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1 Apr 2020

Petrol stations could close due to coronavirus: we explain how to drive and refuel safely

Following warnings that some petrol stations may need to shut down due to a 70% drop in sales, here's how to plan your journey and protect yourself and others if you need to refuel

Most of us won't be driving as much as we normally would, if at all. But for those that still need to drive, filling up conveniently and safely with fuel remains essential.

The news that some petrol stations may be forced to close due to a lack of sales, according to the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), could make this more of a challenge.

It's important to note that people should not be driving unless it's for one of the three key reasons outlined by the government:

  1. For medical reasons, to provide care or to help vulnerable people.
  2. Travelling to and from work, only when it's essential to do so and you can't work from home.
  3. To shop for basic necessities such as food. The government advises to do this as infrequently as you can and use delivery services instead, if possible.

Read our story on driving during the coronavirus lockdown for exceptions to these rules and more advice.

If you do need to drive for an essential purpose, read on for our tips on protecting yourself and others when you refuel.

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?

Why could petrol stations close?

The PRA, which represents independent fuel retailers and accounts for 70% of UK petrol stations, said in a statement that fuel consumption has fallen by more than 70% due to the pandemic.

It said that this means some petrol stations must close 'as businesses become unviable'. It's warned that sites in rural areas, where fuel use has collapsed the most, are particularly vulnerable.

The PRA has stated that it will attempt to keep a 'strategic network of petrol stations' open across the country. However, it advises motorists to check whether their local petrol station is still open before going to fill up.

How to plan your journey

First, follow the PRA's advice to check if a petrol station is open before going to fill up.

Most fuel operators now have their own app, so you can find local stations that are still open. If in doubt, give your local forecourt a ring or, if it has a website, check online.

Follow our top tips to plan your journey and avoid the risk of running out of fuel:

  1. Think about whether your journey is essential. If you don't really need to drive, don't.
  2. If you've started your journey, find you can't refuel when you need to and know you're not going to reach your destination, don't simply run your car out of fuel - park it in a safe place before that happens.
  3. Stick to main roads - you've got a better chance of finding an open petrol station on a major route, and it'll be easier for breakdown services to find you should the worst happen.
  4. Don't join a motorway if you're low on fuel and think you might have to stop. It's illegal to stop on the hard shoulder, except in an emergency, and it's incredibly dangerous.
  5. Drive as economically as possible to conserve fuel. Avoid over-revving the engine and drive in as high a gear as is safe to do so.

Read our tips on how to stretch your fuel tank further and drive economically.

How to refuel your car safely and avoid contaminating yourself and others

When refuelling, you'll inevitably have to touch the pump, car door handles and other surfaces.

To minimise the risk to you and others, consider cleaning your hands after getting out of car and before getting back in.

It's best to keep hand sanitiser and wipes in your car. You can use wipes on a petrol pump and car handles, and wipe down the pump handle and any other parts you touch - such as keypads on 'pay-at-pump' machines - before and after you use it.

Wear disposable gloves if you have some, or alternatively use paper towels to handle the pump. Dispose of used disposable gloves and paper towels straight away - don't keep and reuse.

When you can, pay at the pump to avoid needing to go into a shop, as this will reduce your direct contact with others, and pay using contactless credit of debit card, if possible.

Fill up fully when you can - this reduces how often you'll need to visit petrol stations to refuel.

Watch our video on driving during lockdown for our five steps to stay safe when you use your car.