U.S. Presidential Limo Breaks Down Due to Fuel Filling Error in Israel


oopsFrom today's news: “Backup presidential limo on its way for Obama in Israel after fuel filling failure.”

U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Israel was tripped up by a preventable error – the Presidential  limousine  was mistakenly filled with diesel fuel instead of gasoline / petrol.

One of the limousines in  Barack Obama's fleet has broken after reports that it was mistakenly filled with the wrong fuel at the start of the US president's visit to  Israel.

Another limo is on its way from  Jordan, according to Ma'an News agency, citing Israel's Channel 10, to replace one that was filled with diesel instead of gasolene.

This is clearly a preventable error… one that could increase the risk of harm to the President if the vehicle broke down in an unsafe location. I'm curious to hear if there will be any “root cause analysis” and corrective actions taken to prevent a future re-occurrence  (or somebody will just be punished).

In the U.S., diesel fuel nozzles at the pump are intentionally LARGER than nozzles for unleaded gasoline. This serves as a form of mistake proofing, or error proofing (read more at Professor John Grout's excellent mistakeproofing.com website). It's a bigger mess (without destroying the engine, though) when you mistakenly put diesel in a car that runs on unleaded gas than it would be vice versa… which is why it's generally not as well error proofed against mistakenly putting unleaded into a diesel. BMW, though, has a system to prevent you from putting gas into a diesel.

Apparently having a larger diesel nozzle isn't the case in all countries — perhaps including Israel? Or was this just a problem at the location where the limo was fueled up?

Mistake proofing (“poka yoke” in Japanese) is a core part of the “Lean” management system and improvement methodology, tracing back to days before Toyota made cars. The term “jidoka” (automation with a human touch) traces back to Toyota's innovations with weaving looms that stop automatically when a thread breaks. This stops the production of bad fabric and saves a lot of worker time that would be spent cleaning up after the problem.

Hospitals are increasingly using Lean and mistake proofing techniques to prevent errors such as wrong site surgeries or giving the wrong medication (or dose) to patients. You can read about this in Chapter 8 of my book  Lean Hospitals and you can also get a free PDF on healthcare mistake proofing from Prof. Grout.

Mistake proofing is more effective than signs that tell people to “be more careful.” If an error CAN occur, it might not happen every day, but it's basically inevitable when a person with an otherwise perfect track record has a bad day… as happened with the limo.

Update: Here is a sad picture of the limo on a tow truck.

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  1. Andy Wagner says

    The reports are inconsistent. Some say it’s a diesel engine. Others say it’s gas. It’s a GMC Topkick underneath which has either as an option.

  2. […] a vehicle that goes by the fearsome name “The Beast,” Barack Obama’s presidential limo has had its fair share of run-of-the-mill car trouble. Today we […]

  3. Paul Everett says

    When I go to Grout’s website and click on the picture of the book cover, I get an error message. Tried it four times, coming from the website, three times, and you clickable link once. So, something is wrong somewhere. My computer is pretty new, an iMAC and has plenty of power. Any thoughts?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Ah… the link on the AHRQ website has changed.

      You can get the book (PDF) here:


  4. Kelly says

    Hi Mark,

    One correction to your article above, Last winter I put Diesel in my gas engine and it did wreck it completly. Had to replace the engine at $6,000.00. The self serve station that I used put diesel gas in the unleaded pump.

    1. Mark Graban says

      I’m really sorry to hear that Kelly. Did the service station own up to the problem and pay for your repair?

      I wonder if they have a way for the fuel delivery people to error proof their process (put the right fuel/octane into the right tanks) or if they just tell them to “be careful”?

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