Man filling up with fuel

Under The Pump: What To Do In The Event Of A Fuel Spill

We know accidents happen, but spilling fuel is a potentially dangerous situation that requires an appropriate response.

By Shell on Mar. 29, 2021

A drop or two down the side of the car or on the ground that evaporates almost as soon as you notice it may not seem like a big deal. But larger spills pose a host of serious problems, the most immediate and life-threatening being the risk of ignition from a hot exhaust or static discharge.

Trying to do the right thing by cleaning up can also make the problem worse. A slosh of water down the side of a car might get fuel off paintwork but can also create a slipping hazard and result in fuel getting into drains and the wider environment.

What to do if you spill fuel

Rule number one – if you do spill fuel while refuelling, stay calm. Don't try to clean it up yourself, start your car or just hope the problem goes away on its own, locate a service station staff member and let them know about it. They have access to a spill kit and all the right safety gear, and they've been trained in how to deploy it in all kinds of scenarios. Just follow their lead and they'll get it cleaned up – and you'll be back on your way.

Tips for no-spill filling

The best fuel-spill strategy is to avoid spilling it in the first place. And the best way to do this is to simply respect the process rather than handing the job over to your inner fuel-pump autopilot.

No doubt you've felt the pump handle click and the bowser stop pumping while topping your tank, requiring you to repeatedly squeeze the handle to keep on filling. This is the bowser's warning you're reaching full tank capacity. Repeatedly pumping the handle will just cause fuel to slosh back up the filler neck, so take your time and use a little finesse from that first click.

If you're filling a jerry can or other container you should understand the bowser's safety-click mechanism won't engage and take even more care when approaching full capacity. Never empty fuel dregs onto the forecourt, into bins or onto a garden bed before filling up, or 'wash' out a container with fuel before dumping in the same manner.

And if you drive a diesel passenger car, don't use the high-flow pumps intended for heavy vehicles. These don't just have higher fuel-flow rates than the normal pumps, their oversized nozzles are too big for the filler necks on a passenger car – a recipe for fuel getting everywhere.

What to do if you use the wrong bowser

If you accidentally fill your car with the wrong fuel (i.e. petrol in a diesel vehicle), don't ever try to siphon it out into another container or, worse, onto the forecourt, into bins or onto a garden bed.

In addition to creating all kinds of spill dangers, you won't get your car going anyway without a serious dose of attention from your mechanic. You need to accept the damage has been done, alert your friendly service station staff member about the situation and get on the phone to your roadside-assist provider.


Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.

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