Running out of fuel is something we have all done – it’s one of life’s dismal experiences. Yet today, running out of fuel causes an untold number of problems for cars and their owners. Is it all over for the five-litre plastic can?
Words/Pictures: Mike Humble
C’mon folks admit it, what’s the most embarrassing thing you can experience owning a car? For me anyway, was having a traffic officers torch shone through the window of my Cortina Ghia on dark night whilst getting up to some quality `ows yer father` many years ago.
Many of us would say it’s running out of fuel, oh that sound of gurgling fuel emptying from the can into the tank after a three mile walk in the rain and the bitter shame of the passing traffic tooting their horn at your expense. In the good old days when we all drove around in compete wrecks with wonky dials, a five litre jerry can in the boot was almost as compulsory to own as a Sparkomatic graphic equaliser in the glovebox.
Some of us would also carry 3ft of garden hose just to be on the safe side (ahem) to those who have never experienced it – a mouth of four star tasted even worse than Heineken. Never knowing if I would still have my car by the following week, I would never have more than a fivers worth of juice in the tank. But after thinking about it, back in those days, £5 would last me the thick end of a week and not once did I worry about the cost of fuel – you simply put it in the tank when you needed it.
Petrol stations were enjoyable places to hang around too, I had a friend of a friend that worked in a 24hr Esso in Northampton on the night shift, after the pubs had closed and the pretty girls had gone home, we would hang around the Esso munching free crisps and sweets or bootlegging the latest albums on sale in the shop via a twin deck tape machine that lived under the counter, the blank TDK C90 tapes would come free via the Esso tiger tokens too! and somewhere I still have a bundle of them with a rubber band wrapped round.
After midnight we would laugh at another hapless person filling a can to the brim knowing well his Cavalier Mk2 Taxi would be a mile up the road, the darkness punctured by the fuzzy glow of hazard warning lights. Back in those halcyon days, running out of petrol was simply an accepted fact of driving an old crate; it spluttered to a halt, throw in a few litres, suck it through the pipe (if the battery was tired) and away you went – if only things were that simple today. After hearing my up the road neighbour yesterday telling me his recent tale of woe, it had me thinking – is the 5ltr can as redundant as those blank cassettes?
As we all know, modern stuff today is all packed full of electronic wizardry, silently keeping a watchful eye over the engines fuelling, ignition and emission control. Something so simple like running out of fuel which once would be nothing more than an embarrassing inconvenience, can and often does cause total havoc. I can in fact vouch for that after running out of fuel in a Renault Laguna sometime ago, the damn thing threw up its engine management warning lamp and after plugging in a trusty code reader, showed non other than 3 faults. For someone like me, its no big deal, I have the tools and the kit to read codes and clear them off but some garages are making a killing from the ignorance of the public, as I shall explain.
My nearby resident has recently bought an ’07 plate Astra 1.4 for his wife who after a blameless accident, has jumped back on the saddle so to speak after a few years of non driving. Daftly, she ran the car out of petrol close to home and her husband jumped to the rescue and toddled off armed with a gallon of juice in a can. After several attempts, the car refused to start point blank and the services of a breakdown company was entrusted to attend the scene.
One would like to think that breakdown firms on the whole are pretty much switched on, sadly the one in question is not. All that needs to be said is that they are known locally for being a touch clumsy and erratic with the truth. After explaining that a gallon of fuel had in fact been added, the breakdown man suggested he recovered the car to their own workshop for further investigation. One or two of you will know that a modern car needs more than a gallon in the tank after running dry, and without going too technical, modern petrol cars are fitted with a swirl pot, a gizmo that stores fuel within to make sure it does not cut out when the fuel level is low when cornering or climbing a hill – a reservoir if you like.
In the case of cars like the Rover 25/45 or Vauxhall Astra/Vectra at least 8-10 litres needed to be added before the system is primed and ready to run. The Astra in question really only needed another gallon adding at the scene, and at worst, a fault code erasing from the ECU, instead, they were charged £320 for just that and the added hassle of a 25 mile round trip to collect the car. Not wishing to rub salt in the wound, I merely suggested that the needle stays out of the red in future.
A customer of mine runs an extensive coach operation along with a recovery outfit that specialises on heavy recovery but also sub contracts for one of the leading Nationals. Running out of fuel is now by far the most popular reason for a breakdown according to them. Owing to financial worries, car owners are refusing to service them and now it seems refusing to put fuel in them either.
The cost of fuel has gone up over 30% in the past decade yet the average spend per transaction remains the same at £30, I’ll leave you to work out the maths; sufficed to say, it doesn’t add up. Using your car but adding less fuel is only going to cause one thing – a cough and a splutter and a grinding halt, with only the rip off garages or independent breakdown firms making a profit from someone’s misery!