Buying contaminated fuel from a suburban petrol station is a rare occurrence, but two cases were discovered on different sides of Brisbane during the floods.
- Motorists reported fuel contamination at Wakerley and Bald Hills service stations
- A mechanic dealing with one of the cases told customers it was the ‘worst’ he had ever seen
- The RACQ said cases of fuel being contaminated with water are ‘rare’
David Fife’s son Leo refueled at the Shell-run NightOwl on Green Camp Road in Wakerley on February 26.
When Leo tried to start, his Mazda MX-5 wouldn’t.
“He tried to start it and it wouldn’t start,” Mr Fife said.
“He called me and I went to look and I thought, ‘This is really weird.’
Mr Fife, a former aircraft maintenance engineer, said that although the Mazda was an older model, it was a “very reliable car”.
After some difficulty, the service station employee managed to give a receipt to Mr. Fife and he called the RACQ.
The car was towed to Redlands Mazda Capalaba where the mechanic commented that it was “the worst case of contamination” they had seen.
Mr Fife said he contacted Shell to seek compensation for fuel and the estimated $6,000 it would cost to repair his son’s car and was told to contact its parent company, Viva Energy Australia.
The problem is not solved yet.
Across town another case
North of Wakerley the following day, Alana Sverdloff filled up her two-year-old Mitsubish ASX at United Petroleum Bald Hills, but only covered two kilometers before the car came to a stop.
She broke down next to the rising floodwaters, but luckily passers-by pushed her car out of harm’s way.
She phoned the RACQ and was told that rain may have entered the gas station tanks and contaminated the fuel.
Ms Sverdloss said she did not yet have a quote and was awaiting a response from her insurance company.
“I’ve spoken to people who have been through this and it’s very expensive,” she said.
“I am also without a car for the foreseeable future.
“I have an 18-month-old son and I walk him to my mom’s house, take her car to daycare, and then drive home to work.
“I’m working from home now, but when the trains open I’ll start commuting and that will make it more difficult.”
Ms Sverdloss said she called petrol station staff who were unhelpful when she called to let them know what had happened.
“My husband went to get a receipt a few hours later and they were still selling fuel,” she said.
“He told them they should be ashamed of themselves.
“At first they also said they wouldn’t give him a receipt.
No record of complaints about a “rare” event
United Petroleum chief executive David Szymczak said the company had no record of any complaints about water contamination at the Bald Hills gas station.
But he wanted to follow up on any complaints and said the matter could be investigated with enough information.
Mr Szymczak said a United Petroleum petrol station had been submerged by floodwaters in Lismore and it was possible that fuel from that site would need to be inspected.
But he said water-contaminating fuel was rare.
RACQ senior technical researcher Andrew Kirk agreed and said he was not aware of any recent cases in Brisbane.
“Contaminated fuel is rare and fuel sites are designed to cope with heavy rain and flash flooding, with strict environmental and safety regulations in place to ensure that fuel does not escape from the site or the water does not enter underground fuel tanks,” he said. .
“It is likely that the car will need to be towed away and an assessment will need to be carried out to confirm whether water has been found in the fuel.”
Mr Kirk said oil companies were liable for any damage to a vehicle if they sold contaminated fuel.
Affected motorists should contact the oil company’s head office.
If the fuel company fails to take responsibility, motorists can lodge complaints with the Queensland Office of Fair Trading.
They can also file a complaint with the Commonwealth National Measurement Institute, in addition to trade measurements, it is responsible for fuel quality issues.