Right Driver

When and how should you refuel your petrol or diesel car?

Some people love living close to the edge, waiting until the little orange light comes on, then driving another 30 miles before looking for a petrol station. If that kind of excitement is what drives you, go for it. However, it’s not very good for your car as you’ll be dragging all the fuel from the bottom of the tank where all the sludge and particles settle. That’ll give your fuel filter a workout meaning you have to replace it sooner.

The best thing to do is to fill up when your petrol tank gets to about 1/4 full. There are some valid reasons for this:

  1. The aforementioned sludge
  2. If you do have to go on a long journey at short notice, you don’t have to waste time hunting for a petrol station
  3. If you find yourself nowhere near a petrol station, you’ll probably have 80-100 miles in the tank to get yourself out of trouble.

If you’re confident that your fuel gauge is accurate, you could go lower, but don’t go too low.

Are there any disadvantages to keeping your car topped up more frequently?

  1. If it gets stolen, thieves can get a long way before either having to get more fuel or ditching the car
  2. Your car gets slightly better fuel economy when the petrol tank is nearly empty because it is lighter.
  3. When your car needs fuel at 1/4 full might not coincide with your ability to pay.

So, you’ve identified that you need to fill up with fuel. What is the best process?

  1. Decide what fuel station to use. If you have a preferred brand and you’re a loyalty card member, you will get discounts that can stack up. However, you can use local knowledge or apps to find the cheapest in your area and that might give you a better deal
  2. Check which side of the car has the fuel cap. There’s often a small arrow on the fuel gauge pointing to which side
  3. Pull up to the correct side of the pump and turn off your engine
  4. Open the fuel cap flat and unscrew the fuel cap. Most modern fuel caps are tethered to the car, but if yours isn’t, you’ll need to put it somewhere where you’ll remember to put it back on.
  5. Choose the correct fuel type (you’d be surprised at how frequently people put petrol in a diesel car and vice versa)
  6. Prepay at the pump, if required.
  7. Lift the pump nozzle out of the cradle and put it in the car.
  8. Pull the trigger. There’s usually a clip on the trigger that you can use to keep the pump on so that you don’t have to hold it. The pump will turn off automatically.
  9. Don’t get back in the car – this can cause static which could ignite petrol fumes.
  10. Once the pump stops automatically, give it one more squeeze to check it turns off again (i.e. it wasn’t triggered prematurely).
  11. Put the pump back in its cradle. If you’ve prepaid, this is often the time you need to push ‘receipt’ on the pump’s screen if you want it to print a receipt.
  12. Replace the fuel cap and close the flap.
  13. Go in and pay if you didn’t prepay (it’s best to lock your car when you do this)
  14. Now you’re good to leave the petrol station. When you start the car, check that the fuel gauge climbs to the full position (if you’ve filled it). Make sure you check your blind spots as you leave for people exiting other fuel pumps.

When you refuel, should you fill your car each time?

There are four ways of looking at this:

  • If you want to optimise your time, reduce idling time, and reduce the number of chances you’ll make that impulse purchase of a Yorkie, fill it up every time.
  • If you find money is a bit tight sometimes, put what you can in the tank when you can do it.
  • If you belong to a loyalty scheme, you might be able to optimise the number of points you get by only getting enough petrol to get to the next point. For example, if there’s a point for every twenty quid, put fuel into your car in multiples of twenty.
  • If your local petrol station is super expensive, but you occasionally go to a place that’s a lot cheaper, take advantage of the cheaper fuel, and don’t fill using the expensive fuel. There can be as much as 20p per gallon difference in some areas. Don’t put much in at the expensive establishment, just enough to get you to the cheap one.

Should you drive out of your way to fill at a cheap petrol station?

Generally, petrol stations in the same area are only a few pence difference per gallon. You’d have to factor in whether you’d spend more than a pound driving to a place to save a pound. Also, how much is your time worth? Use an app to find the cheapest price if you want to do this.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

Posted in Advice