As Americans, we take a lot of things for granted that people in other countries struggle with. For example, assuming that the water coming out of our faucet is potable. Or that the dinner we order at a restaurant isn’t contaminated with E coli. And we don’t only do this with our health. We take for granted things related to our vehicles as well. Like assuming that the gasoline we pump into our tanks is safe for our cars’ engines.
But last month, that last assumption came back to bite us.
That’s because millions of gallons of tainted gasoline was sent to hundreds of gas stations in the U.S. — and much of it wound up in people’s cars. The affected gasoline came from oil refiner BP, which said that the gas was misformulated during the refining process (though it didn’t say exactly how that happened). Because American engines are built to run on a specific mixture of gasoline, an error in the combination of additives can adversely affect engine performance.
The Problems It Caused
Motorists reported some 9,600 instances of their engines starting hard, idling rough, and stalling unexpectedly after putting the tainted gas into their vehicles’ tanks.
The best way to repair that problem is to have a car’s fuel system flushed and cleaned at a repair shop, which costs anywhere from $300 to $1,200 (and probably isn’t covered by auto insurance).
What Exactly Happened?
BP says that it shipped a total of 4.7 million gallons of the tainted fuel in all grades: regular, mid-grade, and premium. The gas was sent from BP’s refinery in Whiting, Indiana to several hundred stations in the Midwest between August 13 and August 17; though it insists that subsequent shipments were properly formulated and safe for vehicle consumption. It is important to point out that since BP sells a significant portion of its output to other fuel companies, the tainted gas is not limited to those stations which sell BP-branded gasoline. Some of the other fuel stations that sold the misformulated gas include Citgo, Speedway, Road Ranger, Thornton’s, Sam’s Club, and Meijer.
Could You Have Been Victimized?
The oil conglomerate has posted a searchable database of the stations which received the tainted fuel in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. BP is accepting claims through a toll-free phone number from people who believe that they filled up with tainted gas at one of the stations. But some attorneys in the affected states are still considering filing a class action lawsuit against BP.
If your vehicle starts displaying some of the "symptoms" mentioned above, then you can take it to a repair shop or service center to see if mechanics can identify the problem. Other measures to take include putting a fuel treatment product into your gas tank, or topping off your tank at a different gas station in the hopes of mixing the "good" gas with the "bad" and improving performance. Keep in mind that going forward, the chances of engine trouble being attributed to tainted gas will be rare, simply because these types of misformulated shipments occur very infrequently.
Hopefully, this episode of tainted gas will never be repeated by BP. But it does help all Americans pause to think about how we fill up our gas tanks time after time without giving it a second thought.