We’ve all done it: Pulled into a gas station late at night and, yawning, gotten the pump set up. We’ve gone in, gotten some coffee, come out, and promptly spat out our drink because we’ve realized we’re putting the wrong gas in our car. It could be the wrong octane, or it could be diesel instead of gasoline.
This is bad for several reasons. Running the wrong fuel through your car could increase “engine knock,” which means lower performance and potentially more damage to your car (likely not paid for by auto insurance). Worse, carbon deposits can collect, and they suck up the wrong grade of gas, making the problem linger and the aggravation that much worse.
It’s not a fun situation, but it’s not necessarily the end of your car. If you find yourself in this situation here’s what to do.
Step 1: Whatever You Do, Don’t Start Your Car!
No matter what, starting your car is going to make a bad situation vastly, vastly worse. Starting your car will circulate the wrong fuel and start damaging it at multiple points. It can also invalidate your warranty, something you may very much need before this situation is resolved. So, whatever you do, no matter how tempting it is, do not turn that key.
Step 2: Figure Out How Much of the Wrong Gas Got in Your Car
If you squeezed the handle and immediately realized your mistake, you probably don’t have much of the wrong fuel in your car. This might mean the solution is nothing more than filling up your car with the right octane and rolling out with a bit of embarrassment, although you should never, ever assume this is the case. If you have an entire tank, well, then you’ve got bigger problems.
Step 3: Talk to the Attendant
Keep in mind, you’re at a gas station, this happens all the time. There’s a distinct possibility that they have protocols and tools in place to help you. So let them know that you’ve put the wrong fuel in the tank, and ask them if there’s anything they can do to help. Odds are good, especially if there’s a service station there, that they can. If your car is out of warranty, the gas station is probably going to be the place most likely to help you.
Step 4: Call Your Dealer or the Manufacturer
If your car is still under warranty, call the dealer or the manufacturer. Preferably the dealer, but the manufacturer will have a help line if you’re stuck with this problem late at night. Ask them exactly what you should do: They will likely recommend that you have your car towed to the nearest shop and the fuel tank drained. They may also possibly recommend that the seals and filters be replaced, so be prepared for that expense as well. Either way, listen to them and do exactly what they say.
It’s not a great situation to be in, but putting the wrong fuel in your car is not the end of the world. Just don’t start your car, find somebody to help you, and you’ll be back on the road in no time.