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I Won’t Apologise For Abusing: The Petrol Tank Light Edition

I Won’t Apologise For Abusing: The Petrol Tank Light Edition

One of my greatest annoyances in life is when your parents remind you to do something that is so obvious. For example, on many occasions I have been told:

Always lock your car.
Never leave the hair dryer near the sink.
And my personal favourite, don’t put your hand in the blender.

Occasionally their incessant nagging can get tiring. ‘No mum, I did not put metal in the toaster.’ ‘Yes dad, I closed the fridge door after five seconds.’ When this happens I go into ‘I-am-looking-at-you-dead-in-the-eyes-but-not-listening-to-a-word-you’re-saying’ mode. Their words morph from audible English to a buzzing murmur similar to the sound of the hair dryer they told you not to leave near the sink.

It was during one of these instances I am certain my dad told me to: NEVER WAIT UNTIL THE PETROL LIGHT TURNS ON TO FILL YOUR CAR UP WITH PETROL. He said it in that urgent tone parents say 99% of things that are usually 99% not urgent.

Pavlovian trained I nodded at my parent’s command, while internally calculating the discount off a J.Crew sweater I wanted to buy online. The only real proof I have that this conversation even happened was when a really great pine green sweater arrived in the mail five working days later.

As you may have guessed I abuse the petrol light in my car.

The petrol light in my 1999 VW Polo is similar to a Las Vegas casino strip – forever flashing and always a gamble.

Can I drive from Fitzroy to Essendon on empty and back again? Youbetcha. Many times this gamble has paid off. Sure there have been some close encounters – the exhaust might cough up some phlegm, the engine might nervously tremor – but if you turn the knob to your preferred commercial radio station high enough you can usually drown out these warnings with a Katy Perry song.

Winning streaks only last for so long and usually cease just before you are about to hit the jackpot. I didn’t plan to become addicted to the thrill of driving on empty. I was hooked on the adrenaline. Initially it manifested out of laziness. Whether I was running late to work to make a pit stop or convincing myself that every time I didn’t fill up my tank I was preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, there was always a worthwhile excuse to keep driving. To me as soon as the petrol odometer ticked over to E,  I had at least another 20km in me before I had to hit up the servo. The money I saved not filling up would buy me an expired Freddo.

One day after a good round trip driving on empty I promised myself I would fill up first thing the next morning. Turning on the ignition the next day there every sign of cooperation, a smooth sounding, thirsty engine ready for its poison of choice – unleaded. There are certain things I have learned in life and one is never drive with a passenger in the car when you are on empty. I made this mistake that day when I decided to give my sister a lift. The drive from my house to the nearest petrol station is under five minutes, a manageable distance to push the limits of the petrol light one last time before refueling.

As we drove the short distance to the petrol station, I casually mentioned as a driver-to-passenger courtesy that I was on empty and needed petrol. I drove through the streets of suburbia, anxiously tapping the accelerator a little harder then usual in a bid to save time. The car showed no signs of flailing.

Continuing the drive, I went over a speed hump, and then another. It was by the third speed hump that my car became that annoying toddler that stands right in the middle of automatic sliding doors at shopping centres and refuses to move.

Here I was in the middle of the road, petrol-less.

Moving the car diagonally to the closest nature strip, I had to think fast. This situation was a direct result of abusing and ignoring the cries of the petrol tank light. I knew one thing was for sure, I was NOT going to call my dad for help after his never ending protests to fill up.

It occurred to me that I could call the RACV. However, not wanting to be that classic girl stranded on the side of the road because she listened to too much Katy Perry instead of listening to the heart beat of her car, I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally. I decided (and convinced my sister) that no one would ever find out about this, and that we would walk the remaining 1km to the petrol station and buy a tank of petrol and bring it back to the car. Clueless, we did just that.

I went up to the counter and said I wanted to buy petrol and if they had a tank. Uninterested by my new age feminism, the male sales assistant pointed to a metal bucket that looked like it was once an extra large tin of Milo with the label scraped off. This empty bucket cost $15 without petrol. I took it outside, and in between two cars, was me – shoving a petrol hose into my $15 Milo tin can.

During this process I got petrol on my hand, I went to wipe it off, but soon discovered petrol absorbs into skin (which is why I avoided open flames for one week after). In my state of flux, I noticed this mini ribbed hose in the tin, I ignored it and accidentally pushed it into the tin, it was now lost. Whatever, I thought. Ten minutes later, and with 4L of unleaded, I walked back to the cash register and paid $23 for my can of petrol. I asked the sales assistant if I needed a funnel to pour the petrol in. He mumbled something about a black hose that came with the tank. The one I had just lost in a petrol tin well.

We started walking back down the strip of shops to the car, just two white girls, with a Milo tin can filled with petrol.

Passing a $2 shop, I had the genius idea of buying a funnel, which I intended to use to pour the petrol into my car. It was my greatest idea to ever surface at that very moment. I went into the $2 shop and bought a set of three funnels, the kind you use to pour olive oil into a small bottle. Petrol was basically an oil once, so I guessed the same could be applied when pouring petrol into a car.

Finally we made it back to the car, still as diagonally parked as we left it. I popped open the petrol cap, inserted the funnel and attempted to pour the petrol can into the car. It turns out kitchen utensils are not made for automobiles. Petrol ran down my arm, side of my car and asphalt road. Not wanting to admit failure, I tried again. And again petrol dribbled down the side of the car. That day I used a perfectly good bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water to wash the side of my car and road in an attempt to be a good citizen. I still haven’t quite got over it.

With diminished dignity, a sister late for work, and a seriously dehydrated car, I did what I vowed I would not do – I called my dad. Dutifully he came to my rescue and said he would bring some petrol. Thirty minutes later, he arrived empty handed.

When we questioned him he said, ‘The petrol station was selling this ridiculous petrol tin can for $15, I don’t know what type of person would buy it. I called RACV instead.’ The RACV van pulled up 10 minutes later, filled up my car with 8L of petrol for free, and disappeared as soon as they had arrived. That was the end of that.

I learnt a valuable lesson that day, fill your car up with petrol before the petrol light comes on. I am sure someone told me this lesson once, but I can’t recall who. This original incident happened three years ago. I would like to tell you it has never happened since, but this year alone it has already happened three times. The worst time was when my car ran out of petrol right in front of a closed petrol station. Is it the thrill of driving on empty, rebelling against my parents, or being on a first name basis with the RACV hotline that keeps me repeating the same mistake? It's probably a combination of all three, and for that I won't apologise.


Illustration by Alice Oehr.

Hey presto, it's Nonna's antipasto.

Hey presto, it's Nonna's antipasto.

You say potato and I say patata, but we can all agree it's pronounced frittata.

You say potato and I say patata, but we can all agree it's pronounced frittata.