Petrol and diesel fuels are sold next to each other from look-alike pumps, often four to six in a row. Mis-fuelling is easy, since the unleaded petrol nozzles are narrower than the diesel fillers. But today's modern diesel engines, with their sophisticated high pressure injection systems, typically have a low tolerance for mis-fuelling. It can cause damage to the fuel pump, the high-pressure injection system, as well as other serious engine problems. Even after a short driving distance, parts of the fuel pump may seize, requiring parts or the total injection system to be replaced.
It's a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of people in Europe each year. With the European diesel market growing – approximately 50 percent of Ford's car sales in Europe have diesel engines – mis-fuelling is an ever increasing problem. In Great Britain, for example, where diesel fuelled family cars are relatively new, the AA reported 43,000 breakdowns as a result of an estimated 120,000 cases of mis-fuelling in 2003, with approximately the same proportion expected for the following years.
Other European countries, such as Germany and France, have a longer tradition of diesel powered cars and a somewhat lower proportion of mis-fuelling. But, as has been indicated by auto industry trade magazines, mis-fuelling happens to very experienced drivers as well. Depending on the amount of damage sustained, engine repairs can cost from €120 to €4,000-€5,000 (up to about £3,000).
Ford's solution -- which it has patented -- is Easy Fuel, a device that prevents a thinner, unleaded petrol nozzle from being inserted into a car with a diesel engine. The mis-fuelling inhibitor consists of a sealed filler pipe insert and fuel nozzle locator that guides the nozzle to the tank opening. The insert contains a mechanically operated diameter detector which only allows the larger diesel fuel nozzle to be inserted into the filler pipe, and locks out the thinner gasoline nozzles. The system will begin appearing on Ford vehicles within two years following final testing.
Autocar presented the Easy Fuel system with its “Idea Of The Year Award” earlier this month. Autocar Editor Rob Aherne said: “If simplicity is the essence of a great invention then Ford’s Easy Fuel Concept must be one of the best. It has the potential to prevent the inconvenience and expensive repair bills associated with filling a diesel car with petrol. We think it is ingeniously designed and a worthy winner of the Autocar idea of the year.”
On collecting the award, Ford's Buro said: “We are delighted to accept this Autocar Award. We at Ford are keen to make motoring as problem free as we can by constantly evolving our product design and integrating ideas such as the Easy Fuel Concept.”
It seems likely that other car makers will follow suit...