The AA breakdown service says panic buying is leading to more drivers 'misfuelling' and putting the wrong fuel in their car at the forecourt
There has been a 'dramatic rise' in the number of drivers putting the wrong fuel into their cars since panic buying at the pumps began.
The AA says it has been called out to more than 12 times the number of incidents of misfuelling than it would ordinarily expect to see.
Queues of cars have mounted outside forecourts for five days since BP warned an HGV driver crisis was causing supply issues at a handful of sites.
And as stress-levels rise the nationwide breakdown service said another consequence of the ongoing crisis is the growing number of drivers who are filling their vehicles with the wrong type of fuel.
Over a normal Saturday and Sunday, a spokesman for the AA said it would expect to send its patrols to around 20 to 25 incidents of misfuelling, but that this had sky rocketed at the weekend to more than 250 calls for help.
Edmund King, AA president, explained: “Millions of drivers changed their refuelling habits this weekend, but once a tank is full it can’t be topped up. This short-term increase in demand should slow and allow forecourts time to restock. We anticipate things will return to normal within the coming days.
“Drivers also need to be careful because this weekend we have seen a dramatic rise in misfuelling (putting in the wrong fuel) compared to last weekend. This in turn unnecessarily reduces the fuel available as the whole tank has to be drained before refilling with the correct fuel."
The AA said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why there had been such a sudden rise in people filling up with the wrong type of fuel.
But it thinks it is most likely caused by drivers caught up in the rush not paying attention, rather than a deliberate decision to 'chance it' with another fuel when they get to the pumps only to find the type they need isn't available.
Another possible cause, the breakdown service said, was that on occasions pumps do get accidentally swapped around, with the petrol handle put into the diesel holder, and then the next unassuming customer picks it up to use not realising the error.
Any motorist who inadvertently fills their car with the wrong fuel, says the AA, must not start the engine or be tempted to drive away from the pressure of a packed forecourt even if this were to be just a short distance to escape the pressure of the queues. Drivers should instead put the car into neutral, remove the handbreak and roll it out of the way of other cars before seeking the help of a breakdown service which can empty the tank of the incorrect fuel.
The AA runs a series of Fuel Assist vans which can clear out a car's tank and then run a cleaning liquid through the fuel system to ensure no lasting damage.
Alongside the risk of putting petrol into a diesel car or vice versa, drivers who have unleaded vehicles must also be sure they're using the correct grade of petrol for their car.
A more eco-friendly grade of unleaded called E10, replaced E5 as the standard grade of petrol in the UK at the start of September, but more than 600,000 vehicles cannot take on board the new unleaded fuel.
While driving away with E10 instead of E5 in a car which isn't compatible, would not be as problematic as adding diesel to a petrol engine, or petrol to a diesel car, but motoring experts do not recommend drivers who can't use E10 buy it repeatedly because it will cause damage to seals, plastics and metal over time.