Published: Friday November 21, 2014.

That was close

I’ve got an old Dreamscape live recording blasting into my headphones and my housemate is artsing next door in what used to be my living room. It’s Tuesday night, after 11pm. I’ve consumed enough head cold pharmaceuticals over the day that I’ll probably rattle when I head up to bed, whatever time that may be.

I haven’t been out of the house today thanks to the sniffles. The furthest I got was to attach a diagnostic thingy to my car to figure out exactly how broken my car is. Said diagnostic thingy didn’t work beyond letting me reset the lambda sensor warning light, which turned back on after I restarted the engine. Ho hum.

My Polo was purchased in 2009. It was brand new, paid for by a marketing campaign for a north American pet medication vendor. It’s done mostly short journeys for its 5 year life. This in and of itself is not a bad thing for a car, unless it has one of those stupidly efficient diesel engines tuned for long distance motorway driving. Which it has.

Six months ago, the lambda sensor light came on. A few months later, the diesel particulate filter came on. The dashboard is lit up like a set of fairy lights. I really should get around to fixing it, but haven’t yet. The local garage has fitted a new sensor and reset the light, but it’s still playing up. One of both of the channels on the particulate filter are blocked or a bit twitchy, which can apparently result in a nasty case of blazing inferno in some situations.

The filter needs a clean. I’m on the case with that. This involves avoiding short journeys where possible, pouring some goopy stuff into every third full tank of fuel and, in the words of Shane The Mechanic, ‘caning it’ for a while. The last weekend was a good excuse to cane it, although I will admit I was well-behaved on the speed front. I’ve been caught out once and took a speed awareness course, something which I’m convinced taught me more than my driving lessons and test nearly twenty years ago. That, and the copious amount of roadworks with 50 mph (~80 km/h) speed limits — seriously, there must’ve been 20+ of them on the trip, all of them multiple miles long — meant I barely had the chance to get a good 70 mph run in for long periods of time.

My car has one of those gauges that tell you how many miles are left before a fuel stop is needed. The copious motorway driving I was doing on my recent trip meant I was passing service stops every 20 or so miles, invariably with big name fuel supplier forecourts. Which is fine, if you’re happy paying £0.10 extra for each litre of fuel. On a 42 litre tank, that’s nearly a fiver for convenience. I know I have a 42 litre tank because I got my car to zero miles range on Sunday when I deftly glided into a supermarket fuel stop. I wasn’t panicking at all. Nope.

Picture the scene: I’m south of Bristol and 100 miles (~160 kilometres) from home. My fuel gauge is showing 150 miles (~240 kilometres) left. I know the warning light blips in at 85 miles range, but I have about 50 miles of headroom. There’s a Tesco near Launceston that I know I can fill up at, so I can run the tank down to almost empty, get some fresh diesel, pour the filter cleaning goop in be on my way. For the first 50 of those 100 remaining miles, all was well. The sat nav and gauge ticked down in unison and I’m keeping a steady 2200rpm because efficiency.

The final furlong, that bit between Exeter and EX23, didn’t go so well. I think the afterburner must’ve ignited because it was like someone has punched a hole in the tank. Fuel was evaporating at an alarming rate, much more quickly than I was expecting. I had no idea how much fuel was actually in the tank, or whether there was a litre or so of reserve diesel for situations like this, or whether I’d have to make a sheepish call to have my car collected from the side of the road.

I made it to Launceston. Just. The gauge tripped over to zero miles range as I drove onto the forecourt. Moral of the story: don’t trust fuel gauge readouts on misbehaving cars.

Bullet dodged.

I regret nothing.