Motor oil is a kind of forbidden nectar. You know it is the lifeblood of your vehicle, and you know it looks a little like a pale ale as you pour it. But what happens if you drink motor oil, should the temptation strike? Let’s start by saying that motor oil is not a refreshment and should never be consumed by humans or animals. Motor oil is poisonous, which is why there are warnings all over the bottle to store it away from children and to avoid inhaling or consuming it.

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What Is Motor Oil?

Motor oil, also known as engine lubricant or engine oil, is a mixture of oil (conventional or synthetic), as well as additives that include detergents, dispersants, viscosity index improvers, anti-wear chemicals, and more. The composition of engine oil is meant to preserve the function of a combustion engine. As you may have guessed, none of these ingredients are particularly beneficial to the human body. Although humans often liken their bodies to cars, you are not a machine. Sorry.

Is Motor Oil Dangerous To Humans?

Yes, motor oil is dangerous. But how dangerous is that? Motor oils have a chemical composition that presents an inherent danger. Motor oil is known as a hydrocarbon, which is a combination of hydrogen and carbon. There are many varieties of hydrocarbons out there, and they all feel oily and slimy when you touch them. The problem with hydrocarbons is that, when you swallow them, the oils can enter the airway, which can cause irritation, infection, and other respiratory issues.

Secondly, old motor oil often contains contaminants that are not present in clean motor oil. Those contaminants, when exposed to high heat, change and sometimes become far more toxic than the oil. Sometimes, these compounds can be aspirated, even if you do not get the motor oil anywhere near your mouth.

What Happens If You Drink Motor Oil?

So you swallowed motor oil. You will have symptoms that cannot be ignored. If anything becomes too severe, it is recommended you call Poison Control or the local hospital for emergency care. Here is what you can expect:

Coughing

Due to aspiration and the irritation that ensues, you will start coughing violently. Your lungs may feel heavy, especially if fumes from the motor oil entered the airway. Coughing may also stimulate the body to vomit.

Vomiting

Coughing and gasping for air often lead to vomiting. Your stomach is not designed to absorb the chemicals and additives present in motor oil, and it will regurgitate it. Keep in mind that you should never induce vomiting if someone drinks motor oil, as this could cause the aspiration of more harmful chemicals.

Choking

Since motor oil is poisonous and slightly caustic in nature, anyone who drinks it will immediately choke and heave for air. In the emergency room, you will undergo a series of x-rays to ensure that the inflammation of the lungs is not permanently damaging.

Stomach Burning

Because of indigestion caused by the consumption of motor oil, you may feel nauseous and apt to throw up. Oil is not an acid and cannot eat through the lining of your stomach, but it will be painful when consumed in excess.

Skin Irritation

All hydrocarbons—motor oil included—can cause a process known as defatting, which is when the fats and oils present in your skin is dissolved. This can cause painful swelling and irritation at the site of contact. Should you accidentally have motor oil on your skin, be sure to wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible. In severe cases, you may need to undergo surgery. Do note that defatting can also happen within the body.

Laxative Effect

Let’s say you accidentally drip a little motor oil on your face while working under a vehicle. You lick your lips, and now you have oil in your mouth. This tiny bit of oil is not going to have the same catastrophic effects as a full gulp. However, it will cause a laxative effect that has you running to the toilet.

What Should I Do If I Accidentally Drank Motor Oil?

If you or someone who you know, such as a small child, accidentally drinks motor oil, you must act immediately. The faster you get care, the less harmful the situation. In the event the amount you drank was less than a teaspoon, you may be able to get off with a call to Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. In an example given by Poison Control, a 23-month-old child took a swig of motor oil and had some of the substance on her skin. The parent was instructed to wash the exposed skin with soap and water and to feed the child some food and water. No symptoms developed in a 24-hour period.

That is only a small amount, though. If you happen to chug motor oil on a dare, then you are going to need help. Aspiration, as well as exposure to chemicals and contaminants, could cause horrific gastrointestinal distress. Call an ambulance or head to the ER immediately. Upon arrival, you will be evaluated, sent for x-rays, and checked for toxicity. In some severe cases, you may need surgery.

What Does Motor Oil Taste Like?

Few people can describe what motor oil tastes like. Even those who have sipped it find it hard to describe. However, this is what has been drawn from some anecdotal (and internet-based) evidence: new motor oil is somewhat spicy and bitter. The quality is a bit soapy on the tongue, but it goes down like water when swallowed. Since the flavor and mouthfeel are not normal, you might gag before registering how it tastes (probably for the better).

Bottom Line

What happens when you drink motor oil? In most cases, nothing good. The worst-case scenario is that you suffer from vomiting, coughing, and diarrhea. Even if you consume a tiny bit and nothing happens, it is not beneficial to your body. Should you or someone you know drink motor oil, it is important to seek assistance immediately.

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