Did pouring water into the crankcase do any permanent damage?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I got what I thought was some rather heartening news yesterday. My ex-wife, who has done her best to flaunt the fact that she got the house, the dog and all my tools and albums (even the ones I got before I met her), has been having car trouble. Not only is her daily vehicle in the shop getting a new axle, but the 1950 Chevy she bought as another way to flaunt her wealth is having some emergency work done.

She was driving our son to work in the Chevy when it started smoking. Apparently, the radiator was nearly out of fluid. So when she got our son to work, he went in and got her a gallon of water to put in the radiator. She popped the hood and poured in the water ... right into the crankcase! Needless to say, the car needed to be towed to a garage that specializes in classic cars. After I stopped laughing and picked myself up off the floor, I started to wonder just how much damage she actually did. Will the oil just need to be drained, or does pouring a gallon of water into the crankcase ruin some parts as well? I'm dying to know! -- Jim

TOM: Well, here's the story, Jim. If she just poured some water into the crankcase, realized her mistake and then called the tow truck, it's unlikely she did any permanent damage. In that case, the crankcase could simply be drained and refilled with oil. End of story.

RAY: But don't despair yet, Jim! If she poured in the water and then tried to START the car, she undoubtedly wrecked the engine. Water is a lousy lubricant -- at least compared to oil. So if she tried to run the car with a mixture of water and oil in the crankcase, she almost certainly scraped the living bejesus out of the rings and bearings. If that's the case, you can go ahead and have a good laugh, because she'll need an engine.

TOM: But don't get carried away with delirious laughter, Jim. Most likely, the next time she appeals for an increase in child support, it'll be earmarked for Fred's Classic Car Engine Rebuilding.

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