Motorists: We’re Being Cheated with “Hot Fuel”

By Joseph Rhee

Dec 15, 2006 3:15pm

A group of motorists and truck drivers say Americans are being cheated out of billions of dollars by gas stations selling "hot fuel," gasoline that expands under high temperatures but provides no greater bang for the buck.

The allegation is contained in a lawsuit filed against 17 oil and gas companies operating stations in seven of the country’s warmest states, including Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. 

The current standard, agreed on by regulators and the industry, is that each gallon of gasoline should be sold at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If gasoline heats above this temperature, it expands by volume but not by energy content, meaning consumers would be getting less energy per gallon. An investigation by the Kansas City Star estimated that hot fuel costs consumers $2.3 billion a year. 

Many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are independent truck drivers, who say they have been hit especially hard by hot fuel costs. "We joined this lawsuit because it’s hard enough to make a living out here," said Becky Rushing, co-operator of a trucking firm.  According to Rushing, "We see truck drivers every day who have to give up their trucks and get off the road without these oil companies taking advantage of us."  The lawsuit names 17 oil and gas companies and seeks monetary restitution as well as the installation of temperature-adjusted fuel pumps by retailers.

Without commenting on the lawsuit, John Bisney of the American Petroleum Institute said the current system is fair because "motorists get a gallon regardless of the temperature outside."  Bisney said it would also be prohibitively expensive for the industry to install temperature-adjusted fuel pumps. It would cost up to $12 thousand to retrofit older pumps, he said.

However, the oil and gas industry has supported installing temperature-adjusted fuel pumps in Canada, where cold temperatures mean more energy per gallon for consumers. The industry has backed legislation that would make such technology mandatory at gas stations.

According to Joan Claybrooke, head of the consumer group Public Citizen, "Automobile travel and small truck traffic will be heavy during this holiday season. This lawsuit comes at a particularly appropriate time to expose a system that has been quietly picking money from the pockets of citizens throughout this country."

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