— -- Dear ABC News Fixer: My wife and I were driving to Atlanta on May 30 when we stopped for gas at the Westar Travel Plaza in Cowpens, S.C. As soon as I left the station and merged onto I-85, my car's engine light came on and then the engine shut off. There was a lot of traffic, but I was able to pull over. I tried to restart the car, but it wouldn’t start.
We had the car towed to a repair shop in Greenville, S.C.
The repair shop said the car was filled with bad gas and they needed to clean the fuel tank and change the fuel filter and fuel pump. I took a sample of the gas back to the gas station. They said their gas is clean and they kept the sample. However, I also filed a report with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, which investigated. Their lab report confirmed the presence of water and sediment, and the state ordered them to stop selling the gas until it was corrected.
My insurance covered my repairs after my $500 deductible. But I also had to rent a car for one week and had other expenses, including a hotel stay. I have tried to contact the gas station again, with no luck.
- Devraj Borah, Morrisville, N.C.
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Dear Devraj: You did exactly the right thing in going to state regulators, because their report and stop-sale action helped elevate this from a typical “he said, she said” dispute. Armed with that info and the receipts from your repairs and other expenses, we were able to contact Westar Oil Company’s headquarters in Miami and ask them to take another look.
They asked for some additional documentation, but soon agreed to refund you $2,079.67 for the repairs, rental car and hotel, without admitting any fault in the matter. You’ll have to give $895.58 back to your insurance company, but you can keep the rest.
Getting gas that’s contaminated with water isn’t a common occurrence, but it does happen. Last spring, the ABC News Fixer helped a Michigan man after his Corvette was damaged by watery gas.
For anyone else in this situation, be sure to document everything. Keep your receipt for the gas, and know the pump number and exact time and date of the purchase. Immediately call the state’s weights and measures inspectors (often part of the state Department of Agriculture), and ask them to send an inspector right away.
Have a certified mechanic look at your car. If they find water in the gas, ask them to keep a sample. Document the chain of evidence in case you need to have the sample tested for a court battle. And call your insurance company.
- The ABC News Fixer