Fuel Contamination Risks and Solutions

There are two ways your car can experience fuel contamination. Either the fuel you pump in is already contaminated, or you accidentally put diesel into a petrol tank, or vice versa. The latter is a more common occurrence, yet both will result in serious problems for your motor.

Thankfully it’s not the end of the world should you fill your car up with the wrong fuel or a contaminated batch. The risks can be significant but there are many solutions to eliminate and keep them to a minimum.

Common causes of fuel contamination

What is Fuel Contamination?

Your car’s petrol or diesel tank will become contaminated when the wrong fuel is pumped into it. This is because the pump and seal are not designed to work together, so they will rub and cause damage through metal particles being deposited in the fuel. The more metal particles fall in and enter the system the worse it will be.  

The other cause is when the fuel itself is already contaminated before being pumped into your car. There are various ways this can occur. One example is water becoming mixed in with the fuel, through a leak in the tank which then causes microbes to grow and form a layer of slime which blocks engine filters. Another form of contamination applies specifically to diesel cars and is when the fuel comes into contact with oxygen in the tank and forms a peroxide. This peroxide can then create gums and resins within the fuel which are another common cause of blocked engine filters.

How to Detect Fuel Contamination in Your Car

If that all sounds a bit complicated then you’ll be happy to know it’s a lot easier to detect when contaminated fuel is in your car’s tank. There are a few symptoms which include:

  • Misfiring engine
  • Smoky exhaust when driving
  • Car feels like it lacks power
  • Noisy engine, especially when the car is loaded
  • Foul smell when the engine is running

If any of these occur then you must stop driving and have a professional inspect your vehicle immediately as further use could lead to serious damage to many areas of your car.  

The Risks

Damaged Injectors

One of the most common risks of putting petrol into a diesel engine or diesel into a petrol is damage to the fuel injectors. This is often due to the high pressure of the fuel injection which can impair the nozzle and valve system as they rub against each other, damaging both components as metal particles enter the fuel stream. It will make it harder to fill up in the future and can lead to turbo trouble.  

Engine Trouble

Continued use of contaminated fuel can result in the entire car engine being written off. Petrol in a diesel engine is more common and even more serious than the other way around. When petrol is mixed with diesel it acts as a solvent which, when pumped through the fuel system, will seriously damage the engine as diesel usually acts as a lubricant which is the exact opposite effect of what you want it to do. If this goes on unidentified for a while, it may eventually destroy your engine completely and fuel pumps, injectors, pipes or filters can become damaged beyond repair.

Unpredictable Breakdowns

Avoid unpredictable breakdowns

All breakdowns are unpredictable, otherwise they wouldn’t happen. If you accidentally fill your tank with the wrong fuel it is essential you do not drive or start the engine as your car was not designed to run on this fuel. Driving will allow the wrong or contaminated fuel to penetrate further into the vehicle’s fuel delivery system, causing all sorts of damage. If it is not identified and dealt with straightaway, then the damage will only get worse and lead to a breakdown at some point.   

Expensive Repairs

Avoid extensive repairs

Breakdowns, engine trouble and damaged injectors will all result in expensive repairs and in the worst case scenario the need to buy a new car, which is where First Response could help. Quickly spotting the use of the wrong or bad fuel will reduce the cost of repairs to fit a new fuel filter, injector and other parts and even remove the need of having to buy a new car.

The Solutions

Call for Help

Ensure you call for help

To reduce the chance of such risks causing engine and financial damage, you should immediately ring for help when you notice any of the symptoms There are some mobile companies you can call to come out and drain your car of bad fuel, otherwise you will need to get someone from your garage to come out and help. Under no circumstances should you drive when knowing you have put petrol into your diesel car, or the other way around.  

Check Your Warranty

If you have driven with the wrong or contaminated fuel in your car then it is worth checking your warranty to see if you can reduce the cost of repairs. Some vehicles will be under warranty in the event that its engine fails due to contaminated fuel. Usually this will not count if you have simply put the wrong fuel in your vehicle but, if it is the petrol or diesel itself that is bad, you may be able to get it repaired by the manufacturer. This can save you a lot of money and effort getting the harmful petrol or diesel out and paying for repairs, should it have done lasting damage to the car.

Fit a Secondary Filter

add a secondary filter

To avoid the need of calling for help or needing to check your warranty you can take preventive measures such as fitting a secondary filter. There is some debate on whether this is worthwhile as it will cost a few hundred pounds but, should you ever put the wrong or contaminated fuel in your car, can prevent repairs that would reach into the thousands. Be aware that such modifications to the fuel system can cause problems for certain vehicles and the ideal specification is still under debate.

Best practice is to only use petrol stations from companies you trust and to be extremely careful when filling up your car to avoid these contamination risks.

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Images courtesy of iStock.