Dirty Diesel: How to Prevent and Stop Contaminated Fuel in Your Fleet

Dirty diesel, contamination crises, and dodgy fuel—these headlines have made top stories in South Africa over the last few months. This brings us to ask:  are the recent news reports sensationalising the fuel contamination problem, or do we have a crisis on our hands? 

Fuel contamination can harm your fleet vehicle's performance and engine operation, which explains the concern over reports about dirty diesel. 

As fuel prices increase, it’s alarming to individuals and businesses that they could spend more on fuel, potentially damaging their vehicles and ultimately costing them millions in the long run. 

With fuel monitoring solutions from Cartrack Tanzania, fleet managers can prevent and stop dirty diesel refuelling that is happening right under their fleet.

In this article, you will:

  • Understand what contaminated fuel is and how it affects your fleet
  • Get a breakdown of the signs of dirty diesel in your fleet to look out for
  • Uncover five ways to prevent fuel contamination
  • See how Cartrack’s solutions help with fuel contamination in your fleet
  • Discover the truth about fuel contamination

Why worry about dirty diesel?

Dirty diesel, more commonly called fuel or diesel contamination, refers to impurities in your fuel that reduce its quality and grade. These impurities can be caused by various contaminations, such as water and microbial (bacterial and fungi) degradation, which occurs in the storage and handling of the fuel.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of fuel contamination.

Types of fuel contamination

With more than one type of fuel contamination, it’s best to get clued up so you can keep contamination risks in your fleet at a minimum.

  1. Water contamination

    Diesel fuel is easily contaminated by water when stored in tanks through condensation, leakages in the storage unit, or poor handling during the diesel transfer. This results in microbial growth, rust, and water and oil separation in the fuel. A little water in your fuel may not seem like a bad thing, especially when water accidentally enters your fuel system, but the saying “water and oil don’t mix” stands true when it comes to diesel.

    The water levels in your fuel should be below the saturation point, so any excess water entering your vehicle's fuel system can result in bacterial growth, corrosion, and ultimately, engine damage.

  2. Fuel debris

    There are two types of fuel debris: organic degradation and inorganic degradation. Organic degradation happens when diesel fuel is stored in tanks for too long and essentially expires. Filling stations and fuel providers will often add stabilisers and other additives to prevent this type of degradation. It is recommended that vehicle owners or fleet owners have their fuel tanks assessed before using any additives.

    Inorganic contamination happens during the fuel handling process, meaning it may be handled improperly when transferred or moved from the diesel fuel tanks, trucks or drums and eventually to your fleet’s tank. During this process, the diesel fuel may come into contact with sand, dirt, rust, and other debris, ultimately causing dirty diesel.

  3. Intentional diesel mixing

    Dodgy petrol stations may also reduce the purity of their diesel fuel intentionally by adding synthetic fuel such as illuminating paraffin. A recent news report revealed that the Department of Mineral Energy (DMRE) discovered over 70 petrol stations selling dirty diesel fuel in South Africa.

    These petrol stations have been ripping off customers by selling lower-grade and contaminated diesel fuel at premium prices. Beyond the financial impact for individual owners and businesses, dirty diesel can cause serious vehicle problems too, and that’s why vehicle owners and fleet businesses should be worried.

    The sad truth about dirty diesel is that you do not need to have excessive dirt in your fleet’s fuel system for it to affect your vehicles. The accumulation of debris and contaminated fuel builds up in your system and can have disastrous and costly effects on your cars and machinery in the long run, ultimately affecting their longevity.

    But how can you detect whether your fleet’s running on dirty diesel? Here are some telltale signs to look out for in your fleet:

    Poor engine performance
    Inefficient fuel consumption
    Fuel tank corrosion
    Difficulty accelerating a vehicle or driving up a slope
    Blinking engine light
    Clogged fuel filters
    Engine stalling

    Alternatively, you may want to consider having your vehicle inspected for fuel contamination in its tank. You can no longer afford to ignore or overlook your fleet's fuel quality because doing so could cost you more later.

Types of fuel contamination

The negative effects of dirty diesel in your fleet

Businesses transporting goods regularly or working with machinery that rely on diesel fuel will be disadvantaged by the devastating results on their vehicles and machinery. 

Dirty diesel can cause:

  1. Aggressive engine damage

    Debris and other contaminants in your fuel can cause significant damage to your vehicle's fuel injectors, pumps, and other engine components.

  2. Higher maintenance costs

    Assessing and addressing the damage caused by dirty diesel, or even pumping out the fuel from your vehicle, could result in higher maintenance or service costs.

  3. Increased fleet inefficiency

    Dirty diesel burns faster, leading to increased fuel consumption, forcing your engine to work harder and reducing your vehicle or machinery’s performance.

Prevent and stop fuel contamination in your fleet

Whether your fleet was accidentally refuelled with dirty diesel and you’ve fallen victim to dodgy petrol stations, or maybe you have simply overlooked fuel quality for your vehicle and equipment; there are only three tried and tested ways to prevent and stop fuel contamination in your fleet.

Here are the three best ways to prevent fleet fuel contamination:

1. Schedule regular maintenance and vehicle checks

Regular vehicle and equipment maintenance or servicing helps ensure your fleet is prepared for every trip, no matter the distance. Your vehicle is constantly working, so keeping up with the service is a smart way to make sure every component works optimally.

To prevent and stop fuel contamination, fleet managers who suspect dirty diesel in their fleet can request a checkup on their fuel filter and fuel pump at their next maintenance or service check.

To avoid manually tracking their fleet’s service appointments, fleet managers can set maintenance or service reminders on the Cartrack Fleet Web and automate the administrative process. For example, replacing your fuel filter every two years or every 50 000 km driven (depending on the vehicle type) is typically recommended. By setting customised reminders for a fuel filter replacement, you ensure your fleet’s fuel filter is checked and replaced on time. What’s more, having to replace your fuel filter earlier than when you captured it on Fleet Web would indicate that there may be fuel contamination problems affecting your fleet.

2. Train fleet staff on fuel contamination issues

As expected, your drivers probably know more about your vehicle and your vehicle’s performance than you do. They are behind the wheel every day, ensuring your deliveries and tasks are completed on time. This also means they can alert you to vehicle issues so you can address them faster.

By training your drivers and other fleet staff on fuel contamination and the signs they can look out for, you can help them prevent and stop fuel contamination in your fleet. Simply adding routine oil and filter vehicle checks can go a long way.

Cartrack’s GPS tracking and telematics solutions help when your drivers are not sure what is causing your vehicle’s performance difficulties. Our telematics give insights into your vehicle so you get notified of engine faults and battery health checks. With these insights, you can address vehicle issues even faster.

3. Monitor your fleet’s fuel pattern

Last but certainly not least, your fleet’s fuel consumption, expenditure, and patterns can all indicate whether your vehicles’ and machinery are running on dirty diesel. Fuel monitoring is all about analysing your fleet's fuel consumption in real time, tracking fuel expenditure and transactions, monitoring fuel tank levels, and identifying the problems affecting your fleet’s fuel. 

Using various fuel data can help fleet managers detect and address fuel issues such as contamination. Sometimes fuel contamination is caused by drivers or fleet staff trying to get cheaper fuel so they can inflate the fuel costs and pocket the change from refuelling. This kind of fuel theft can be addressed with fuel card integration that restricts refuelling to authorised stations. Fuel cards can also be used to track fuel purchases by location, cost, and volume to help managers identify suspicious activity. 

Our fuel monitoring system is equipped with GPS tracking and fuel sensors and can be integrated with Cartrack’s MiFleet for cost administration. This system provides an all-in-one option to address dirty diesel issues and other fuel management challenges. Using our system, fleet managers can customise and automate their fuel consumption reports on the Cartrack FleetWeb to meet their needs and address fuel issues. 

Alternatively, if you realise that one or more of your vehicles or machinery seem to run out of fuel faster or that the vehicle often breaks down, then you can investigate dirty diesel or fuel fraud in your fleet.

chedule regular maintenance and vehicle checks

Fuel contamination: Debunking common myths

The news reports on fuel contamination and dirty diesel are not lying, but some misconceptions we have about fuel quality could stall your fleet, resulting in vehicle and equipment downtime and costly maintenance.

Let’s quickly debunk some common myths about fuel contamination.

Myth #1: There is no way to test your fleet fuel

Fleet managers can arrange different fuel testing tools and sampling checks with their fuel providers or request for their vehicles. Fuel testing is the only accurate way to determine whether a vehicle has dirty diesel. Mechanical checks, fuel tank condition, and fuel appearance all suggest contaminated fuel.  

Myth #2: All diesel is the same

Diesel products differ, and South African vehicle owners have the option of choosing among different grades of diesel. It’s more important for fleet owners and staff to understand what their vehicles are compatible with and ensure they do not undercut their vehicles or machinery.

Myth #3 - Engines are resilient, so misfuelling is not a problem

Your engine cannot run properly without the right fuel, and sometimes, it will not run at all if you’ve poured the wrong fuel. While engines are resilient, misfuelling can damage your vehicle and cost you money.

Myth #4 - Using dirty diesel helps with fuel-saving

The saying goes, “cheap is expensive”, which is true when it comes to dirty diesel. Fuel saving should never compromise your fleet vehicles; dirty diesel damages your vehicle and reduces lifespan. With Cartrack’s fuel monitoring solutions, you can reduce your fleet's overall fuel costs and strategies to improve your fleet's fuel efficiency.

Protect your fleet from contamination with Cartrack’s fuel monitoring solutions

Fuel contamination can wreck your fleet, leading to costly repairs and unnecessary downtime. Protect your money-making vehicles and machinery from dirty diesel and keep your fleet running smoothly.  

Contact us today for a free demo of our fuel monitoring solutions!

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