Did you put the wrong fuel in your foreign rental car?
Misfuelling commonly occurs when travelers are enjoying themselves on a worry free vacation. In 2014, over 150,000 people misfuelled a vehicle in the UK.  I have read stories about mis-fuelings where the vehicle renter claimed the rental agent told them “the car takes diesel or gas”. . . right. Whatever the reason for misfuelling may be, it is important to take several initial steps to ensure you minimize potential damages to the vehicle. First, get into a safe place – do not attempt to remain with the vehicle on the roadway. Second, call the rental company and get the vehicle towed to a repair facility. Further damage will result from doing anything aside from having the vehicle towed to a repair facility. Do not turn the key and do not start the vehicle. Turning the key will cycle the fuel pump and starting the vehicle will draw the bad fuel through the fuel system and into the engine, compounding the damage.
The damage of misfuelling a vehicle is wide ranging from minimal to catastrophic. At the minimum, the vehicle will be inoperable and will require towing to a repair facility. Repairs range from draining and flushing the fuel system, all the way to total fuel system replacement (fuel line, pumps, injectors), or even total replacement of certain internal engine components. If you rented a newer vehicle, it is very likely that you will be stuck with a $6,000+ bill to repair the vehicle.
Caveat: putting gasoline into a modern diesel vehicle is worse than diesel into a gasoline engine. Putting gasoline in a newer diesel vehicle will invariably result in the replacement of fuel pumps, fuel lines, fuel injectors, fuel filters, sensors, o-rings, etc. Furthermore, putting gasoline in a diesel vehicle is the most common misfuelling (the gasoline pump nozzle will fit into the diesel filler neck, but not the other way around). The potential damages are not limited to the vehicle’s repair. You may be charged for lost income because the rental company did not have that vehicle in service, administrative fees, re-fueling, legal fees, collections, and others. In those exhaustive fine print documents titled “Terms and Conditions”, you will likely find a clause that reads similar to the following:
7.2.2. Refill the Vehicle with the correct type of fuel. If unsuitable fuel is added then you will be responsible for all reasonable expenses incurred by us in the repair of any damage that may be caused to the Vehicle which will be calculated in accordance with the rules described in section 25 (Damage to the Vehicle) below.
Does rental insurance cover misfuelling? What if I purchased the "premium" insurance? Somewhere among the numerous lines of fine print, invariably, rental insurance policies will explicitly exclude coverage for damage related to misfuelling. The rental agency may repair the vehicle at a dealer of its choice (for a substantial premium) and send you the invoice. Interestingly enough, there are relatively cheap devices to prevent misfuelling like this device coined the “Fuel Angel” ( https://www.misfuellingprevention.co.uk/). Despite the reasonable price, I wouldn’t bet seeing this implemented on the vast majority of rental vehicles.
If you have misfuelled a vehicle, call today for a free consultation.
Very truly yours,
Andrew P. Bass, Esq.