Yonkers, New York – It’s not uncommon for people to mix up or use the wrong fluids in their cars, with results that can vary from irritating to deadly, according to Consumer Reports. The magazine has outlined the potential damage that can be caused by incorrect fluids in a story in its November issue.
The magazine warns of problems that can result by using the wrong fluids:
Motor oil – The brand matters little, but the viscosity grade, such as 10W-30, is important. Use only what the owner’s manual specifies, as the wrong oil can lead to reduced lubrication and shorter engine life. Use synthetic oil if the manual says to do so. Adding synthetic oil to regular oil won’t harm the engine but there is no benefit in doing so.
Battery fluid – If the battery has accessible individual cells that may need replenishing, use only distilled water, which contains no salts or minerals. The minerals in tap water can build up on the battery’s internal lead plates, which will reduce the battery’s power and shorten its life.
Coolant – Use a blend of water and antifreeze, typically at 50/50 blend. Adding too much water can make it more susceptible to freezing or boiling.
Diesel fuel – Adding diesel fuel to a gasoline-powered car’s tank will make the engine stumble and knock, if it runs at all. Diesel pumps have oversized nozzles so the mistake is hard to make. Depending on how much gasoline is added to a diesel vehicle’s tank, it could do little harm, or it could damage the fuel pump, injectors and other parts. Don’t run the engine if this happens, but have a technician drain the contaminated fuel.
Brake fluid – Brake systems use specially-formulated hydraulic fluid. Using transmission or power steering fluid can affect the seals, damage the system and possibly cause brake failure. If the brake fluid is low, the vehicle probably needs its braking system serviced.
Transmission fluid – Automatic transmissions need the fluid specified by the automaker, such as General Motors’ Dexron or Toyota’s Type T. The wrong fluid type can cause poor lubrication, overheating and possibly transmission fluid. Adding motor oil or brake fluid can also destroy the transmission.
Washer fluid – Plain water doesn’t clean as well as washer fluid and is subject to freezing. Water can also be a breeding ground for potentially dangerous bacteria. Using household glass cleaners or ammonia can leave suds on the windshield, damage the car’s finish, or get into the air intake system, creating a potentially noxious environment in the cabin.