Putting Regular Gas in a Diesel Vehicle

I didn’t call this the “First time” (although it is) because that implies there might be a second time, and this is never going to happen again.  I left off my last post with dropping the truck off at the dealership.  Lee was then taken to a rental car place by the dealer and got us a rental car…which important since the truck is our only vehicle.  After he got the rental he was going to the grocery store, since by this point we were out of just about.  When I heard him pull up at the rig, I was surprised when he didn’t start bringing the groceries in, so I walked outside to see if I could help.  When he turned to me, I saw a look on his face that I haven’t seen in a very long time.  He explained he was at the store when he got the call from the dealer and the truck wouldn’t start at all for them so they pushed it into the bay, and tested the ga,s and it was regular gas, not diesel.  He then said that the cost to repair it would be $9,000.  I sat down quickly.  He started to apologize and said he was so sick about what had happened.  Then he explained he had called the 7 Eleven thinking they had put the wrong gas in their tanks and was told they didn’t sell diesel at all.  At this point my mind was racing and I was still trying to absorb the $9,000 number.   I was much less interested in how we had gotten there, than what we were going to do to solve the problem, but in a nutshell, here’s how it happened. We pulled in to the gas station, and Lee saw a green handled pump.  His card didn’t work at the pump and went inside and asked the cashier to approve a fill-up on diesel on that pump number, which she did, not catching I guess that he had said diesel and in just a few minutes a tremendous amount of damage was done.

I actually had to get up and walk away from writing this after typing that.  It’s still upsetting to think about.  You see, Lee rarely makes mistakes.  He is an extremely careful person about everything he does, and is almost OCD about anything safety related.  I can count on one hand in the 26 years we have been together that he has made a mistake of this magnitude and interestingly enough two of them have been in the last year.  The first was when the hitch was not completely secured and our rig fell on our truck (see post here) and the second was this. To give you some perspective, the last time before that was all the way back in 1992. In that moment I had a clear choice.  I could give in to the emotion and fear of the moment or I could stay calm and move forward towards fixing the problem.  The thought that came into my mind so clear was, “Something really bad has happened.  Who do you want to be?”  I have been dealing with a lot of fear over the last several weeks over quitting my job and how well I would handle a crisis without the foundation of work on which to rely, and here was my first crisis. Way earlier than expected, but the moment had come.  And I am totally serious, in that moment I felt I was making a decision about my future, and what I decided would decide whether or not we would be able to make this life work for us.  So I took a deep breath and calmly told him it was going to be OK.  We needed to do some quick research and then go talk to the service manager in person.  And I will say that as critical as I have been of some of the information found on forums, the information we found was very good.  It stated that the longer you drove the vehicle the more damage was done, and yes, it was very expensive, but there were cases when a cleaning worked, and the solution was much less costly.  So holding onto the fragile hope that we might be one of the lucky few we went to the service department. 

We walked in and asked to see the service manager and he was sitting at the counter.  I started to talk to him thinking he would know our situation but quickly realized he did not and filled him in. Let me mention here that I am really good with service departments.  I am not mechanically inclined so I am extremely respectful of the technical knowledge they possess that I don’t, but as a project manager I also have developed an ability to call bullshit when people start to talk over my head.  The manager was very clear that this rarely happened, but there was a detailed step-by-step process to follow when it did.  There is a kit (they had it in stock at a cost of $4200) that has every part that would be affected by fuel contamination.  So the technician would replace each part step by step and the engine would be as good as new, as though it had never happened, and most importantly, back in warranty.  The last time they did this at that dealer, it took 5 full days of work, which is why the end price tag was $9,000.  You might think “Go to another shop and spend less money”, and that absolutely went through my mind, but the last thing we wanted was to void a 6 year warranty one year into it so this was not the time to get creative.  The service manager was clear he was not an expert in this and when I started to question him about it went to get his senior tech who had completed these repairs, to answer some of my questions.  He also did us a huge favor by casually mentioning that insurance companies usually paid for this.  He seemed surprised we were so concerned about the money.   While he was getting the tech, Lee stepped outside and called the insurance company.  We thought, “Well, it’s worth a shot”, but neither one of us thought they would cover something like this.  I talked to the tech.

I should probably mention here that normally Lee would be dealing with the tech and I would be dealing with the insurance company, but since I was not the one who made the mistake we switched.  Lee was still struggling to deal with the emotions of making the mistake, plus there was that whole “You’re an idiot” guy-think subtext.  Right or wrong, women can make a mistake like this and get off scott free but when a man makes the same mistake in some way that means they want to take away his man card. Plus I knew exactly how to handle this, and Le,e to his credit just let me do it.  When John (the tech) came in I personalized the situation.  I explained we lived in our RV, that I could afford the repair but it would wipe out my savings (which wasn’t strictly tru,e but the level of impact would be huge) and basically threw myself on his mercy.  That part was real as I was close to tears over the whole thing but managed to hold it together.  This changed the conversation and we were all in it together.  John said that the he could work through the process step-by-step and at each point stop, test the engine, and stop when it seemed to work.  This might cost be less than the $9,000 but no promises.  When he started saying, “If it was my money” I knew I was in good hands.  Plus he seemed incredibly competent and I felt much better overall about the quality of work I would be receiving which was something. 

Simultaneously Lee talked to the first person at Allied insurance.  The representative said something like this wouldn’t be covered, and then hinted around that vandalism would be; if someone else had done this, then it would be covered. Lee rejected that as a choice because when you start out by lying, things generally go poorly from there, and we’re both big believers in karma. In fact, we are generally beneficiaries of a brand of it we call “Instant Karma”. After all that discussion, the rep asked if Lee would you like to file a claim even though it probably isn’t covered.  Lee thought “What have I got to lose?” and gave the information for the claim.  As I was walking out he received a followup call from an adjuster who took the information again, stated he didn’t think it would be covered but would file the claim anyway.  We left the dealership feeling the enormity of what had happened but better about the steps we had taken.  We stopped at the store and got the tjings we needed and shortly after we arrived home received a third phone call from a woman.  She again took the information, said she wasn’t sure if it was covered but she would check and in under a half hour called back and said it was covered under our comprehensive plan (with a $1,000 deductible) and did we still want to make the claim.  Absolutely we did.  The magic words by the way, which the service manager shared with us are “accidental fuel contamination”.  That is absolutely what happened, and Lee consistently stated this phrase through every conversation with the insurance company.  I can’t even tell you the wash of relief I felt.  $1,000 was way better than $9,000 and we wouldn’t need to cut corners on the work that was done.  The insurance company said they would have an adjuster talk to the dealer and between the two of them they can work out what will be done along with the pricing.  By the way, I haven’t had an insurance claim my entire life so we will see how much our rates go up, but as Lee said, that’s why you pay those premiums and it’s dumb not to use it when the situation calls for it.  

So here we are.  We are paying $30 a day for the rental car (which may or may not be covered by the insurance) and waiting to hear back on what needs to be done and how much it will cost.  So we’re not out of the woods yet but feeling much better about things in general.  I also wanted to mention that I try not to ask God for trivial things but this situation fell into the category where I did ask for strength to deal with it.  After the day was done, I thanked him for looking out over us and for giving me the opportunity for personal growth.  I believe that when you are tested your true character shows through and the things that are really important rise to the foreground.  I thought precious little about leaving my job through all of this and instead focused on us and our future.  I love my husband very much and feel very blessed to have him in my life and a situation like this really drives home how strong we are together.  He took responsibility for his mistake,  and despite incredibly strong emotions kept himself together.  I fought my fears, and supported him absolutely.  You really can’t ask for more than that, and in some ways during this time of transition for me this incident was a gift, because it reaffirmed we can get through adversity together. 

Lessons Learned 

  • A different colored handled pump does not necessarily mean diesel.  Never pump your fuel unless you can physically put your finger on the word “diesel” on the pump itself.
  • Accidental Fuel Contamination may be covered by your comprehensive insurance plan.  Make sure you check.  
  • In the case of a serious repair go and talk to the service manager and technician in person.  Talk about your options.  Personalize the situation so they understand you are on a budget.

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25 thoughts on “Putting Regular Gas in a Diesel Vehicle

  1. I was always under the, obviously mistaken view, that the gas nozzle would not fit in a diesel vehicle. So glad the insurance is coming to the rescue.

  2. I’m so sorry that this has happened but I love the way you wrote about it! I was in tears at first and could feel how emotionally devastating this was for you both. When we go thru the hard times with each other we then can really appreciate the good times together! Thank you for sharing all this with us as we all learn from each other! Love you both!

  3. As long as I’ve been driving a truck, a green handle has always indicated diesel. Blue or black has been for gas. I am so glad that, so far, this will work out in a positive. I love reading your stories and I am really pulling for you two to be successful in your endeavor.

  4. Tracy,

    About a year ago, my wife and I were on our way, from Texas to Cooperstown New York, to my mother’s funeral with our new RAM 3500HD crew cab dually. About half way there we stopped to refuel. We were stopping at a station where I had purchased diesel several times on previous trips. There was a truck at the pump ahead of us but the pump we were at, I thought, had diesel except it had a yellow handle. I won’t go over all the reasons I did what I did but I proceeded to fill our tank with E85 ethanol. I have to admit my wife pointed out the yellow handle but I’ve seen yellow on diesel at other stations (I’m pretty sure). We got just a few miles down the interstate when the truck balked and stopped running. We sat in stark terror by the side of the interstate as the eighteen wheeler trucks flew by, the guard rail forced us to be only a few feet off the highway. We ended up having it fixed in stages, each time thinking it was fixed, and two different times services managers, at different dealerships, asked if we had filed an insurance claim. When we returned home, I checked with my agent. He had never heard of it being covered but checked, and to our relief, we were. We were looking at similar expenses. Our insurance did cover our rent car. My wife was VERY understanding and we decided, even after 37 years of marriage, that surviving this meant we could survive anything. It will all work out. Hang in there. Maybe we’ll see you down the road. In addition to following you, I am an avid follower of Howard’s posts.

    • Gary thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t even imagine going through something like this on the way to my mothers funeral. We were very lucky because the drive from Reno where we filled up to Susanville has vast stretches of land with no people whatsoever and limited coverage. I am so grateful that we made it to the dealer and it is not lost on me it could have been so much worse. Thank you again for sharing your story. It really helps that other people have been through this.

  5. I was so glad to hear that insurance will cover this!
    I know how you felt – remember when Bill hit the pin-pad? All I said was “it can be fixed – no body got hurt”. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t upset, but it got fixed as good as new and we moved on, just like you guys will. You are 100% right – you can (and WILL!) make it through whatever life throws at you together!
    Let us know how it goes!
    Give Lee a BIG HUGE hug from us!

  6. Sorry you have to go through all this. But as you already know we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. It’s easy to sail through the good times, but how you handle the bad times as a couple is what makes or breaks a relationship. Well, you just got hit with one of those bad times and you both were there for each other. You were given a “gift” as you call it;o)) The truck will get fixed and the two of you now have the confidence to meet whatever challenge comes your way. I’d say your relationship is strong and has moved up to a higher level:o))

  7. We too gravitate to the green handles and have seen a time or two where it was not diesel, you would think it would be an industry standard! I am glad to hear that insurance will cover it and hope it is repaired quickly without a lot of frustration.

  8. So, so sorry this happened. We certainly empathize with you on the large, unexpected truck repair expenses. So glad that it is covered under insurance, but it’s still a big emotional hurdle to get through. You’ll get through it and it will be a funny campfire story …. in time.

    The same thing happened to another RV-Dreams couple we know back in March 2010 at a Kangaroo gas station in Florida (fuel supplied by BP) where the regular unleaded pump handles were green. I wrote about it back then.

    Just a couple weeks ago at our Fall Rally, there was a BP station near our RV park with the green handles for regular unleaded. It provided us an opportunity to remind all the Rally attendees about this potential issue.

    Perhaps it’s time for another reminder for our whole community.

    Hugs to you both,

    Howard

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  12. I realize this Post is a little old, but I would like to add that we also experienced something almost as awful. We were Snowbirding from Idaho to Arizona, I stoped at a Truck Stop in Nevada to fill up with diesel. My 2008 F-350 6.4 diesel. I pulled up to the tanks, my wife went
    inside the Truck Stop to get coffee & snacks, I remember seeing two buttons on the tank,
    one for Diesel, the other for DEF. I didn’t know what DEF was, but it said required in Calif.
    Thinking we might be headed for Calif, I thought I might as well use it now. After about 15 gallons I was reading the sign on the DEF, it also said additive, I had a sinking feeling something wasn’t right so I stopped pumping. I asked a Big Rig Truck Driver next pump over that I put 15 gallons of this stuff in my tank..what is it.?? He said OMG don’t start your engine. I had my truck & fifth wheel towed to Diesel Mechanic Shop, They said they would drain my fuel tank. We spent the night in a Motel. In the morning went over to get the truck and the charge was $ 300.00, and we were good to go. I was totally embarrassed and felt just stupid, thank
    god my wife was supporting and understanding. Our first year Snowbirding was a challenge,
    with multiple tire blowouts both Truck & RV and putting a huge gash in our fifth wheel, when our tailgate accidently came down, ( I didn’t haved it secured) we thought we were snake bit. But
    as we shared our story to other RVer’s they also had some serious mishaps, which somehow made us feel like..well stuff happens we will get through it. But on a few occasions, some RV’ers have looked at us and said they have never had a problem, we just looked the other way and said “Liars”. I’m new to you blog, thanks for all your honesty.

    • Wow Don.. I shared that story with Lee and wow we are both so glad you got away with a tank clean although I am sure it was awful at the time. Everyone we know had something happen, mechanical failure of just plan accident. And none of us are stupid people. RVs are different than homes and Trucks are different than cars. Really happy you found us and thanks for the kind words!! Also really glad you shared your story.

  13. Surprised to read your story about it costing $9K. A few years ago we were crossing Kansas in summer heat of about 100° when pulling our 38 ft wheel with our 03 Duramax Diesel 1 ton we came to a stop when the engine refused to go any further. Called our towing service and we were towed 60 miles to Lamar, CO Gto it into a mechanic and they did find gas in the tank. Drained it and replaced the fuel filter and we were good to go. The Chevy Duramax has a shutdown when it determines there are fuel problems. So we didn’t have any damage.
    Now can see we were very lucky.

  14. urprised to read your story about it costing $9K. A few years ago we were crossing Kansas in summer heat of about 100° when pulling our 38 ft wheel with our 03 Duramax Diesel 1 ton we came to a stop when the engine refused to go any further. Called our towing service and we were towed 60 miles to Lamar, CO Gto it into a mechanic and they did find gas in the tank. Drained it and replaced the fuel filter and we were good to go. The Chevy Duramax has a shutdown when it determines there are fuel problems. So we didn’t have any damage.
    Now can see we were very lucky.

  15. Wow , Your post grabbed my attention, after once putting a gas pump nozzle i my diesel van, hey it was green, I some how realized it was NOT diesel. What an important lesson. From then on, it became routine to double check. Course I can say I’ve never put gas in my diesel tractor….

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