Price can be a pretty big influencer when it comes to filling your car. But choosing a type of fuel on cents alone may be a costly mistake. Here’s what could happen if you put the wrong fuel in your car.
Diesel fuel in a gas tank
How it can happen: This is hard to do — but not impossible. Diesel pumps are typically a different color and have larger nozzles that usually won’t fit into a gasoline tank’s opening.
What to do: Gas engines can’t combust diesel, so your car may not start; if it does, it will probably smoke. While engine damage is unlikely, you will need to get the tank drained, a service that may range from $500 to $1000, and pay for the cost of a tow.
Gas in diesel
How it can happen: Gas nozzles are smaller, so they could fit into a diesel engine tank. If this happens, know that the engine can react by simply turning the key, so try to recognize the mistake before you start the car.
What to do: Because diesel acts as a lubricant for the fuel system, thinner gasoline can cause the fuel pump, filter, and injectors to wear, especially if the engine runs. Call for a tow and have the tank drained and the parts checked.
Plus/premium in regular gas
How it can happen: This is mostly a matter of choice or preference; always refer to your owner’s manual for fuel-type recommendations.
What to do: Nothing. You probably won’t see any benefits or damage.
Regular in plus/premium
How it can happen: Again, this is mostly a matter of choice or preference.
What to do: You may hear rattling and notice reduced performance and decreased fuel economy, but your car probably won’t sustain lasting engine damage. Simply switch back to premium as soon as possible, and always refer to your owner’s manual for recommendations.
Ethanol E85 in gas
How it can happen: Ethanol should be clearly labeled at the pump, but grabbing the wrong nozzle can happen.
What to do: If the car is not a flexible-fuel vehicle, you may see the “check engine” light flicker — and this may void the manufacturer warranty. However, this swap probably won’t cause permanent damage. Keep topping off your tank with regular gasoline; your car should eventually run as normal.
How to prevent choosing the wrong fuel
- Know your car: Diesel vehicles can use diesel, and that’s it. For gasoline cars, check your owner’s manual for the minimum octane rating, and make sure the fuel equals or exceeds that number. Generally, regular has an octane level of 87, premium is 91 or 93, and plus falls somewhere in between. Cars that require premium also may specify an octane preference on the gas cap. (Some cars may simply “recommend” a fuel.)
- Consider a mis-fueling prevention device: You can purchase a diesel fuel tank insert that refuses gas nozzles. Some car manufacturers have started equipping all diesel vehicles with a similar mechanism as a standard.
- Pay attention at the pump: Eliminate distraction at the pump (leave your phone in the car, for example). Carefully review each button and/or nozzle to make sure you know which fuel type you are choosing.