What happens if I use the wrong vehicle or machinery fluids?
Fluids such as engine oils, coolants and brake fluids are engineered to keep vehicles and machinery operating in peak condition, but how can you tell if you’ve used the incorrect fluids in your car, commercial vehicle or industrial machinery, and what should you do if you’ve made a mistake?
The most important thing to bear in mind when changing engine oil is to follow its grade – view our guide on choosing the right engine oil and oil grades – usually found in the vehicle or machinery handbook.
If you use the wrong grade (10W-30 instead of 5W-40, or the incorrect ACEA code or American Petroleum Institute Service Rating, for instance), then lubrication can be reduced and engine components can be hit by increased wear, oxidation and corrosion.
You might also experience reduced mileage, oil leaks, increased engine noise, worse cold-start performance or oil burn. Higher-performance engines will experience worse, more expensive damage if you use the incorrect engine lube.
If you think you’ve put the wrong oil in your equipment or vehicle, turn the engine off and get the oil removed by a professional technician.
Incorrect transmission fluids cause similar issues to wrong engine oils, leading to impacted performance and gearbox functionality, wear, corrosion, overheating and eventually component failure.
If you’ve used a fluid different to the one specified by the manufacturer, immediately stop using the vehicle or equipment and get a professional to drain the oil – although the transmission may already be irreparably damaged.
Coolant and antifreeze
If you use the incorrect type of coolant, you can cause corrosion and damage to the coolant system, leading to leakages. If you mix different-coloured coolants or antifreezes, they can react to form viscous substances within the coolant system that can stop coolant flow, causing the engine to overheat and become damaged. Vehicle and equipment manufacturers usually state the type of antifreeze required.
Both coolant and antifreeze are mixed with water before they enter the engine, with the correct ratio usually dictated by the vehicle or equipment manufacturer. Using the incorrect ratio of either fluid or mixing it with water that is too hard can corrode the cooling system and impact its functionality.
If you experience any of the above, get the coolant professionally drained and replaced as soon as possible.
Using the wrong fluid in your brakes can damage brake system, reducing the responsiveness and effectiveness of the braking system.
If you do use the wrong fluid – power steering or transmission fluid, for instance – drain and change the fluid, and get a professional to ensure the system components haven’t been damaged.