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What will happen if you accidentally put 5w30 in the car instead of 5w20

Answers from the Automotive Experts

Jessica Howe, Automotive Expert & Coach at


Thank you for writing in, this is a great question. Simply put, nothing will happen. Your engine will be fine, and it may even be better protected than with the 5w20. As long as the oil has a "5w" in front, the oils are rated for almost equal performance at tested temperatures. 

If you want to break down the oil rating, then look at it in three parts. The number in front of the "w" stands for how easy the oil will flow through the engine when it is cold, like it is when you start the vehicle (which is typically when the engine wears most). The number after the "w" stands for how the oil will flow when the engine gets hot and the oil undergoes a dramatic temperature change. The "w'' simply stands for "winter". 

The higher the number before or after the "w", the more viscous the oil is, the thicker it will be, and the slower it will flow. This means higher numbers are less resistant to flow. In your case, the 5w means you will have the same viscosity in the 5w20 and the 5w30 when the engine is cold. However what differs is how that oil acts when its been heated. The 5w30 is going to thin out less when heated than the 5w20, which is good for engine protection.

Ideally, oil will not thicken too much when cold, so it will provide a proper seal and lubrication when you first start the car. It will also not thin out too much when hot, so that it can still provide the same lubrication properties after the temperature doubles or triples. 


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