Oil based fuels can break a motorist’s heart and the bank too! Petrol and diesel is expensive enough without the worry about filling up with the wrong fuel. Misfuelling isn’t the only way to potentially kill your engine, another is to inadvertently fill up with laundered diesel or diluted fuel. Here’s an insight in to the murky world of filling-up and how to avoid being stung.
If we haven’t done it ourselves (touch wood), we all know of some ‘poor divil’ who has accidentally filled up with the petrol when it should have been diesel – or vice versa. If the mistake is spotted straight away at the pump and the car’s ignition has remained off it is a relatively easy but costly matter to sort out. Once the fuel pump hasn’t started shifting the fuel through the engine it is a simple matter of draining the fuel tank. To add insult to injury you lose the value of the fuel you’ve just put in and have to pay for another fill of the right stuff… “ouch”. If you don’t spot the mistake and drive off you can do a world of damage. It is worse to put petrol in a diesel as it lacks the lubricating nature of diesel oil. In a short time the car will conk out after a few splutters and at worse you’re looking at engine failure and a rebuild if driven for long. The potential repair or replacement costs can run into thousands. Diesel wrongly put in to a petrol car still causes harm and will ultimately clog up the fuel injection system. Depending on the mix ratio, at some point the car will fail to start. Thankfully in recent years mobile misfuelling service vans have become a common sight on Ireland’s roads. €250 is the average call out figure charged and in less than an hour you can be sorted and on your way – albeit with a red face from embarrassment. Carmakers have in recent years made the fueling aperture narrower for petrol cars and slightly wider for diesels but people still make fueling errors at the pumps. Best advice is to pause and check the inside of the filler flap to check the car’s fuel type and then match that to the pump you select.
It sounds harmless enough but don’t be fooled its very harmful stuff. Laundered or washed diesel is the nickname given to doctored cheap agricultural diesel (aka MGO / marked gas oil) that is not intended for road use – in fact it use in a road vehicle is illegal. MGO attracts a lower government excise duty of 10.2c per litre versus 47.9c per litre for regular diesel making it far cheaper than road diesel. Laundered diesel is sold on to the public through fuel retailers and out of yards as regular road diesel – for a massive profit. In Ireland, off road ‘marked’ diesel has a green dye placed in it to clearly identify it. In Northern Ireland marked diesel is dyed red. Crooks, especially in the boarder areas, have been removing the dye using a chemical and forced air process and then selling it on. When the diesel’s dye is washed out, using a cocktail of nasty additives, the end result would fool most people. A number of years ago Agri-Diesel was very high in sulphur and easier to trace but thanks to the EU the sulphur level was reduced to similar to road diesel and this made identifying washed diesel much harder at the roadside. Since 2011 regulations have got tighter in Ireland. In April 2015 a big breakthrough happened as the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland added a wonder chemical to their marked diesels. ‘Accutrace’ when added to marked diesel cannot be washed out. This advance means when cars, vans and trucks are dipped at Customs checkpoints – a simple roadside test will reveal if the diesel is laundered as traces of Accutrace will be present.
Fuel laundering isn’t just reserved for the boarder counties of Monaghan and Louth although they are the hotbed, but it also happens throughout Ireland. The physical area needed to launder fuel isn’t that big. Criminal outfits have been caught in buildings the size of a large shed. There have even been mobile fuel laundering tankers seized. While the gangs distribute thousands of litres of profitable laundered fuel the nasty residual pollutants from the washing process are simply dumped. This means that highly toxic sludge is abandoned by the road or riverside to seep in to the watertable. The laundered fuel horror story doesn’t end there as many crooks go even further driven by greed and stretch the fuel they’ve already messed up. Stretched fuel is another innocent sounding phrase that informed motorists know is in fact pure evil. In simple terms this is where cheaper combustible fuels like kerosene or ethanol are added to fuel. This dilutes the diesel and petrol further, to simply maximize the per litre profit.
Ditch the Dye?
So why not remove the dye all together to solve the problem? Why not let off road diesel users and farmers use regular road diesel and claim the taxes back? This makes initial sense until you realise that it would place a huge burden on the farmer who would be under pressure to provide cheap fuel to family, friends and neighbours, shifting the problem. The Ireland government to its credit has tightened up the licencing requirements and general revenue accountability for anyone handling or retailing fuel including MGO, but sadly there are still criminals supplying or more often than not coercing independent fuel retailers to taking their dirty contaminated fuel in return for large sums of cash. Crooks will always find a way but for now the best advice is buy fuel from a main, recognised fuel retailer where you’ve seen its own branded fuel tankers make deliveries. This is still no guarantee of clean fuel as even branded forecourts (sometimes fake) have been found to sell laundered fuel on rare occasions. Another obvious piece of advice is that if the per litre price displayed is too good to be true you’d have to wonder where the fuel came from.The damage that can be done to an internal combustion engine from burning altered or stretched fuel can be catastrophic. A modern engine is a highly engineered thing that requires consistent and specifically formulated fuel. Motorists are hard pressed enough without having to worry about whether their engine is going to seize up after filling up! It is not only the motorist who gets the raw end of the deal – but everyone. In 2017, 130,585 litres of illegal commercial oil was seized by the State, the year before 356,211 litres. The Irish State’s coffers are out almost €3 billion per year in lost fuel excise and taxes thanks to the illegal fuel laundering trade.
As a motorist I know there’s a special place in hell for those who sell on laundered or stretched fuel.
If you have information on fuel laundering ring Revenue’s Confidential Freephone 1800 295 295.