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Water in Your Gas Tank Can Be a Real Downer, So Why Won't This Gas Station Make It Right?


At TrustDALE, we've seen a lot of ways businesses try to get away without doing the responsible thing. In some cases, businesses take payment upfront, and then they have no motivation to complete a job. In other cases, a crooked company may aim for the ripoff zone, the $5,000 to $50,000 range in which police consider a scam a business dispute and refuse to get involved. But one of the most common tactics we see, especially when a consumer is trying to collect on damages, is to simply ignore the consumer. Many businesses hope that if they ignore someone long enough, or make it tough enough for them to get a resolution, they'll just go away. But TrustDALE doesn't just go away, and this is one of those stories.

Water in Her Gas Tank

Sharon was doing what millions of Americans do each day. She went to the gas station and filled her tank. But when she drove away, her car immediately began to sputter and then stopped running. She had her car towed to a shop where they quickly found the source of the problem. There was water in her gas tank. The mechanic explained that the water likely came from the gas she had just filled her tank with.

Sharon went back to the gas station to complain and found a tanker truck there removing the gas from the underground tanks. As the mechanic suspected, the gas was contaminated with water and needed to be removed. Sharon also ran into another customer who said he had the same experience after filling up at that station just 24 hours earlier.

Sharon took her receipt to the manager at the gas station, and they took down her name, along with other customers who had a similar issue with their gas. Sharon assumed that once she had an estimate for the repairs, the gas station would reimburse her. But when she tried to reach back out to the gas station, she was ignored.

What Happens When You Get Water in Your Gas Tank

Your gas tank is usually filled with nothing but gasoline. From the tank, your fuel pump sends the gas to the injector, which sends it to the internal combustion engine as a fine mist or vapor. The mist of gasoline is ignited and explodes, forcing the pistons down, which creates the motion to move the vehicle's wheels. But when water gets in the system, it can prevent the gas from properly combusting, and cause the engine to work inefficiently or not at all.

In Sharon's case, the damage to her fuel pump and fuel injector was going to cost $2,600. Both parts needed to be replaced. She also had to rent a car to get around while her car sat in the shop, awaiting approval from the gas station to do the repairs. With costs mounting and no response from the gas station, Sharon called TrustDALE.

Talking to the Right People

When something goes wrong with the gasoline sold at a gas station, it is not always obvious who's at fault. The supply chain for gasoline is complex, and it's not always obvious where the responsibility lies.

The gas stations where you fill your tank are typically independently owned, either as independent businesses or franchises. In many cases, a single owner will run multiple gas stations in an area. They buy their gas from a regional petroleum distributor. Those gas tankers you see pumping gas into the underground tanks deliver gas from the distributor. The distributors buy the gas from the big oil companies—such household names as Chevron, Texaco, Exxon, and others.

When water gets into fuel, it's not always clear who will pay for the damage. In most cases, the water got into the fuel at the very last point on its journey into your gas tank. A faulty water filter at a gas station can account for the water in their fuel. But sometimes it still makes sense to go straight to the top, and that's what TrustDALE producer Marnie Zambri did.

Marnie reached out to the public relations department at Chevron for answers. She had a good discussion with one of their representatives, and shortly after that call, Sharon was informed that she would be reimbursed for her expenses. She didn't want to celebrate too much before she had a check in hand, but it seems like things are finally getting taken care of.