The wrong fuel problem is now so widespread that a large industry has grown up around it and there are hundreds of vehicles on the road dedicated to removing the wrong fuel type from affected vehicles. Even so, very few motorists tend to do this more than once and consequently not very many are even aware that this type of emergency assistance exists until they need it. Usually, the first time a motorist encounters this industry is when they do an internet search on their smart phone whilst stranded on a fuel station forecourt or at the side of the road.
A Stressful Experience
Filling up with the wrong fuel can be very frustrating, these things rarely happen when you have time to spare and more often than not they occur when motorists are most distracted, such as on the way to work in the busy rush hour traffic with their minds on the day ahead and not on their current activity of filling up with fuel.
Motoring has also changed dramatically over the last 20 years and there are now few motorists with mechanical knowledge outside of topping up water, oil, tyre pressure and filling up with fuel. This lack of understanding means that, very often, your first reaction may be panic as the possibility of a huge repair bill looms.
Why is filling up with the wrong fuel type such a problem?
Diesel fuel contains lubricants which ensure that all metal components that come into contact with each other in a diesel engine fuel system, work together smoothly with no build-up of friction or heat. Unleaded petrol, on the other hand, is a solvent with no lubricating qualities. When unleaded petrol is put into a diesel fuel system and the vehicle engine is started, it will run for a short while until the friction between moving parts causes over heating which in turn causes the vehicle to stall. This is especially the case with modern vehicles which will detect a problem quickly and the ECU will shut off power to the engine to prevent potential damage.
There is also the possibility of a build-up of tiny metal fragments sheared off the moving parts that come into contact with each other without the necessary lubrication. These can make their way through the fuel system to the injectors causing potential blockages.
Once the vehicle engine has stalled, if the motorist has not noticed their mistake and has driven away from the fuel station forecourt, it cannot be restarted until all traces of the wrong fuel type have been removed from the fuel system. Many incidents attended by wrong fuel recovery engineers tend to be where a vehicle has stalled on a main road or at a busy junction so they will always arrive with the correct equipment needed to tow a vehicle to a safe place before any remedial action can take place.
What do the wrong fuel experts suggest?
The experts suggest that, in fact, there is no reason to panic. In reality, it is very rare for a vehicle fuel system to be so badly affected that an expensive repair is required. Unfortunately, there is an awful lot of contrary information on the internet and in the media written by authors with little in depth knowledge of the consequences of putting the wrong fuel in a vehicle and the chances are that a motorist may have seen or heard some of this scare mongering. It is very easy for an unscrupulous mechanic or main dealer to pull the wool over a customer’s eyes and suggest a costly repair as the intricacies of modern vehicle fuel system operation are not usually common knowledge.
Unless your vehicle is an exotic sports car or has been extensively modified in some way then in 99% of cases a wrong fuel recovery expert engineer will suggest a fuel drain and fuel system flush through with fresh fuel for the vehicle.
When you find yourself in need of a wrong fuel recovery expert, here’s what they advise:
If you haven’t already done so, do not start your vehicle and do not use the remote lock unless absolutely necessary – In some vehicles the fuel pump is primed as soon as the remote lock/unlock is used which may circulate some of the wrong fuel type around the system. If the vehicle hasn’t been started then the fuel drain and system flush will be an easier task and can be completed more quickly.
Call an Expert Wrong Fuel Recovery Company rather than a breakdown service, main dealer or local mechanic – consulting a properly licensed and qualified wrong fuel removal engineer will mean that you get a better diagnosis and better advice as they know vehicle fuel systems inside out. Calling out a local mechanic or main dealer may result in you being presented with a large and probably unnecessary repair bill. A specialist engineer will also be licensed by the Environment Agency to handle and transport contaminated fuel safely which means that you, your vehicle and anyone in the vicinity will not be put at risk by the actions of someone who is not completely familiar with the correct procedure for removing the wrong fuel type from a vehicle.
If you’ve only put in a little of the wrong fuel type, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s OK to top up with the correct fuel and then drive the vehicle as normal – in all likelihood the vehicle will run in this situation albeit a little roughly. The problem is that unleaded petrol is a solvent and doesn’t have the lubricating properties of diesel. You run the risk of friction damage or seal damage to components in the diesel fuel system if there is even a little petrol mixed in there.
If you’re in a dangerous situation such as blocking a main road or junction, stalled on a dark road at night or you’re a vulnerable motorist, tell the operator – a responsible Wrong Fuel Recovery Company will prioritise your callout in these cases.
What to do after the event
In those few and far between rare cases where the wrong fuel removal engineer has suggested that there may potentially be some damage to your vehicle fuel system components, contact your insurance company and check to ascertain whether there is cover for your vehicle under the accidental damage part of your policy where the wrong fuel has been used. More often than not, there will be cover but it’s important to check before going ahead with potentially expensive repairs which you may not need to pay for. If exclusion is not specified for damage caused by the accidental use of the wrong fuel type then, if the insurance company try to refuse the claim, the policy holder would be entitled to complain to the insurance ombudsman.
Where the engineer has performed a fuel drain and fuel system flush through with fresh fuel, keep an eye on and an ear out for any abnormal noises or performance from the engine. If you believe there may be something amiss after running the vehicle for a couple of days after the fuel drain, contact the company who previously attended and let them know. They will send out an engineer to further assess your vehicle and may suggest remedial action.
In short, don’t get sucked in by all the negative information out there posted by writers being critical of insurance companies or automotive main dealers. In reality, your vehicle is much more likely to be just fine after a simple, inexpensive fuel drain. The only unavoidable consequence is the time lost to rectify this simple mistake. Be sure to engage your brain when filling up!