Retailers said they had already been “emptying their tanks as fast as we could” for the switchover to E10 petrol when a sudden surge in panic buying quickly drained their remaining stocks.
According to official figures released on Thursday, fuel deliveries to petrol stations remained steady over the summer and throughout most of September despite warnings of a slowdown caused by a shortage of HGV drivers.
Yet the amount of spare fuel stored at forecourts fell sharply by up to a quarter after Sept 1, when the Government introduced greener E10 fuel as the standard unleaded petrol.
When motorists began panic buying on Sept 24, garages across the country found they did not have enough in their storage tanks to keep up with demand.
Brian Madderson, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said the data showed that the fuel crisis had been an “unintended consequence” of the Government’s switch to greener petrol.
“For weeks we had been emptying our tanks of E5, the old fuel, as fast as we could to get ready for E10. We had all run our petrol stocks down,” Mr Madderson said.