Florida issues storm evacuations while drivers are warned not to start cars after fuel mix-up

As tropical storm Idalia picks up strength and officials issue early evacuations around Florida's Gulf Coast, a "potentially widespread fuel contamination" might make fleeing impossible for some.

Because, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services yesterday afternoon, anyone who fueled up at a Citgo station in the Port of Tampa area anytime since 10:00 a.m. Saturday likely received gas that was accidentally mixed with diesel, which can kill a car's engine. In fact, officials are asking drivers to both prepare to leave if the storm triggers an evacuation but not start their car if it was filled with Citgo gas.

"You're going to have people potentially just stuck on the side of the road," said Florida's n'er-do-well Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday. "I mean, if you fill up your tank with diesel and you start driving it, it's not going to end well."

From The New York Times:

In many cases, drivers may be able to go only a few miles before the engine shuts down, which could create a potentially dangerous situation for those trying to evacuate.

As Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to strengthen, officials have warned that evacuation notices may be coming. The Florida Division of Emergency Management told residents to keep their gas tanks at least halfway full in case emergency evacuation orders were issued.

Mr. DeSantis said the contamination could "complicate" things if there is a need to evacuate but added that the state has started an investigation into what happened.

And according to Jalopnik:

If you make this mix-up, and you're fortunate enough to realize your terrible mistake, do not start the engine. If you don't start the engine, it's much easier to get your fuel tank drained before the wrong fuel gets introduced to the engine. If you drain the fuel tank, flush it, and refill it with the proper fuel, without ever starting the engine, odds are you should be fine. …

But what if a system flush is not enough? What if, worst-case scenario, you drive on the wrong fuel until your car breaks down? …

This can result in severe engine damage, according to Chia-Fon Lee, a mechanical engineering professor and internal combustion expert at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

First, because the engine wasn't designed to burn diesel (or a diesel/gasoline mix), the engine will start to run rough and misfire. This on its own can cause damage to the pistons or the cylinder head, leading to a loss of compression, Lee said, adding that most people will shut off the engine before the worst of it occurs. The rough-running, bad-sounding engine makes it pretty obvious that something is going wrong.

The fix in the worst case? A complete engine rebuild.

The Agriculture Department listed the dozens of Citgo stations that were affected here.