By on May 5, 2016

15 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

With European regulators taking a closer look at the continent’s wonder fuel — diesel, that is — in the wake of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, oil burners could hasten their disappearance from European Union streets.

That would be great for police officers in the UK, who seem increasingly confused about what kind of fuel goes in their patrol car’s tank.

The country logged 2,147 cases of diesel being added to a gasoline police vehicle’s tank (or vice versa) between 2011 and 2015, AutoExpress reports, requiring over $580,000 in repairs borne by the taxpayer.

It’s a small number in the grand scheme of things, sure, but the instances are rising. British police fleets, like those in other European countries, were once heavy with gas vehicles, but diesel slowly crept into the ranks. Many forces now have more diesel than gas vehicles, mirroring their country’s civilian fleet.

The market share for diesel tops 50 percent in many European countries — Spain, France, Italy and Sweden, to name a few, and the UK until just recently. According to data compiled by the European Automobiles Manufacturers Association, it seems that after rising steeply throughout the 2000s, the high water mark has arrived.

It will be interesting to see those trendlines once 2016 numbers roll in.

The added scrutiny placed on the manufacturers of diesel vehicles (which have led to many investigations), coupled with new emission regulations, a reigning in of tax breaks, advances in gasoline engine technology and the slow electrification of the automotive landscape, will surely conspire to see diesel’s market share drop much further.

Of course, switching diesel-heavy municipal fleets to gasoline vehicles won’t have a happy ending for the taxpayer, even if fuel confusion damage ceases overnight. They’d still be on the hook for the increased fuel consumption of the fleets, erasing any savings.

Ditching the tax breaks that fueled the rise in diesel ownership would help slow the drain on European coffers — meaning, of course, that there’d be more revenue coming in to offset expenditures — and could theoretically benefit an average citizen. Whether your that citizen sees any personal benefit depends on a lot of things, including whether they have a car, and what kind of fuel it uses.

However, an increase in revenue on that side of things could be met with a decrease in new vehicle sales from domestic manufacturers. There’s no end to the different angles in this issue.

[Image: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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39 Comments on “Here’s One Upside to a European Diesel Downfall...”


  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Here in the ‘States, a standard diesel nozzle should not fit in a gasoline-powered car (let alone the larger one that commercial vehicles use). It is too big. Meanwhile, a gasoline nozzle *can* fit into a diesel-powered car, but many manufacturers now install misfueling guards on their diesel-powered vehicles. I know my diesel has one.

    Note: there is still a danger of misfueling when gas stations take the lazy way out and use the wrong kind of nozzle, which happens more than you’d think.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      A couple of years ago, Audi had a humorous ad in which a woman was filling her Audi with diesel, and all these people were rushing in slow motion to stop her, not realizing Audi sold a diesel. Well, I thought it was funny.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I’ve had that happen with my car, too…haha

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Me too – had one gas station attendant absolutely flip out that I was putting diesel into my Peugeot 505 wagon back in the day. Like completely lost it, came running out screaming for me to stop!

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        This happened several times to my father back when he had a diesel. One time, a Dodge diesel dully driver cursed him out because he stopped in front of the only pump that served both diesel and gasoline at that station, while all the gas pumps where open. My dad made a big show of picking up the yellow diesel nozzle while never breaking eye contact with the driver.

        At another station a man in a Jeep CRD came rushing over and asked, “You know that’s diesel, right? My dad replied with “It is? Perfect, that’s exactly what I need.”

    • 0 avatar
      TDIGuy

      At least driving a Golf, more people realize that it might be diesel, but there are still stories. My favourite was at a fuel stop on the way to FL.

      “I don’t think y’all are going to get very far if you put that in yer tank.”

      “Actually, I think I’ll go about 600 miles.”

      I really like the gas attendants at my favourite station here. They will actually direct incoming cars away from the diesel pump when there are other spots.

  • avatar

    DIESEL is going away.
    COAL is going away.
    When they can figure out how: gasoline is going away.

    These people will stop at nothing to ensure you are addicted to whatever energy source they say you will be.

    Even solar:

    You spend $15,000 to install the panels which will lose up to 8% efficiency over 10 years.

    The energy company here: Con Edison – won’t allow you to return over a certain amount of energy to them. Therefore, they keep from having to pay you regularly if you are using less than you generate.

    Your break-even point takes a LOOOOOONG time.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      Big trucks will be diesel for decades to come, gasoline might disappear, but that would take a technological miracle with fuel cells, or possible a small nuclear reactor to power vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I suspect the typical ICE loses more than 8% efficiency in 10 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        “I suspect the typical ICE loses more than 8% efficiency in 10 years.”

        All the informal evidence I’m aware of, from personal FE measurement to that of others, suggests that a typical ICE does *not* lose ~10% of efficiency in a decade (in terms of MPG, at least – nor do I konw of any reason to believe a 10% HP loss).

        Why would they? There’s nothing in one that should wear out that badly in 120-140kmi, either in terms of increased friction or decreased combustion efficiency.

  • avatar
    shedkept

    Reading and comprehension? Most filler areas state very clearly: Gasoline/Petrol or Diesel Only.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Enjoyed the occasional mistake in our 100+ fleet. Bigger nuisance was water in diesel which came from a filling station. Ruins Sprinter injectors. Legal dept became involved.

    UK bobbies need to get rid of their easy-to-shoot-at white shirts. Is it Chicago that still keeps them? The UK uniform is sexist. Female officers should get pants and the same style caps as male officers.

  • avatar
    bricoler1946

    “Easy to shoot at white shirts” Fortunately for England they don’t have the wild west gun mentality that America continues to have, hopefully that will change.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    My significant other accidentally filled my F350 7.3 with right around 27 gallons of unleaded 87. She was pulling the horse trailer with it (she usually used her Yukon) and spaced out. Bless her heart, she realized what she’d done as she was replacing the nozzle on the pump. Thankfully every one of my gas cans was empty in the barn; I ended up syphoning the tank dry into the 5-gallon cans. Was able to use it up over about 6 months. The old Ford 9N didn’t mind the diesel in the gas , the Yukon didn’t care either. The John Deere, however, would sputter, choke and die.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    A few years ago, the wrong fuel ended up in the presidential limo:

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/a8780/why-the-presidents-limo-broke-down-15248837/

  • avatar

    At some point VW fitted my TDi with a misfueling guard, which would only open if you had the proper nozzle for diesel. Good idea, but sometimes a gas station would use a gas nozzle on the diesel pump and you couldn’t fill up. I eventually had them take it out… I also had to get the adapter so if you stopped, as we did in the middle of PA, with an empty tank, and the only diesel had huge truck nozzles….

    No, don’t miss buying diesel.

    Best misfuel. The Amazing Race is a great show if you are a travel slut. A few seasons ago, they had the racers somewhere in Africa on dirt and two lane roads. They were given CUV sized AWD trucks, and IIRC, Mitsu Diesels-this was before the cars were sponsored. Somehow they had to refuel somewhere on that leg of the race, and two teams gassed the diesel trucks. I can only imagine the massive production team didn’t account for stoopid Mericans gassing a diesel…..there are lots of obstacles in the Race, but the producers didn’t account for a fuel pump.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I always assumed the diesel manuals were always intentional. A bit of an added obstacle for the average American.

      • 0 avatar
        TDIGuy

        Going on Amazing Race without knowing how to drive a manual is like going on Survivor and not knowing how to build a fire.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          ^Perfect! My wife watches both shows and you are so right! I remember that misfueling episode too.

        • 0 avatar

          You need to be able to dance-drive manual and maybe brit style-swim-be OK with heights, gross foods, and be able to do it while jet lagged. In the most recent episode, one person, an otherwise good contestant was totally flummoxed by a simple (very) oil change on a Lada. (My husband handles the cars, she said…) I would ace that…but the dancing would kill me, or heights, I’d not be as good at….The Race will find your weakness !

  • avatar
    MWolf

    I really don’t see how people do this so frequently. At some BP stations, regular 87 octane has a green handle, the diesel has black, but they are CLEARLY marked. And I mean clearly. So, do read. Pay attention to what you’re pouring into your vehicle. Read -everything- you put in your engine, transmission, or gas tank. Common sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      If you were driving vehicles from a fleet of diesel and gasoline Corsas that otherwise all look the same, then you might occasionally screw up. It’s not the color of the fuel pumps that is of issue, but of forgetting which type of vehicle you have.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Europe really screwed the health and death rate of its citizens, pushing so hard for diesels, pre emissions. The don’t want to say this OUTLOUD, so I’ll do it for them. They fukked up Royally.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      And now that diesel has reached saturation in most of Europe, the automakers who sponsored legislation to make them more desirable, are funding “studies” to “show” they are unhealthy. Meaning, Europeans, who drive all of 5000 miles annually, will be “encouraged” to trade in their 4 year old diesels for new “petrodiesel” GDIs. Or perhaps diesel hybrids, if that is where the big German makes enjoy the greatest competitive advantage right now. While the Brusselocrats, as always, eat it up. Suckering suckers never fails, it seems.

      While, during the whole back and forth; cheap, reliable and well understood port injected 10-11:1 compression 1-2 liter I4s; still remain so far out on the diminishing returns curve, the curve is virtually flat by then.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “Unhealthy” is an understatement if there ever was one. I like your theory, but the dirty, disgusting truth about diesel exhaust had been out there for some time, and was closing in on Europe. Ask California’s CARB.

        Europe’s main concerned was reducing consumption, with an excuse to tax the hell out of engines based on displacement, thus favouring diesels in yet another way.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          The concerns of European bureaucrats, are shaped by their most forceful constituencies. Just like in the US. Here those constituencies are the much ballyhooed “Military industrial complex”, trial lawyers, banksters and the real estate “business.” There it is highly sophisticated manufacturers, and their very well paid, well organized, labor forces.

          They may wrap themselves in flags of altruism and saving Gaja, just like over here, but the overriding concern is crafting regulations that maximizes the competitiveness of their manufacturing powerhouses. Which in turn allows those to pay the kind of salaries their employees are accustomed to.

          By the early 90s, Japan had pretty much “perfected” the car. And the Euros and Detroit weren’t that far behind. In European usage, there hasn’t been enough fundamental advances to warrant rapid replacement cycles since then. The cars lasts for decades with little trouble, and fundamental YoY improvements are minuscule enough to be barely noticeable.

          So, the need to replace and upgrade had to be encouraged artificially. By making mountains out of molehills about minuscule improvements in CO2, requiring massively complex engineering to achieve very small gains. Engineering so complex that reliability started suffering again, conveniently lowering life expectancies again.

          “Everyone” always knew that “clean” diesel was never as clean in realistic, lifetime passenger car usage as gas. But, in our progressive world, reality takes a very distant back seat to “models” and oversimplified “tests” and “studies”, as far as behavioral programming of the masses is concerned. So, working in concert with industry (the classic “Public/private partnership feelgood nonsense”), “tests” were devised that “proved” (to those reliable arbiters of scientific merit, the voting mob…..), that the specific kind of diesel engines that long standing European heavy truck regulations had given the Euro manufactures a competitive edge in building, was “better” than gas. “Greener.” So, “we” needed to encourage it’s use.

          Of course, now even hyper complex “clean” diesel engines are pretty darned reliable. So, now, “studies” must show that particulates, which even stoned Californians in the 70s realized was a problem, is indeed “problematic.” So, cities should ban diesel usage in their city centers. Just about the exact time European manufacturers have conveniently gotten good at combining small diesel highway engines, with electric motors and enough battery capacity for most intra city usage to be possible entirely in e-mode….

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            So “studies” backed by Euro auto makers exaggerated the ill health effects of diesel exhaust to sell more (non diesel) cars including electrics? Does Robert Ryan know about this?? Same thing in the US???

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Recently, yes. I have seen papers from Netherlands and Norway in particular, recommending restricting diesel cars from entering downtown areas due to “unhealthy” concentrations of particulates. While the sheer number of diesels (and drivers) currently on the road over there, will probably keep politicians from acting on them immediately, second hand values of diesel cars have already come under pressure as a result of the murmurs. Causing fewer new car sales to be diesels. Slowly reducing their share of the total, until their remaining population can be overlooked, and trampled on, like any unfortunate minority in an unrestricted democracy.

            The funny, or sad, part is the “research findings” are basically a repeat of what caused California to largely regulate diesels out of existence i the 70s and 80s. Nothing all that new at all. Everybody always knew it, they just pretended, in classic progressive fashion, that theeengz aaaareee diiiiiferent nooooow. Which they, of course, never are.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah I can see where EU regulators/politicians are in a ‘pickle’, catch 22.

            But California never breathed a word of diesel’s health effects, nor their air quality/smog issues, throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Diesels were 100% ’emissions’ *exempt*. The US market completely moved away from diesels on its own, be that cars or pickups, except 3/4 tons and up.

            There just wasn’t much incentive for diesels in light-duty vehicles, even with diesel fuel some 30% cheaper. The diesel engine ‘upgrade’ was just a few hundred dollars more.

            Diesels were seen as dirty, smelly and meant for big rigs. Then you were competing for pumps at limited stations. Consumers didn’t really understand diesel maintenance, water separators, glow plugs, etc.

            By the early ’80, gas engines were really getting ‘sorted’, by leaps and bounds, with “high tech” fuel-injection dramatically improving fuel economy, reliability, and performance. Plus smog equipment was no longer hampering performance/reliability.

            Mid ’80s, demand for diesel autos dwindled down to about zero, and the chapter was closed.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            And of course, the Oldsmobile Diesel debacle didn’t help things, though the problems were sorted out by end-of-production — the damage had been done.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It’s not as if Oldsmobile made the only diesel passenger cars. Among others, Toyota diesel cars and pickups were there, if there was any doubt it wasn’t just an “Oldsmobile” problem.

            Even with great reliability, comparing any diesel car to its gas counterpart, over all and down the road, the entire ownership experience, Americans just weren’t compelled to come back for another diesel, light vehicle, despite dramatically cheaper fuel, and much better fuel economy.

            Keep in mind, gasoline cars sucked when diesels 1st started popping up in showrooms.

  • avatar
    Defender90

    Seems like more people in the British police nowadays aren’t such practical, hands on types so it’s not a surprise that there’s more of them making typical noob mistakes.
    Sure our officers seem better educated than ever before, they’ve been to university (as opposed to, say, the army for example) but they seem like typical millennials with all the blind spots in their thinking and experiences which are typical of that ilk.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s also known as a “brain fart”. It happens especially if you’re filling up at the same gas station, and same pump you usually or mostly pump gasoline into your own car, or other car, except you forget you’re in the “DIESEL”.

    Yeah I start to do it too, then catch myself. “Fuel delivery” drivers (tanker trucks) do in too. Yes they’re known to drop gasoline in the diesel underground tanks. Yes it’s very easy to get storage tanks confused and get a few cars/trucks damaged before the error is caught!

    But I don’t see a downside for the OEM, it’s not their problem. No warranty ever covers damaged diesels from using the wrong fuel/pump. Easy money for the dealer and OEM, in or out of warranty.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    I have a Honda diesel in Sweden and diesel it´s the only economical type of engine if you drive long distance.
    If you drive only in the cities, electric cars are ok, but they are useless if you drive 140 miles like me somedays.
    Our f*cked up politicians will probably ban all private transport soon.

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