A Bad Wrong Fuel Recovery Experience – How to Avoid the Industry Cowboys

Monday 13th April 2015 6.30 a.m. – The Wrong Fuel Incident

Nick drives a diesel powered Toyota Landcruiser and was driving his vehicle to work in Gloucester city centre as usual on a Monday morning. It was early so there were not many vehicles on the road as yet and Nick decides to fill up his vehicle with fuel whilst the fuel station is quiet, even though he already has half a tank of fuel. He has not had a very good night’s sleep and is feeling tired as he pulls onto the forecourt and parks up next to a pump. He picks up the fuel nozzle and places it into the tank aperture clicking on the trigger latch and leaving the nozzle in the tank to fill the vehicle tank to the top.

When the nozzle automatically clicks into the off position he knows his vehicle is full to the top with fuel and he pays at the forecourt shop. He returns to his vehicle and turns on the ignition, the engine starts but sounds rough. Nick puts it down to the cold damp morning and drives away from the forecourt. As he is driving the vehicle engine is starting to sound worse until he comes to a juddering halt at a busy junction and the engine cuts out altogether. There is just enough room to one side of his vehicle to allow other drivers to pass as Nick tries to get his vehicle started again, but without any luck. He then has a moment of recall and realises what may have happened, with a feeling of impending gloom he checks his fuel station receipt and confirms his suspicion that he has filled up with vehicle with the wrong fuel type. He has put unleaded petrol into his vehicle instead of diesel.

At this point, Nick is about 500 metres away from the forecourt and he can’t risk leaving the vehicle where it is because it’s in a dangerous position. As he is thinking about what to do, a bus arrives behind him and there is not enough room for it to pass safely so, he has to push the vehicle to the right to make enough room leaving his vehicle in the middle of the junction with traffic manoeuvring around him. He checks his smart phone which has some charge in it so he calls his roadside assistance company who tell him that they can be with him within an hour as they are very busy so, Nick says he will call them back if he needs to. He then quickly searches the internet for help. He enters the search phrase “wrong fuel in car Gloucester” and chooses a website at random from the page as he is conscious that he could run out of charge at any moment. The site is for a company who claim that they will come out to the vehicle and remove the wrong fuel. They will then replace the fuel with the correct type and send you on your way for a small charge. This looks ideal to Nick and he calls the number and speaks to someone who says a van will be with him in 30 minutes.

Monday 13th April 2015 7.45 a.m. – The Long Wait for the Wrong Guy

An hour later there is still no sign of the wrong fuel removal company and Nick is causing a major headache for the other motorists at the junction. Eventually, at 8 a.m. a scruffy, beaten up old van pulls up behind him and the driver sits in the van apparently in the middle of a heated phone call. After 10 minutes or so, when Nick is beginning the think that the van driver is not his assistance but just a random driver who has stopped behind him, the occupant of the van gets out. He’s wearing a dirty, torn tracksuit and a baseball cap and speaks to Nick in a thick Eastern European accent that he can barely understand. Nick picks up the words “wrong fuel” and so knows it’s his man. He is asked for £180 up front which Nick reluctantly pays using his credit card as he doesn’t have that much cash on him. The driver then looks at Nicks Landcruiser and rubs his chin before making another heated phone call in a language that Nick doesn’t recognise and then opens the back doors of his van. Nick follows the driver and looks in the back of the van to see an array of large, dirty plastic containers some of which are empty and some of which appear to have diesel or some sort of fuel in them. The presence of a large amount of paper towel and assorted rubbish doesn’t fill Nick with confidence that this wrong fuel removal company are the best in the business but he is in a bind and so lets the driver carry on. The driver then grabs a long length of rubber tubing and several of the empty fuel containers. He also grabs something that looks suspiciously like a hand operated pump. Nick opens the fuel tank flap for the driver and watches nervously as he feeds the pipe into the vehicle fuel tank and starts to work his hand operated pump.

All this takes quite a bit of time and Nick is nervous that he will be late for his 10 a.m. meeting in work. After around 30 minutes of pumping the wrong fuel out of Nick’s vehicle, the driver has filled his containers and declares to Nick that the job is done. He goes back to his van and fetches a container of diesel which he empties into Nick’s Landcruiser and then demands another £30 from Nick for the fuel, which Nick has in cash. Without another word the van driver then gets back into his van and roars off up the road leaving Nick feeling hassled and with little confidence that the job has been done well. He also notices that while carrying out the fuel drain, the driver has scratched the paintwork on Nick’s Landcruiser around the fuel tank aperture.

A Botched Job and Terrible Customer Service

Nick then gets into his Landcruiser and starts the engine. The vehicle starts reluctantly and runs roughly and he starts to get concerned that something isn’t right. Rather than risk damaging the vehicle engine, Nick decides to return home as it would be further for him to travel to work. He calls work and lets them know what is happening, his client is none too happy about the short notice of the meeting delay as he is already travelling to Nick’s office. Nick calls a taxi to take him into work.

Later that day Nick returns home to find that his Landcruiser won’t start at all. He decides to call the wrong fuel recovery company that he dealt with earlier on and demands that they come back out to him to see what the problem is. After waiting for an hour, another driver turns up at Nick’s home. It’s a different driver from his previous experience but the state of his vehicle and appearance is much the same. Nick struggles to explain to the driver what the problem is as the driver’s understanding of English is very poor. The Landcruiser is examined once more and the new driver asks for further payment. Nick begins to lose patience with him and explains that he has already paid for the wrong fuel removal job to be done properly, which it obviously hasn’t. When he refuses to pay the driver makes a heated phone call and leaves quickly in his van. Nick calls the company up again but the receptionist refuses to talk to him and hangs up the phone each time he calls.

An Industry Professional Comes to the Rescue

Nick is feeling incredibly frustrated and angry that he has been ripped off by the first wrong fuel recovery company that he called out but he searches again on the internet and calls another company. This time he carefully checks their website and sees that they have many positive customer reviews and look like an altogether more professional outfit. He speaks directly to an engineer who seems to be very knowledgeable. He offers to come out to Nick to help diagnose the problem. He explains that there is a small callout charge and that, should he be able to rectify the problem, there will be a charge for carrying out the work. It’s much lower than the previous company and so Nick agrees over the phone and books the appointment.

Twenty minutes later, Nick is visited at home by Brian, a uniformed professional Wrong Fuel Recovery engineer from the second company that he has called out. Brian looks over the vehicle and recognises that this type of Toyota Landcruiser has two fuel tanks that feed into one another. He suspects that the previous company representative did not know this and had only emptied the first tank and then added more diesel to the vehicle which explained how Nick could get home and why the vehicle would not start now that more unleaded fuel had got into the first tank. Brian checks with Nick that he is OK with him going ahead and performing the fuel drain correctly.

He shows Nick the equipment that he will be using to perform the fuel drain. Brian has a clean van containing meticulously maintained, professional fuel evacuation apparatus including a powerful pump and steel tank for storing and transporting contaminated fuel. He explains about the SPA passport that he carries which demonstrates that he has been fully trained to carry out the job and that he has many years of experience of working on all manner of vehicles. He also talks about the Environment Agency licensing that he has, to allow him to handle and transport dangerous chemicals. Nick tells Brian about the previous wrong fuel recovery company and comes to realise the danger he was exposed to as well as the fact that the company were operating unlawfully.

Brian puts a protective padded blanket over Nick’s vehicle to prevent any further damage occurring to the bodywork. He then connects up his fuel evacuation pump and fully drains the vehicle fuel tanks, checking that both are completely empty before disconnecting the pump. He then flushes through the vehicle fuel system with fresh fuel to remove any trace of contaminant. Finally, fresh diesel is added to the vehicle tank and Brian starts the vehicle to check that it runs as normal. Whilst carrying out the work Brian explains the science behind his job to Nick and that diesel vehicle will not run properly with unleaded fuel in the tank because unleaded fuel does not have the lubricating qualities of diesel. There is also the potential for damage of internal seals due to petrol being a solvent and damage to internal components where there is metal to metal contact, due to the decreased lubrication. Running a diesel vehicle for any length of time with an amount of unleaded fuel in the tank, even just a small amount, will result in long term damage and an eventual expensive repair being required.

With Nick’s Toyota Landcruiser running smoothly Brian goes with Nick for a quick test drive to check that it is driving as normal. Nick pays Brian for his service and Brian asks him if it is OK for him to call in a few days to check that everything is OK with the vehicle, he also asks if it would be OK to send Nick a quick email with a customer survey attached. Nick is just happy that the wrong fuel experience has ended well for the vehicle but regrets having not called Brian’s company in the first place.

In SummaryHindsight is a Wonderful Thing

Nick was in an unfortunate position when he first realised that he had put the wrong fuel into his vehicle. He was unfamiliar with the industry and made some poor judgements as he was under pressure. I hope that the information contained in the article will assist others in making better choices at each stage of the process as follows:

  • If you realise beforehand that you have put in the wrong fuel, do not start the vehicle. It makes the fuel evacuation job simpler and reduces the risk of damage to the vehicle fuel system.
  • Inform the forecourt staff who may help you to move the vehicle somewhere safe on the forecourt.
  • Do some careful internet research using your smartphone to find a reputable, professional wrong fuel removal company. If you don’t have a smartphone, ask the forecourt staff for a recommendation.
  • When calling out a wrong fuel recovery engineer, check that their engineers have an SPA passport and Environmental Agency authorisation.
  • Never pay up front for any work. Any company that asks for up-front payment without very good reason is not to be trusted.
  • If an attending engineer does not treat you and your vehicle with respect or if there is anything about the equipment used or their conduct that you are unhappy with, do not be afraid to turn them away. It is essential that the engineer acts with the utmost care and carries out the work safely and to your satisfaction. If you have any concerns, inform the forecourt staff.

Auto Novice

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