Why do people put the wrong fuel in their vehicles?
Industry analysts have discovered that there is always a serious peak in demand for fuel drain services at new car registration time, so March and September are particularly busy months for those providing an emergency wrong fuel removal service. Demand is lower during the months between but is still fairly constant. Analysts speculate that the reason behind the situation is mostly due to the rise in popularity of diesel engine cars. With more and more people swapping their petrol engine cars for diesel powered motors, we see a situation where motorists simply forget that they’ve taken ownership of a diesel car and fill up with petrol as that is what they are used to doing. It is extremely rare to come across a case where a petrol engine car has been filled up with diesel because the standard diesel fuel nozzle is bigger than the petrol fuel tank aperture and so in this case the error is detected before refuelling takes place. On a daily basis, demand tends to be higher in the mornings and evenings when motorists are either going to or coming home from work. The daily commute can be a stressful enough time; people are so busy focussing on the necessary work tasks of the day ahead in the mornings, or they’re tired out in the evenings and that’s when absentmindedness strikes.
What happens when people fill up with the wrong fuel?
The vast majority of unfortunate victims of the wrong fuel problem are filled with a sense of dread or go into panic mode altogether. Very often, cars are expensive investments and the thought of having potentially seriously damaged their car and having to face a huge repair bill purely through lack of concentration, is an enormously frustrating experience. Coupled with the fact that they may be late for work, an important meeting or to pick up the kids, it’s easy to see why someone would panic. Emergency assistance engineers are well aware of the potential state of mind of motorists in this situation and that is almost always the focus of their initial activity having appeared on the scene to help. The motorist needs to be calmed and reassured. The fact is, that in the majority of cases all that is required is a simple, inexpensive fuel drain of the vehicle fuel tank.
What action is required by the attending mechanic?
The engineers involved in the wrong fuel removal industry tend to be time served mechanics who have a good working knowledge of modern vehicles. As mentioned previously, most of the time a fuel drain will solve the problem simply and quickly. Having calmed the stressed out motorist, the engineer will assess the situation. If the vehicle is still on the forecourt of the petrol station then, if necessary and if possible, the vehicle can be pushed to a safe place out of the way of other customers. If the vehicle has been driven away from the fuel station and has broken down on the public road, then it may be necessary to tow the vehicle to a safe location. This is usually the situation that attending engineers find themselves in as most motorists who have filled up with the wrong fuel don’t notice until the vehicle has stalled further up the road; then the penny drops.
If the vehicle is a standard mass produced motor, then in almost all cases, the engineer can then just get to work on removing the petrol from the diesel fuel tank. To do this a fuel line is inserted into the fuel tank and the contaminated fuel (as it is very often a mixture of petrol and diesel) can then be pumped into a steel container. A professional engineer will always carry protective sheets that are placed over the vehicle before any equipment is put into place to avoid potential damage to the vehicle paintwork. Once the contaminated fuel has been removed from the tank, the engineer will then set about flushing the vehicle fuel system through with fresh fuel of the correct type to remove any residual fuel of the wrong type. The vehicle can then be refuelled correctly and tested. In 99.9% of cases the vehicle will start as normal, there may be an initial grumble from the engine which is cleared with a few revs from the accelerator but the motorist can then carry on with full peace of mind.
If the vehicle happens to be an exotic sports car or has a specially modified engine then a thorough analysis of the engine specification and its components may be necessary before deciding upon a course of action.
How long does the process take?
The nature of the situation means that it usually occurs during peak traffic hours. Depending upon where you live and whether you’re in the City Centre or on the motorway and also the current location of your chosen engineer, the time taken before emergency assistance arrives can vary wildly. Most of the larger service providers can have someone with you within the hour, but you may be lucky and there might be an engineer close at hand. Engineers working in this industry tend to have a network of support from other trusted companies so that motorists can be attended to as quickly as possible. This networking is vital as in many cases, the motorist may be stranded on the main road and may be causing a danger to other vehicles or be in danger themselves. Lone female or elderly motorists tend to be prioritised.
The next governing factor with regards to the time taken to solve a wrong fuel problem is the amount of fuel that has been put into the vehicle. If it’s a full tank then that takes longer to remove than a small quantity. The actual fuel evacuation can take anything from 20 to 40 minutes depending upon the ease of access to the vehicle and the fuel quantity to be removed.
How do you know which company to trust?
Draining and subsequently transporting contaminated fuel can only be carried out by an engineer holding an SPA passport and Environmental Agency permission documentation due to the volatile nature of petrol. The attending engineer should be able to show you the required documentation and the equipment used should be clean, well maintained, professionally presented apparatus. If an engineer turns up in a battered old van and looks like he intends to attempt to drain the fuel from your vehicle without using any protective equipment and into ropey looking plastic containers then turn him away. Petrol is a very dangerous chemical and must be treated with the utmost respect to ensure the safety of the motorist and anyone else in the vicinity.
When you place the emergency call for assistance, the company representative responding should be able to offer you all the necessary reassurances regarding the quality of their service. Ask the forecourt attendants if they have any recommendation with regards to the company to use as they will probably be quite familiar with this type of situation; as mentioned previously it’s a common occurrence all over the UK.
Can I claim on my insurance for a fuel drain and will the vehicle warranty be affected?
Unless your insurance policy specifically states that you can make a claim in this situation then you probably can’t. A clause of this type is rare. The cost of a fuel drain in the majority of cases is less than the insurance excess anyway, and so there is not much point in claiming. The vehicle warranty shouldn’t be affected and isn’t for the vast majority of OEMs. If you have taken your vehicle to a main dealer or to a local mechanic rather than called out a fuel evacuation engineer and have been advised otherwise, please check the small print before incurring any unnecessary expense.