October 17th 2014 – Accidentally putting petrol in my VW Passat instead of Diesel
The following is my tale of woe about my wrong fuel experience. Please don’t make the same mistakes that I made and save yourself the hassle.
On the Friday morning in question, I was driving my 6 month old VW Passat to work in Worcester as usual. The car is a B7 model 2 litre turbo diesel, not as good to drive as my previous VW Passat which was the B5.5 2 litre petrol model but not a bad car either. I had only had the car for 3 days and I picked it up with about a third of a tank of fuel in it on the previous Tuesday. I was sitting in the crawling traffic going into the town centre when the low fuel warning light lit up with a ping. I could easily have made it to work and back home on the remaining fuel but as there was a fuel station on my route into work and I was early anyway, I thought I would stop off and fill up with diesel before the weekend as I had a lot of running around to do on Saturday with the kids.
I pulled up at the pump and I remember running through the day’s tasks in my head so I wasn’t really concentrating on putting in the fuel, I was just doing that on autopilot. I filled the tank right up and then went to the kiosk to pay. I got back into the car and started the engine. It sounded rough which worried me and as I drove to the exit the engine stalled altogether. It then dawned on me what I had just done. I’d filled up with the wrong fuel. I’d had my previous car for 10 years and had got so used to filling up with unleaded petrol that I had just done what I was used to doing. I’m sure I probably turned as pale as a ghost and I just had an almost overwhelming feeling of panic because I was sure that I had just ruined a £14,000 car. To make matters worse I was blocking the station exit and there was a line of motorists behind me waiting to leave the station. I had to sheepishly explain to the chap behind me what I had done and I asked him if he would help me push the car out off to one side. He refused and told me to get it moved. Nice. The young lady in the next car, however, did volunteer to help and together we managed to move the car with her steering and me pushing on my own.
Wrong Fuel Removal – The Wrong Approach
The forecourt staff were sympathetic but I could tell this was a hassle for them too, one of them handed me a card that someone had left on the desk from a firm of wrong fuel removal engineers. I didn’t realise that the industry even existed until I saw the card, I did think that I should call my breakdown assistance firm and ask their advice first and they explained that they could have someone out to me in an hour and a half and that if they could remove the fuel from the car then it would cost me £250. I didn’t fancy sitting around for that long and I thought the cost was a bit steep so I called the firm on the card I had been given and spoke to a bored sounding lady who said they could have someone with me in about 30 minutes as there was a van in the area and that the cost would be £150. Whilst I waited I used my smartphone to search for “wrong fuel Worcester” to see what came up on Google. I found quite a few other companies offering the wrong fuel removal service but I couldn’t find the company named on the card who I had just called. I decided to sit tight and see what happened anyway.
About 45 minutes later a scruffy, dented Ford Transit pulled up next to me and door opened and clattered into the driver’s door on my car, my mood wasn’t good as it was and I got out of the car to confront this individual who had gone around to the back of the van. Thankfully, there was no damage to my car as the van had a plastic protector on its door. The van driver then appeared and announced that he was here to do the fuel drain. He was dressed in a paint covered overall and had paint all over his face and head. Quite obviously, he had just been painting. I followed him to the back of the van where he had an array of large 5 gallon plastic containers, a length of rubber hose and some sort of electric pump contraption. The equipment looked like it had just been thrown in to the back of the van along with various bits of rubbish and paper towels and the smell of petrol coming from the back of the van made my eyes water. I began to feel the panic rising again and had visions of a huge explosion occurring with me in the middle of it. When the “engineer” started to attempt to feed rubber hose down into my new car’s fuel tank (with no care being taken of the car bodywork which was now filthy all around the fuel tank aperture) something told me that this just wasn’t right and was probably downright dangerous. My sense of duty towards my fellow motorists on the forecourt kicked in and I asked him to stop what he was doing. I explained that I thought what he was doing was putting everyone at risk and he became somewhat aggressive and began to demand payment for wasted time. I had no intention of giving this chap my credit card and so I locked the car and told him I was going to speak to the police which, unsurprisingly, changed his attitude. As I walked off towards the kiosk I looked behind me to see him hurriedly packing the hose and container back into his van which then sped off in a cloud of smoke.
The Wrong Fuel – The Right Approach
It was more than an hour since I had put the wrong fuel in my car by this time, so I called work to keep them updated and then looked at my smartphone search page again for another wrong fuel removal company. The company that came top for the search “wrong fuel Worcester” had a great website, tailored for mobile display and had images showing uniformed engineers with well-maintained vans and also, many positive customer comments. I called the number and explained my predicament to a kind and sympathetic operator who assured me that an engineer was close and would be with me very quickly. My previous experience had left me a little suspicious and so I questioned her about the company, their engineers and their vehicles and she explained clearly to me about the procedure and the professionalism with which their representatives conducted themselves. This was good enough for me and 20 minutes later a smart looking van with company livery pulled up next to me on the forecourt and a uniformed engineer with a big smile on his face, got out.
He was a real breath of fresh air after the last chap. He was kind and courteous and spent a couple of minutes talking me through the process of removing the wrong fuel from my vehicle, explaining what the sparklingly clean equipment in his van did and roughly how long this would take. He explained about the cost involved and made sure that I was comfortable with this before going ahead. As he put protective padding onto my car around the fuel tank aperture, which he cleaned up beforehand, the engineer explained about the SPA passport that he held and he also gave me his Environmental Agency paperwork which allowed him to handle and transport dangerous chemicals, legally. This information and the engineer’s general attitude and consideration put my mind at ease and filled me with confidence that, this time, I had done the right thing.
I also discussed my fears about the damage done to the vehicle engine when the wrong fuel is introduced to the system and he supplied me with the following information which put my mind at ease on that front. Firstly, it is very rare that damage occurs to the engine of fuel system of a diesel vehicle when petrol is added. Only in circumstances where common sense is not applied, is there a risk of long term damage. Petrol is a solvent and doesn’t have the lubricating qualities of diesel fuel, therefore, if any amount of petrol is introduced to the system and is allowed to remain in the system then there is potentially a risk that, where there is metal to metal contact of components within the fuel system and the normal lubrication is compromised, excessive wear of those components can occur leading to failure in extreme circumstances. Also, the seals within the system can be affected by the solvent properties of the petrol which may lead to damage. There is a myth that it is OK to top up with diesel fuel if you’ve only added a little petrol to the tank, and to continue driving. This will lead to fuel system damage as described previously resulting in potentially expensive repairs being required. The most sensible and cost effective action is to get the fuel system completely drained and flushed through with fresh diesel to remove all traces of unleaded petrol.
This is just what the engineer did to my VW Passat and within 25 minutes I was ready to go. I was very impressed with the second wrong fuel removal company that I called out, they were prompt, efficient and the customer service and general attitude were brilliant, unlike the first company. The engineer explained to me about the problem existing within the industry whereby various “cowboy” companies had been set up and were being run by inexperienced and unlicensed individuals who were taking advantage of motorist’s vulnerable positions when they had put in the wrong fuel. Many people were being intimidated into paying up front for a fuel drain that was then performed by dangerously ill equipped individuals with no regard to the customer’s safety or the safety of others in the locality. He told me of many cases where he had been called out to jobs that he had to rectify after the “cowboy” wrong fuel company had done an incomplete job and had still made off with the money. It seems that I had had a lucky escape.
Once the fuel drain and fuel system flush was completed, the engineer started my car and it ticked over as if nothing had happened. I paid him with a credit card and thanked him for his assistance, in just 45 minutes he had come out to me and carried out a professional service with which I was very happy.
The Conclusion To The Wrong Fuel Situation
It’s fair to say that I learned a few things on that day when I put in the wrong fuel. Hopefully, someone else in the same predicament may come across this article before taking action and avoid some of the potential pitfalls. In summary, this would be my advice:
Pay attention to which fuel nozzle you pick up on the forecourt (this one goes without saying!)
If you have put in the wrong fuel, let the forecourt staff know, so that they can help you move your vehicle, if necessary.
Once you have told the staff or if you have left the forecourt, do some quick smartphone internet research and choose a wrong fuel recovery company with good customer feedback and a good informative website that shows a well organised and professional outfit.
If you don’t trust the engineer that arrives or you feel there is anything amiss with his/her conduct, don’t be afraid to speak up and, if necessary, turn them away from the job. Your safety is paramount and your vehicle was probably expensive. Don’t take a risk either way.
Don’t pay up front. Make sure you’re happy with the cost and the work involved. A good engineer will be courteous and will check with you beforehand anyway.