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How to fill up a car with petrol (yes, really)

I'm sorry, but no one ever told me how to fill up my car at a petrol station. They also never told me how to put on my hazard lights, how to bay park forwards and how to overtake a tractor towing a vintage car.

Once you pass your test, you're suddenly chucked into a deep sea of learning. You have to doggy paddle for your life until you reach the other side and finally feel like a real driver. It can be scary.

One of my biggest fears was filling up my car with petrol. So many things: which side do I need to go on, how do I take my petrol cap off, where do I put my petrol cap while it's off, which colour nozzle, how do I get the thing off the thing, how does the man know how much petrol I've used? ARGH.

So I'm going to help you out. You might feel silly asking someone else, so here it is on the internet for you to read in secret as you park just down the street from Esso to watch what other people do.

  1. Look for your fuel cap BEFORE YOU GO

    It will be on your car's hind quarters, over either the left or right back wheel. Remember which side it is because you're going to need to choose a pump to match up with it.

    Take a moment to try opening it too - it might be with your key, it could be a lever inside your car or you might just need to press on the panel covering it. Don't do this for the first time on the petrol station forecourt. You will be beeped if you set up camp there.

    Tip: you know on your dashboard where you can see your fuel gauge? It will very likely have a little pump icon next to it with an arrow pointing to the side your fuel cap is on.
  2. Turn into the petrol station

    As you drive into the petrol station, go very slow. It's not unlikely that you'll have to wait for people to move so you can go to the pump that matches the side your petrol cap is on.

    Pull up next to the pump, about half a metre out and with the nose of your car lining up with the end of the pump. The pump's hose is quite long but making sure you're far forward enough means you won't have to stretch awkwardly.

    Handbrake on, gear into neutral, engine off.

  3. Take off your fuel cap

    Get out of the car, taking your keys and money with you, and shut the door. Go round the pump side of your car to your fuel cap.

    If you need your key to unlock it, just put it in and twist to the left. It should come off easily, and you can put it somewhere safe like on the raised edge of the pump.

    If you don't need a key, you'll usually just flip the panel open like a little door. Then you'll see the actual fuel cap, which you either twist open or pop up like your windscreen fluid cap.

  4. Choose your fuel

    However many times you've filled up your car, always take a second to really, deeply think about the fuel you're about to put in your car. The wrong fuel can play absolute havoc with your engine and cost you a packet.

    Diesel is usually black, petrol is usually green but will be labelled unleaded. Many petrol stations will also offer premium versions of the fuel you want, which are more expensive but wouldn't hurt your car if you put them in accidentally.

  5. [OPTIONAL STEP] Put your card in the chip and pin

    If the pump has a card machine, you don't have to go into the petrol station to pay. No humans. Lovely.

    Put your card in the card slot and enter your pin when it asks. You can then take out your card and the pump will know to charge you for the fuel you use. Smart.

  6. Put the nozzle in your fuel hole (is that its name?)

    Grab the handle and lift upwards, then outwards. This will unhook the nozzle from the pump. Move to your fuel hole (?!) and put in the nozzle. Some leftover fuel might dribble out while you're on the move but it's nothing to worry about - your fuel won't start coming out until you squeeze the handle.

  7. Fill 'er up

    Once the nozzle is in the hole firmly, squeeze the handle. Fuel will start coming out and the pump will make a ngggggggggggggggggggg noise.

    Keep an eye on the pump's screen, which will tell you how much you're putting in and how much it will cost. If you get to the amount you want, stop squeezing. If you want to fill the tank, just keep squeezing until you hear a THUNK. This means your tank is full and you can stop.

  8. Take out the nozzle

    Slowly pull out the nozzle and give it a little jiggle to get any excess fuel out and into your tank. Hey - every little helps, right?

  9. Return the nozzle to the pump

    The long bit of the nozzle goes in and up, then the handle slots down into the cradle-y thing. Clear? Good.

  10. Put your fuel cap back on

    Very important - do not leave your fuel cap. Make sure it's firmly screwed back on and the covering panel is shut if you have one.

    If you do need a key for your fuel cap you're much less likely to forget it - your keys will still be attached and you won't be able to drive away without them, however hard you try.

  11. [OPTIONAL STEP] Go and pay

    If you've already put your card in the pump machine, you can go now. It always feels a bit like stealing to me because it's so magic but I promise: off you go.

    If you're at a petrol station that's not joined the 21st century yet or you're paying with cash, lock your car and check what number your pump is.

    Ladies, if you keep your handbag on your passenger seat, don't sweep it off super fast as you go to pay. Fabric on fabric = static electricity. You could start a fire and yes, that has really happened.

    Cross the forecourt carefully and go in to the cash desk. When it's your turn, say "Pump number 5 please" (but only if you were at pump number 5 - don't say this if you were at pump number 4). You will then be asked for money, because that's how commerce works.

    On this note: always check you have the money before you fill up. I actually keep a credit card in my car that is solely for petrol, nothing else. I pay it off every month so I can deal with all my travel costs at once. And I get Clubcard points on fuel because it's a Tesco card. 🙂

  12. Leave the petrol station

    Get back in your car and start your engine. Check carefully all around for pedestrians and other cars, then pull away very slowly.

I really hope you feel prepared for this now but just in case it goes wrong, here's what to do if you fill up your car with the wrong fuel.

Updated: 03/09/2019


10 Responses

  1. Mash says:

    Great job! I really appreciate ur this step to help new drivers so nicely in such a secret way 🙂
    Thanks a lot

  2. may says:

    Thank you so much for this! This was really informative and nice to read. I’ve been pretty anxious about the paying part because I didn’t know what to say, but this really helped a lot. Really good article, thanks for writing!

    • ingenie says:

      And THAT, May, is exactly why I wrote it. A lot of people find this stuff easy but I didn’t, so I knew someone else would probably worry.

      Come back anytime you don’t know what to say!

      Honor x

  3. Kaitlyn says:

    So, I am going for my licence in three days and had a sudden panic attack, as to how to fuel up a car and what to say to the petrol guy… My parents were just so nice they always happen to do it for me, though they left me clueless.
    This article is a lifesaver from me freaking out a the register, throwing money for the fuel and leaving the station never wanting to go back.
    Practically, thanks heaps

    • ingenie says:

      You’re SO WELCOME Kaitlyn. People who don’t ever feel that kind of panic don’t get how these ‘little’ tasks can affect you.

      Good luck with your test.


  4. says:

    In Poland we have old fill stations so you should go to cash desk after filiing the tank and say from which pump (place?) you had filled, which kind of fuel, how much you had taken and in the end you should say what kind of transaction you prefer: receipt or invoice. It is very annoying because if you miss the detail then worker will ask you about that.

  5. thomas abban says:

    This is amazing stuff Honor, just passed test today and realised I didn’t know how to buy fuel ! I actually did hang around the Tesco gas station to see what others did but it was 11 pm and there was no one ! You are a life saver

    • ingenie says:

      Dude, I feel you. It seems so ridiculous but if no one’s ever shown you, how would you know?!

      Glad you figured it out and good luck with the driving.


  6. scedella says:

    I love that “Go and Pay” is apparently OPTIONAL STEP 😀 😀 😀