• May 11th 2010 at 5:05PM
  • 212
Be honest: How many times have you driven away from the pump and realized you have no idea whether or not you put the gas cap on because you weren't really thinking about it? Filling up is one of our most mindless activities: Gas cap off, card in, card out, select grade, fill tank, gas cap on, drive off. These days, many of us could do it in our sleep. But as new and improved types of fuel make their way into mainstream society, that careless activity can result in a simple and costly mistake: Putting the wrong kind of fuel in your car. It may seem ridiculous, but it only takes one slip-up to put you in a world of financial hurt. People do damage putting diesel in gasoline cars and vice-versa all the time. In Europe, where diesels and gasoline cars have about a 50/50 split of the market, the problem is commonplace (a study showed roughly $30 million is wasted in the UK alone each year in fuel and repair costs). Even if you realized this mistake and didn't start the car with the wrong fuel – which, if you did, would seriously damage the engine – you would still have to pay to rectify the error. And that's with only a few fuel choices available today.

If other fuels like E85, bio-diesel, natural gas, hydrogen, electricity, etc., start appearing more frequently at the fueling station, how can we ensure that people don't ruin their cars or do other damage by selecting the wrong "pump"?

Different Nozzles for Different Fuels

Today, the issue at the pump is generally a gasoline and diesel mix-up, one that has a simple fix: different sized or shaped nozzles for gasoline and diesel. If the nozzle doesn't fit into your tank, you have the wrong type of fuel in your hand. Problem averted.

This solution is already in place at many pumps, where the diesel nozzles are larger than those for gasoline. But it's only part of the solution; you can still easily pump gasoline into a diesel vehicle (which, by the way, does more damage than the other way around).

Turning the fueling experience into a life-sized game of toddler blocks might not be a bad idea. My idea is to create small protrusions on the end of the pump -- like keys into a lock -- that would allow the nozzles to fit only into tanks specially designed for them.

Settling for the solution of different sized nozzles works for the time being and could certainly prevent some people from ruining their engines with diesel or gasoline, but it seems to be more of a short-term solution considering the implications of adding new types of fuel.

It's safe to assume that as hydrogen and electric cars become more prevalent, present-day gas stations will want to evolve to accommodate these new fueling needs. Doing so would lead to more types of fuels at the same location. This could prove to be a disastrous recipe. Think about it: Do you really want to be filling up your tank with gasoline while the guy next to you is charging his with a high-voltage electric current? We're not scientists, but we're pretty sure gas + rogue spark = disaster.

Smart Fueling Stations

Instead of trusting people to use the correct type of fuel (remember, we don't actually think about what we're doing when filling up), why not implement something to do that for us? Jan Chipcase, a user experience researcher at Frog Design and one of our favorite bloggers, recently tipped us off to a patent he has pending with Nakade Shogo. The fuel cell filling system automatically checks for the fuel required, does its thing, then bills the user automatically.

More examples can be found using microchips in cars and readers on fuel pumps. After all, our cars keep getting smarter, so why shouldn't our fueling stations keep up?

With all of the electronics that go into cars these days, installing a chip specific to the type of fuel your car runs on could be simple, easy and cheap. The chip could then be read by a sensor installed on the pump at a service station, which would in turn allow the flow of the correct type fuel for each car.

Pulling into a fueling station would reveal that you're driving a diesel vehicle, preventing you from an errant swill of E85. You would pay, fill and leave. There would be no room for mistakes (save for the time you pull up in your diesel truck and want to fill a spare can of gasoline for your lawn mower).

In some versions of the perfect future, you wouldn't even have to fill your car yourself. Implementing technology similar to that of the robotic gas station in New Jersey could eliminate spills and the risks that go along with filling next to another, more careless customer. Imagine all the white gloves you'd save.

The question becomes: Do we trust ourselves or our computers to keep things safe at the pump? Knowing how little we pay attention at the pump, we'll defer to the silicon.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wasn't aware that a diesel pump hose-nozzle would fit into a gas using vehicle's tank. I thought the two nozzles were of different sizes. If so, the mistake cannot be made. DW
        • 8 Months Ago
        Unless the engine has the compression ratio for it, and NO knock sensors, 93 octane is throwing money away. It takes about 1 penny worth of additive to turn 87 into 93. BIGGEST ripoff on the planet.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I just returned from a trip in which I accidentally attempted to put a diesel nozzel into my '05 Taurus' gas tank. The diesel nozzel was too large.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Back in the 1930's it was suggested that diesel fuel nozzles be triangular, that gasoline nozzles be round, and that they be sized so that they could not be crossed up-- the tips of the triangle would prevent it from going into the round hole, the larger diameter of the round gasoline tube would keep it out of the diesel tank.

      The fact that "service stations" were places where a person who knew what they were doing was the person handling the gas-- not the driver-- that made it less important because you had someone who did this all the time there, holding the nozzle, and it really was not a problem.

      The problem NOW is the rise of the idiot.

      The guy who thinks he doesn't need to pay attention, that things ought to be so anyone with an IQ that rivals room temperature should be able to do anything-- that the idiots ought to be able to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

        • 8 Months Ago
        I accidentally placed diesel gas in a UHaul truck that required regular gas. Yes it's true, a diesel nozzle should not fit in a regular gas tank, however, for some reason, this nozzle did fit and cost me $500.00 to have the UHaul towed to a mechanic and the tank drained out. Yes, the diesel nozzle was green which should have given me a clue, but the diesel nozzle was immediately next to the regular gasoline. They need to be separate and spaced apart and gas station needs to be sure that the correct nozzle's are placed on the the correct pumps...
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Simple shut up, hang up and pay attention
      • 8 Months Ago
      How 'bout this one? Companies who MFG plastic fuel cans offer them in colors based upon fuel they're designated for: red/gasoline, blue/diesel, and yellow/kerosene. The one thing these BRAINS failed to do is size the fill hole to match the pump nozzle. DUH! Ever try filling a plastic five gallon diesel can? The hole is the SAME SIZE AS THE HOLE IN THE GASOLINE CAN/PUMP NOZZLE but THE DIESEL PUMP NOZZLE IS LARGER. So your pumping the diesel but air inside the can has little room to slip by the nozzle, and because diesel "foams" but you can't see in the container with the nozzle in place BECAUSE THE HOLE IS TOO SMALL, you end up spewing foam/fuel on the ground and maybe your hand/arm. Why in the HELL the designing engineers (IDIOTS) can't make/sell a diesel can with a LARGER fill hole is beyond me. Maybe someone out there knows a "trick" to filling a diesel can and if so, I haven't found him yet. ARGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      • 8 Months Ago

      • 8 Months Ago
      best way to avoid this mistake is pay attention to what u r doing ! simple as that !
      • 8 Months Ago
      Key-like protrusions will hinder removal unless perfectly aligned. I'm for keeping things simple and cheap we do not need to pay extra to protect the occasional daydreamer from making this mistake. Every aspect of driving requires our attention, otherwise someone else ends up paying the price for it, sometimes with their lives. So WAKE UP and pay attention, its cheaper that way.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Jersey gals shove the hose down the tank and suck their gas out of other peoples cars. If you kiss a jersey gal dont smoke
      • 8 Months Ago
      Hey Groucho, here's how it can happen.

      You drive a diesel truck for work but your personal car is gas. Get it?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just read a story about a whole bunch of Government Motors pickups which got defective "made in China" chips installed. Shut down the production line in Louisiana until they could get replacements. Just what we need, a CHIP that, when it fails, won't let you put ANYTHING in your brand new vehicle. K I S S, remember. What happens to the know it all young whippersnapper when the only transport at hand is a no ABS, no stability control, MANUAL transmission
      vehicle. I guess he walks.
      • 5 Years Ago
      you cannot "drain" the hose like the old days. There is a check valve in the nozzle. As far as the gas cap dilemna, a lot of cars are different with the fix, but most of the time the light will go off after a certain # of starts (some up to 50 times),or disconnect the neg cable for a couple of minutes, or have someone clear the code for you. A lot of parts stores have a code reader, and will do it for free. Just go in and tell them you have a light on, can they check it? Dont mention the gas cap was the prob, or they will tell you it will go off eventually, and you have to look at that annoying light while you drive, til it does.
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