Cars tank after fuel foul up


Published: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 10:24 p.m.

A fuel trucking company and gas station owner are paying for car repairs for customers of a Gainesville gas station after a delivery driver accidentally loaded diesel into the regular unleaded storage tank Monday.

Customers of the Kangaroo Express at 3525 SW 34th St. received the cross-contaminated fuel for about an hour - from approximately 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. - before the station shut down sales, according to Bob Heinisch, vice president of safety for Eagle Transport Corp. of Rocky Mount, N.C. Eagle has since pumped the diesel out of the storage tank.

Gasoline tankers are divided into five compartments, he said. "He just got confused and opened the wrong compartment," Heinisch said.

As of Friday, 12 customers had contacted a toll-free number provided at the station to Eagle's insurer and were referred to the Computa Tune repair shop at 3200 SW 34th St., unless the person has a specialty car and insists on going to his or her own mechanic, he said.

Eagle is covering the cost of repairs.

The toll-free number is 888-675-1680.

"We're trying our best to get this straightened out," Heinisch said.

Customers must provide a receipt showing the date and time of purchase.

The Pantry Inc., which owns Kangaroo, had paid for three repairs as of Friday, paying the shops directly, according to Keith Bell, senior vice president of fuels.

People who have made claims said their cars didn't seem to have any power, Heinisch said.

In gasoline cars, a diesel concentration of more than 10 percent or 15 percent would stall the engine and foul the spark plugs, according to Tony Molla, spokesman for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

The vehicle could run, though poorly, with less than 10 percent diesel, but could suffer damage to the catalytic converter, oxygen sensor, fuel filter, fuel injector and piston rings, according to Molla and Patrick Kelly of the American Petroleum Institute.

"You'd be belching out black smoke," Molla said.

Ray Higgins of Alexandria, Va., said his daughter called him to say her 1999 Lexus wouldn't start after driving about a mile from the station to her house.

They had the car towed to Gatorland Toyota and were seeking reimbursement for a $670 bill for repairs that included draining the gas, taking out the fuel tank and cleaning it, blowing fuel lines clear and replacing spark plugs.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received a complaint on Wednesday and took samples from the pump that are being analyzed, said spokesman Terry McElroy.

Customers who believe they are not dealt with properly can file a complaint with the department's Petroleum Inspection Bureau at 850-488-9740 or online at www.800helpfla.com.

The API recommends that stations and transport companies use a color coding system, with a green fill cap to the storage tank representing diesel.

Kelly said there are no statistics about the frequency of cross contamination.

"You do hear about it every so often," he said.

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