Could car insurance or a breakdown policy cover the costs if you’ve put the wrong fuel in your vehicle? Read more about misfuelling insurance.
It’s a horrible feeling: glancing down at the green nozzle you’re using, as you remember you’ve borrowed your partner’s diesel estate.
Misfuelling can be a catastrophically expensive motoring mishap, but it’s far from a rare one – in 2010, research by the AA found that there were an estimated 150,000 misfuels in the UK each year.
Of these, 95% of incidents involved putting petrol in a diesel vehicle.
Because it’s such a common occurrence, it’s worth investigating whether your car insurance will cover you for the error.
You’ll need to check your policy documents carefully to find out under what circumstances your insurance might pay up.
In most cases, misfuelling cover means that your insurance policy will pay out for draining and cleaning the fuel tank at the petrol station, or after being towed to a garage.
Misfuelling cover will sometimes also reimburse some or all of the cost of the contaminated fuel wasted by the incident.
However, in most cases misfuelling cover won’t pay up if you’ve actually driven your car any significant distance with the wrong fuel, as most insurers would consider this negligent.
Misfuelling cover isn’t often found as a standard feature of car insurance - on 22 May, 2015, Gocompare.com checked 223 comprehensive car insurance policies on the matrix of independent financial researcher Defaqto and found that just 9% covered the cost of draining and cleaning the tank.
A further 3% of the policies could provide misfuelling cover as an optional extra, so it may well be something you won’t be able to buy alongside your insurance policy, even if you’re willing to pay more to add it.
Misfuelling cover will normally only pay for the draining and cleaning of your tank at the point of misfuelling - for damage caused if you’ve driven off and triggered further engine problems, you’ll need to check whether you're covered under the accidental damage section of your policy.
In 2010, the British Insurance Brokers’ Association showed that 30% of UK insurers wouldn’t pay out for a misfuelling claim, but noted that where a misfuelling exclusion wasn’t brought to their attention at the point of sale, the customer would be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman.†
Since then, it appears insurers have tightened up the wording on their policy documents.
Of the 223 policies checked on Defaqto, all covered accidental damage, but 42% of policies contained a misfuelling exclusion clause.
Closer scrutiny of the policies revealed that what this clause actually excluded varied between policies.
Although some insurers would refuse to pay anything at all under accidental damage to remedy a misfuelling, others may cover the cost of repairing damage caused, but wouldn’t pay to actually have your fuel tank drained and cleaned.
The bottom line is that some policies pay for tank draining/cleaning but not for damage caused, some pay for damage but not draining, some will cover you for both and some for neither.
You’ll need to check your policy documents carefully, including the accidental damage section, to find out exactly what is and isn’t included.
If your insurance policy doesn’t include misfuelling cover as standard and your insurer doesn’t offer it as an optional extra, you can buy this cover as a separate, stand-alone policy through a specialist provider.
You might have a further lifeline if you’ve taken out breakdown cover.
Some breakdown policies will include the cost of towing, draining, cleaning and replenishing after a misfuel.
If you realise you’ve filled up with the wrong fuel, the golden rule is not to drive your car anywhere.
Don’t even start the engine - remove the keys from the ignition and let the service station attendant know what’s happened.
If you have cover, under either your car insurance policy or breakdown cover, call their helpline and follow their instructions.
Failing to do so might invalidate your cover.
If you don’t have cover, the service station attendant might be able to give you a number to call for a local assistance company - after all, it’s unlikely to be the first time they’ve encountered this problem.
"Misfuelling is an easy mistake to make, especially if you're in a rush and drive more than one vehicle or have just changed your car," said Gocompare.com's Matt Oliver.
"But a moment's absent mindedness at the pump can prove expensive. While misfuelling is a common error, you can't assume you'll automatically be insured for it under your car insurance or breakdown cover.
"You'll need to check the policy wording for details. If your policy excludes misfuelling you can buy a specialist, standalone policy.
"The extent of damage caused to your car by using the wrong fuel can vary depending on how much of it enters the system. So, if you think you have misfuelled your vehicle, don't start the engine.
"Draining and cleaning the tank of the wrong fuel should help fix the problem without damaging your car. Don't drive away hoping for the best - this will only increase the damage and cost of repairs.
"It may also invalidate your insurance as your insurer may deem that you've failed to take due care."