Wrong Fuel in Car – Your Ultimate Guide
Over the past 10 years mis-fuelling has transformed from a virtually unheard problem to one of the most widely discussed, and feared, causes of vehicle breakdowns in the UK. This guide has been written in order to address the myths and facts of putting the wrong fuel in your car, and provide clear solutions for those drivers unfortunate enough to have found themselves stranded with a car that no longer works!
Due to the nature of this type of vehicle breakdown there are very few statistics available – it is not covered by warranty, so there are no stats generated by these companies. Equally, vehicle breakdowns recovered by the large motoring organisations have often been filled with the wrong fuel, but because the driver is either unaware or unprepared to state the cause of the breakdown, thus it is reported as an unspecified fault. However, there is one official statistic produced, and it comes from the AA – 150,000 cases every year.
Having over 7 years’ experience in this niche field of the recovery industry we felt an exhaustive list of FAQ should underpin this guide.
I have put the wrong fuel in my vehicle, what do I do? Can I drive the Vehicle? Can I turn the engine? Will my filter need changing? I have driven my car with the wrong fuel, have I made it worse? How much is this going to cost? What types of repairs are going to be required? Potential damage Fuel type specific – What to do The process of removing fuel
I have put the wrong fuel in my vehicle, what do I do?
Firstly don’t start the vehicle. If you’re at a petrol station forecourt you’ll find the staff are normally sympathetic to your situation as they will have seen this on many occasions. You may even get a push off the pumps into a parking bay! The next thing is to establish if there is a company who can attend your vehicle and remove the fuel without recovering you to a garage. This type of mobile service can be researched from your phone and a good provider should be able to attend within 90 minutes.
Can I drive the vehicle?
Do not drive the car. By running the engine, or driving the vehicle, the incorrect fuel penetrates further into the vehicles fuel delivery system and associated ancillaries. The bottom line is you may make it a certain amount of miles down the road in a mis-fuelled diesel vehicle, however, a petrol vehicle is unlikely to run for more than a few seconds.
Can I turn the engine on?
The same rules as in question 3 apply here. In an automatic vehicle you may find yourself in a situation where you want to start the engine in order to select neutral, and then push the car off a pump, or into a more convenient location. If the situation is critical then this can be done, but switch the engine off as soon as you have engaged neutral. Because most fuel pumps will be drawing fuel from the bottom of the tank the brief period of time you’re switched (enabling selection of neutral, freeing up the steering lock) will most likely only bring through the remainder of the original correct fuel.
Will my filter need changing?
If the vehicle has been started, it is a wise precaution to change the fuel filter fairly soon after the wrong fuel has been used. When a vehicle has been started after having the the wrong fuel put in the tank, a knowledgeable technician will flush the correct fuel through the fuel delivery system before re starting. Having carried out this process, and the vehicle is driven for a number of minutes, any contaminated fuel left in the filter will have been removed. However, a fuel filter is a relatively inexpensive part (generally £25.00 – £50.00) and simple to fit, usually half an hour to an hour max. One word of warning! If your vehicle is under manufacturer’s warranty take caution. If you go to your main dealer to change the filter they might ask questions about why you want the fuel filter changed. Be wary how you approach this as there have been cases where customers have been told their vehicle’s warranty will be invalidated unless they replace numerous components, including the fuel tank. This type of work will cost a minimum of £2,000.00 and can get into 5 figures depending upon the exclusivity of your car/ motorbike/ etc..
I have driven my car with the wrong fuel, have I made it worse?
Sadly the answer is yes – but dependent upon a number of factors – by degrees. If you are in a modern diesel car by its nature the ancillary equipment is strong and the engines management systems will respond swiftly to changes in the fuel in use, therefore damage can be limited to almost non-existent. However, even with a modern robust vehicle petrol has a corrosive effect on certain ancillaries in a drivetrain designed to run on diesel fuel.
Therefore it is essential to act quickly in order to minimise risk. This is certainly a good example of how a mobile fuel drain unit is preferable to recovery to dealer, where it is quite possible the vehicle might sit in a car park for several days before work commences. With older vehicles the damage will normally become apparent over a shorter distance, and once the vehicle breakdowns it is harder to re start. The most likely ancillaries/ parts to fail will be fuel pump and catalytic converters. Petrol vehicles will quite likely not start – but if they do expect them to run for a few minutes only. Diesel is a much thicker fuel than petrol and is considerably less combustible. It can still be drained and flushed but expect lots of smoke when the vehicle is restarted – there will be plenty of sticky diesel that is burning off. In terms of damage a similar rule will apply, the potential for problems increases the older and higher mileage the vehicle.
How much is this going to cost?
Tough question to answer definitively but there are three general options which one can predict a price range for.
Mobile roadside fuel drain – £175.00 to £300.00.
Recovery to a local dealer and fuel drain – £300.00 to £400.00.
Recovery to a main dealer for vehicle under warranty – £2,000.00 – £10,000.00.
Option 1 has the advantage of swift removal of the contaminated fuel and the ability to carry on with your journey; downside is no ability to address faulty ancillary equipment caused by the mis-fuelling should the vehicle not re start.
Option 2 gives greater scope to handle associated problems should the vehicle not re start; downside is the contaminated fuel will have spent more time in the vehicle, extra cost of recovery and repair and more vehicle down time.
What types of repairs are going to be required?
As we saw in question 7, a main dealer repair will be completely comprehensive. Parts will include a new fuel tank and connecting pipes, new fuel lines, new filters, new fuel pump (sometimes there will be 2 to replace)and injectors. A local garage will normally drain and flush, however, they can also supply a new fuel filter dependent upon availability. A mobile fuel drain unit will also carry out a drain and flush. Although a mobile unit will not normally be able to change a fuel filter on scene, some will offer a fuel additive as an alternative. These products help to clean, lubricate and dispose of any remaining contaminated fuel left in the vehicles system. More advanced additives can also boost cetane levels increasing combustibility.
As previously discussed, it is very difficult to assess the damage caused as there might not be any symptoms for some time post the incident of mis-fuelling. However, the main components and elements of the drivetrain that could possibly be affected are as follows:
- Fuel pump
- Catalytic converters
- Contamination of fuel tank
- Post mis-fuelling, carburettor service
- Valve guides and valve seats.
Despite these dangers areas, based upon our experiences over the past 7 years, the majority of vehicles can be successfully drained and flushed, without the need for major component replacement. We are often asked if there are any particular vehicles that cannot be successfully drained and flushed. The only times you are likely to reach a point when a vehicle can’t be drained and re started are if ancillary equipment have been damaged prior to the drain being completed. A regular example of this is the starter motor, which is often repeatedly turned over by desperate drivers attempting to start their vehicle. Otherwise we are not aware of any road vehicle currently available that cannot be drained.
Below is a list of some of the more interesting vehicles we have attended and got back on the road:
- Ferrari Testarossa
- Triumph Stag
- MGB Roadster
- Honda VTR Firestorm
- Porsche 944S2
- Citroen 2CV6
- Fairline Targa 36
- Iveco 260 E27
- Bentley Mulsanne
Fuel Type Specific – What to do
Petrol in diesel. As previously discussed the best course of action is to not start the vehicle. However, with a diesel vehicle sensitivity to the wrong fuel is less so than in its petrol counterpart. Therefore, should you own a very modern automatic car, that doesn’t have the traditional key, and the car must be started in order to take it out of park and disengage the steering lock, a matter of a few seconds with the engine running is unlikely to cause any problems. Call in the services of a mobile fuel drain company who can dispatch an technician to attend and drain the vehicle immediately, and no further action should be necessary. If the vehicle has been driven the same basic rules apply, however, it is highly recommended that a quality additive is included once the contaminated fuel has been removed and the vehicle re started, and for extra peace of mind the fuel filter should be changed within the next few days. For further information on possible damage and symptoms, check out our petrol in diesel car guide and videos
Diesel in petrol. Again, it is highly recommended that the car or motorbike is not started. In this instance a mobile fuel drainage company, who can attend the scene of the breakdown swiftly, should be utilised to remove all of the diesel. From here the car or bike should be a simple re start. If they have been started, or driven, they will require a thorough flush through once the drain has been completed. This process will normally take at least 50% longer to carry out than if working on a diesel engine equivalent. However, once completed the car or bike should start quickly, initially producing a fair quantity of smoke while any diesel residue is burnt off, then running as before the mis-fuelling incident. For further information on possible damage and symptoms, check out our diesel in a petrol car guide and video
information on possible damage and symptoms, check out our diesel in a petrol car guide and video
The Process of Removing Fuel
After the fuel is removed it will be stored in a bunded tank that belongs to an Environment Agency recorded, waste producer licensed company. They will then collect the contaminated fuel and supply it to a refinery that will carry out various processes in order to separate the constituent parts.
Due to the strict EA rules relating to hazardous materials it is not possible to provide the driver with the contaminated fuel that has been removed from their vehicle.If you have made the mistake of putting petrol in a diesel car or diesel in a petrol car, don’t take the risk. Make use of our roadside 24 hour wrong fuel recovery service by calling us on 0844 879 4770 and find out how quickly we can get you back on the road!