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Petrol station chaos worsened by motorists filling up with wrong fuel

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The chaos on Great Britain’s petrol station forecourts has been worsened by hundreds of panicking motorists filling their tanks with the wrong kind of fuel, breakdown services have reported.

With queues snaking hundreds of metres from some filling stations – and tension building between motorists in places, more than five times as many people as usual in the UK have mistakenly put diesel in their petrol engine or vice versa.

Misfuelling can cause significant damage to cars, and motorists are advised to not switch on the ignition at all once they realise their mistake – meaning such breakdowns potentially block the already crowded forecourts. Hapless drivers also need to have their tanks fully drained while the contaminated fuel has to be jettisoned.

The AA said it had attended 250 such incidents over the weekend compared with an average of 20-25 on an average day. The breakdown company has a fleet of specialist “fuel assist” vans to deal with this type of incident. Should the driver not immediately notice their mistake, large amounts of smoke can come from the exhaust, and the engine is apt to misfire and cut out. Using petrol in a diesel car is the more serious mistake in terms of possible damage.

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The AA president, Edmund King, said: “Drivers also need to be careful because this weekend we have seen a dramatic rise in misfuelling compared to last weekend. This in turn unnecessarily reduces the fuel available as the whole tank has to be drained before refilling with the correct fuel.”

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He called on drivers to avoid filling stations until necessary: “For the vast majority of drivers there is no need to rush to the pumps, and we urge people to only fill up when essential. There is no need to top up ‘just in case’.”

King said he believed the current forecourt queues would disappear in the coming days: “Millions of drivers changed their refuelling habits this weekend but once a tank is full it can’t be topped up. This short-term increase in demand should slow and allow forecourts time to restock.”