Are Americans Too Stupid for Diesel Cars?

Posted on July 23, 2013

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Lila is the happy owner of a Volkswagen diesel car.  Last year, I received a letter from Volkswagen; it was basically a reminder to only put diesel fuel in the vehicle (duh!) and included some helpful neon-yellow warning stickers to plaster around near your fuel cap.  I was vaguely miffed at the insinuation that I might not know enough to put, say, diesel fuel in my diesel vehicle, but figured hey, whatever – the stickers couldn’t hurt, in case someone else might need to fill it up for some reason.  So even though the car already came with a “Diesel Only” sticker on the inside of the gas flap and in white letters right on the fuel cap, I went ahead and redecorated the fuel port.  I left off the “rosette” sticker which was supposed to go around the cap, because it wouldn’t stick down neatly.  You’d think four warnings within a 10-inch space ought to be enough for anyone.

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Lila’s car. Duuuuhhhh, I wonder what goes in here?

Well, apparently not.  Even five warnings within a 10-inch space are not enough to keep some bozos from misfueling their cars.  Just last week, Lila received another letter from Volkswagen:

“As diesel engine passenger vehicles become more popular, auto manufacturers have seen an increase in the number of misfueling cases… As an additional safeguard… your dealer will install a misfueling guard* in the fuel filler neck of your vehicle.”

They are politely avoiding pointing any fingers at the culprits, but obviously the culprits are the owners of these diesel cars… meaning, possibly, me.  I am now officially insulted at the implication that I need to be told again and again something so incredibly basic as “diesel fuel goes in diesel cars,” or that I might be so inattentive and careless that I blithely just stick any old thing – how about a garden hose? – into my vehicle.

To be fair, the auto diesel pumps are not always marked with a different color nozzle; while they are often green, there is no real uniformity.  I have seen plenty of gas stations with green gasoline nozzles, or where the diesel pump is the same color as all the other pumps.  You have to actually pay attention to what you are doing.  But come on – is it really so hard to read the word “Diesel” or “40” (octane) on the button you are pressing?   Is it really so complicated to learn just that one little requirement?

Volkswagen seems to think so.  In an interview cited by Gabe Nelson of Automotive News, VW spokesman Tony Cervone said the problem stems from American consumers’ unfamiliarity with diesel fuel:  “It hasn’t been as frequent in their lifetime to remember to fill up with diesel.”

Well, how… patronizing.  And what a lame explanation.  My fear, though, is that it might just be true.  Or as Patrick George writes more bluntly in Jalopnik,

“Allow me to break this down for you: Drivers are so ignorant about their own cars, which they bought of their own accord, that the car company has to take further steps to prevent the drivers from ruining them.   Awesome, America. Just awesome. That sound you’re hearing right now? That’s all of Europe laughing at us.”

* Truck diesel nozzles are too large for autos; the larger size permits faster fueling of their large tanks.  Auto diesel nozzles are 15/16ths of an inch in diameter; gasoline nozzles are 13/16ths.  The “misfueling guard” will have a “fuel gate” that can only be released by the 15/16ths size nozzle.

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