Who Should Pay When Filling Up Goes Terribly Wrong?



A few nights ago a tired drive home nearly ended in catastrophe. Not for me, but for the fuel system of my car.

I pulled into the station, popped my fuel door, swiped my card and picked up the handle before I realized it was green. That realization woke me up very quickly, as I uttered a mild profanity and then proceeded to move to another pump, one with the 92 octane my car requires, not the diesel I almost filled it with.

Despite being clearly labeled, and the fact that diesel nozzles are typically larger than those dispensing unleaded gas, people mistakenly fill their cars with the wrong fuel occasionally. Doing so won’t necessarily cause serious damage to the fuel system or engine, but the car won’t start, and the fix could cost a lot of money.

When a moron like me makes that mistake on his own, the cost is an obvious consequence of a bone-headed mistake. But when the mistake is made by a fuel company, who should pay?

A story on my local news last night said diesel fuel was mistakenly pumped into tanks at a fuel station meant to hold unleaded gasoline in Spokane, Washington. It’s unknown exactly how many drivers filled up with the wrong fuel, but local mechanics are busy draining the oil out of plenty of gasoline-powered engines, at a cost of at least $200-$250 a pop.

The station and fuel company in question are both owned by the Spokane Tribe, which so far hasn’t addressed the issue, other than by temporarily closing down its fuel pumps and deferring questions to an insurance company.

The obvious move would be for the Spokane Tribe to reimburse drivers for the cost of repairs. Or should we assume that drivers fill up at their own risk and are responsible for such mistakes?

The classy thing for the Tribe to do here would be to admit fault and reimburse for repair costs, towing, time and trouble caused by the mistake. Whether it does so remains to be seen.

Have you ever pumped the wrong fuel into your car? Who should pay when the fuel company is responsible for the mistake?


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  1. This is quite a common problem, Randy makes a good comment about the nozzle sizes being different so petrol in a diesel car is more common when it comes to putting the wrong fuel in car. Misfuelling happens a reported 150,000 times a year in the United Kingdom alone!

  2. @
    this happens 400 times a day in the UK, it supports an industry! petrolindieseluk.co.uk has the whole story

  3. As far as I know, in every state the seller would be liable for any damages from an error like this. In a case like this, the seller is actually the supplier who put the Diesel in the wrong tank, and would also be liable for costs to clean out the gas station equipment.

    As for pumping Diesel into a gas car at the wrong pump, you’d really have to work at it to do so, since the nozzle will in no way fit. Not that it doesn’t happen, there are plenty of folks out there who will figure out a way to do it.

  4. this happened in Edmonton about a year ago. It was a very large energy company and they reimbursed hundreds of motorists for the repairs to their vehicles.

  5. Makes me wonder how often this happens… When I pay for 92, am I getting 89 and never even knowing?

  6. I definitely think that the fuel company should reimburse drivers for the cost of repair. It’s not the station’s fault, they didn’t put the wrong fuel into the holding tanks. Glad this has never happened to me!

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