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How petrol stations work and other car filling tips

Latest car guides

February 24th 2022 info

If you’re a driver, you’re familiar with petrol stations: you fill up your car, pay for fuel and leave.

However, sometimes, things don’t go smoothly: someone may hog a filling station for too long, chat away on their phone, or, in the worst cases, start lighting up a cigarette.

Most drivers approach filling up their car in the right way, and the whole process is smooth; nevertheless, that doesn’t stop some drivers from ruining the experience for others.

Here, we explain to newer drivers how they should use a petrol station, discuss some petrol filling tips and list common forecourt faux pas.

How to use a petrol station

Sure, you may have passed your test, bought a car, got insurance on it, but have you filled it up yet? How do petrol stations work?

Funnily enough, you can spend weeks or months learning how to drive and never fill up your car.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to go to the petrol station and start panicking just yet. Below, we’ll show you how to use a petrol station step by step.

Find a petrol station and queue up

The first step is the easiest: find a petrol station and queue up. Don’t cut in queue and drive carefully.

In terms of choosing a petrol station, the choice is up to you. If you’re running very low on fuel, then you won’t have much choice. However, if you know a petrol station is cheaper elsewhere, maybe hold on and go there.

You can check fuel prices before you queue up. They depict the pence per litre for petrol and diesel, which will help you budget your fuel costs.

Turn off the car engine before you fill up!

Okay, okay – we don’t think you’re silly, but double-check the engine is off before you fill up. The risk is small, but there have been rare cases of cars igniting when this happens.

Find the fuel cap

Find your fuel cap and take it off. If you’re not sure where it is, you can look at your car dashboard. Find your fuel gauge, then there should be an arrow next to it pointing to the side of the car where the fuel cap is.

Removing the fuel cap varies depending on your car model – some require manual opening, others have automatic.  

Pick the correct fuel type

Now, pay attention: pick the correct fuel type. Putting in the wrong type of fuel can cause havoc for your car’s engine and, in most cases, can end up killing your car.

Diesel fuel will usually have a black pump, while petrol will be green. Do note that petrol is labelled as “unleaded”.

When finished, return the nozzle to the pump and re-attach your fuel cap. You should re-attach your fuel cap as tight as possible, as this can cause a 15% increase in fuel efficiency, preventing fuel from escaping as vapour when the cap is loose.

Fill up the car

Next, remove the nozzle from the pump and place it where you removed the fuel cap. Ensure it’s firmly in the car, then squeeze. Keep an eye on the fuel pump monitor to check how much money you’ve spent.

If you want to fill your tank up completely, then wait until it makes a noise. You should hear a distinct thump-like noise when the tank is full.

Finally, walk into the petrol station, state your pump number and pay.

Petrol filling tips

Avoid the station after a fuel tank arrives

There isn’t a strict best time of day to fill up a gas tank. However, we’d recommend avoiding the petrol station just after the fuel tank arrives if you can.

Fresh petrol may sound like a good thing, but it tends to carry sediment with it. This sediment can wear down your car’s engine, and isn’t as easily combustible as smooth, sediment-free fuel.

Only pick premium if your car needs it

Premium fuel is a nice to have, but it usually costs around £5 more a tank. If you extrapolate that over the course of a year or the duration of your ownership, it can add up.

If you can afford it, go for it, but for those trying to save money, only opt for it if your car really needs it.

We’d recommend premium fuel for older cars, particularly if you’re nearing an MOT.

Don't wait to fill up on the fuel tank side

Some drivers choose to wait until a pump is available on their fuel tank side. Don’t be like those drivers; those drivers form queues.

You can park at a fuel pump and pull it across to the other side of your car. They’re literally built to do this, so don’t worry too much, and you don’t need to put too much elbow grease in.

Mind your etiquette

As mentioned, mind your etiquette at a fuel station. Try to fill up as smoothly as possible and remember that others are waiting to use the pumps.

Don’t take this time to slowly fill up your car and have a conversation on your phone; obstructive behaviour ends up impacting others.

Oh, and no matter what you do, do not smoke at a petrol station.

Don't be tempted to take too much fuel home

There are legal limits on how much petrol or diesel you can fill up and take home. Currently, the law states:

  • You can store up to 30 litres of fuel at home.
  • Anything over 30 litres must be reported to the local Petroleum Enforcement Authority (PEA).
  • All petrol must be stored in appropriate metal or plastic containers.

The law aside, stay safe when storing petrol – keep them secure and away from any fire hazards.

As the petrol shortage in 2021 showed, stockpiling of fuel can have serious knock-on consequences for the country’s quality of life: be sensible, be realistic and be thoughtful on how much fuel you are using.

Make your fuel last as long as possible

Now, this final tip is only for die-hard savers. Using a process called hypermiling, you can make every drop of fuel count.

We’ve covered hypermiling – what it is, what it does and how to do it – in a separate blog post: What is hypermiling, and how can you use it to increase your MPG?

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