19 November 2010

Mis-fuelling Scam Exposed!

On Tuesday, a the end of a tedious day, feeling unwell, frustrated and tired, I filled up the tank of my car with £53 pounds-worth of unleaded petrol.  The only problem is, my car has a diesel engine.  Not realising my mistake, I drove my car at speed the twelve miles from the fuel station to home.  The loss of power only became apparent as I descended the long hill into the village and then over the short one to where we live.  I parked up and went indoors, worried about what was wrong with the car and if it would work several hours later when I had to go to the airport to collect my Beloved who had been away to visit her parents.

I need not have worried because it's failing to work was a certainty, confirmed by the billowing smoke and fumes that resulted from my later attempts to start the engine.  Fortunately, we have a second car.  Unfortunately for my Beloved, it is a two-seater with little room for luggage.  We managed.

Still unaware of my mistake, and concerned that the head gasket had blown, when we got back home I took a torch out to the car and searched for evidence of oil running down the cylinder block but found none.  Then I checked the fuel receipt and realised the full horror of what I had done...

Interestingly enough, my Beloved had bought a renowned car magazine on her journey and had read that very night an article about the mis-fuelling of cars.  Apparently this problem is so common that recovery services have vehicles especially set up for siphoning, flushing and re-fuelling, and charge about £250 for the job.  Under no account, the article informed us, should you attempt to start a mis-fuelled car.  To do so damages the entire fuel delivery system and requires its replacement at the possible cost of thousands of pounds... 

Sleep did not come easily that night.

On Wednesday, I went to my usual garage as, by coincidence, the MX5 was due its annual service.  I explained the disaster to the proprietor and expected to hear that ominous sucking-of-teeth sound.  'That's OK,' he said, 'It's not as big a problem as everyone makes out.  I've done it myself.'  His confession, and his ensuing description of the much greater abuse heaped on his wrongly-fuelled engine for a whole weekend made me feel much better.  He just cleaned out the tank and flushed the system through and his car ran without problems for many years after.  He did tell me of another client who mis-fuelled his leased car and had no option but to pay the leasing company £4000 for a new fuel system.  I felt even better still when my friendly mechanic explained that the most that would need replacing was a fuel filter.  I arranged for Green Flag to recover my car to the garage for remedial work.

Apparently, the story goes that steel parts in the diesel's fuel pump break down after being soaked in petrol and then the resulting particles pass through the the rest of the system, wrecking it as they go.  However, it is normal for exactly the same pump to be used in both diesel and petrol engines, so damage from petrol is hardly likely, and the fuel line has a filter after the pump that would remove any fragments before they have chance to reach the injection system anyway.  Furthermore, diesel used to have petrol added to it to stop waxing in the cold extremes of the winter months: as much as 60%!

A colleague at work told me of a friend's garage where they see two or three mis-fuellings a week and charge a mere £90 for sorting out the problem.  The recovered fuel goes in a big tank where it separates into two fractions, petrol over diesel.  It then gets used in the garage's vehicles appropriately.  Win-win, you might say.

On Thursday, I got my car back in working order.  It goes like a rocket, having been cleaned out with a good soaking in petrol.  The cost?  Only £90.50, including £20 for diesel fuel (plus the £53 I lost on the petrol, of course). 

It seems to me that there is a massive con going on, with unscrupulous people making a fortune out of the mistakes and ignorance of others.  Obviously there is nothing wrong with using your knowledge to personal advantage - we all do that to make an honest living.  Using your knowledge to the deliberate disadvantage and abuse of others is entirely reprehensible.  If it is not actually criminal, it should be; it is certainly despicable.  Thank goodness I have a long-standing relationship with a reliable garage!

So, if you do what I did, don't panic, don't lose sleep, and don't believe the mechanic who tells you you need to re-mortgage your home: find a new mechanic.  If this has already happened to you, and you got ripped off, find a new mechanic.


  1. Same happened to me today. 80 quids of petrol in my empty diesel multipla. The local garage rescued me, drained the tank and that was that. They ran the engine (spluttering) to burn off the residual petrol. Problems? None. The mechanic said it would be fine. He even gave the contaminated fuel for my mower. No replaced fuel injectors, pumps, common rails, or any other nonsense.

  2. Thank goodness for honest local garages! Glad you have one you can trust; they are worth their weight in gold. We've sold our car since our incident but still see it around town in perfectly good health.

    By the way, we've hired Multiplas a couple of times on holidays and found them to be great cars.

    Happy motoring, and thanks for reading the blog.