Some Christmas holidays really stick in your mind. One I’ll never forget happened way back in the dim and distant past, but it stuck in my mind for the worst possible reason.
I’d fuelled up the car at my neighbourhood petrol station and driven the few blocks home without a problem. But the next day when I started up and headed down the road, the car started misfiring so badly it was undriveable. It just managed to limp back home. That was the end of my Christmas holiday plans.
It wasn’t until I turned on the radio later that day that I learnt that I wasn’t alone. Someone filling up a petrol tanker had made the humungous mistake of accidentally filling it with diesel instead and right across the city hundreds of motorists just like me were stranded in their immobile cars.
Fixing hundreds of vehicles across Perth during the festive season was a financial and logistical nightmare for the fuel company involved. It’s a fair bet that the poor silly bugger responsible wasn’t on the boss’s short list for employee of the month.
That was a very unusual way to misfuel a car. Far more common is to simply put the wrong pump into your tank in an absent-minded moment and fill-er-up. Here at Fleetcare, we get about three calls a week from people who’ve made that mistake.
Alright, I’ll put my hand up here and confess. I’ve done it too. My only excuse is that I was tired and stressed after a long, difficult day and that petrol pump looked pretty similar to that diesel pump at the time.
The most common situation is putting petrol into a diesel vehicle. That’s because diesel pumps are thicker and usually won’t fit into the filler for a petrol vehicle, though it does occasionally happen.
Don’t start it
Now if you make that mistake, there’s one golden rule: whatever you do, don’t attempt to start it - not even for a second. Leave that key or starter button alone! Just pay for the fuel and call your road-service provider. Or call Fleetcare if you’re a customer and let us take care of it.
If you really have to move it before that truck gets there to take it away, then disconnect the battery before you switch on the ignition to free the steering lock, or you may get fuel into your injectors causing all sorts of damage.
By not starting it you’ll limit the financial pain to around $460. That’s the cost of flushing your vehicle’s fuel system, changing the filters and handling the waste fuel. That’s not exactly cheap, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than driving off and doing some really major damage to your engine. That mistake will cost you anywhere from $4,000 to a really eye-watering $17,000. The average cost is $7,000. Ouch!
Worst of all, you’ll probably be on your own should it happen. Car warranties hardly ever cover misfuelling, though some insurers do, so it’s worth checking your insurance to see if you’re covered.
So why is it so expensive? Well running petrol through a diesel engine can seriously damage the fuel injection system because petrol lacks diesel’s lubricating qualities. That creates metal-to-metal contact and metal particles that can really make a mess of your fuel system.
And from there it can get even worse. Diesel engines have much higher compression ratios than petrol engines. Uncontrolled petrol detonation in a diesel can do major damage.
So, the moral of this sad tale is be careful when you fill up that vehicle, and if the worst should happen and you get that “oh dear!” moment, then don’t panic, just pick up the phone and call Fleetcare Roadside Assistance if you’re a Fleetcare customer.
And whatever you do, just don’t start it!