemical breakdown and harmful contaminants. It, therefore, is recommended that you use the right viscosity according to the manufacturer’s manual.

Final thoughts

Keep in mind that the engine oil is highly essential to your car. To avoid any issues by putting wrong engine oil, make sure to follow your car manufacturer’s advice carefully. Your car manufacturer manual is the best resource to decide what oil type, viscosity or weight you should be using for your engine.