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Damp winter leads to watery gas

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GINA R. HEINE
February 23, 2008
— With snow melting and more precipitation on the way, motorists might want to be careful where they buy gasoline.

Brian Frederick, service manager at Gordie Boucher Ford in Janesville, said his shop and the Frank Boucher Chrysler shop saw up to eight vehicles towed in Sunday and Monday that stopped running from watery gas.


“It all stems from the rain and ice melt-off,” he said.


It appears standing water seeped into the underground tanks at area gas stations, he said. The gas tanks in the stalled vehicles contained about 90 percent water, he said.


“There was very little fuel when we took fuel samples out of the cars,” he said.


Frederick said he didn’t know which stations had the problem, but he said there was one each in Janesville, Evansville and Milton. The stations paid the customers for the repairs on their vehicles, he said. He also heard a service center in Madison saw vehicles for the same problem.


No problems have been identified since Monday, Frederick said. If you’ve filled up your tank this week and didn’t notice any immediate problems, the gas should be fine.


“It would stop running,” Frederick said. “It’s something that’s going to happen real quick.”


By “real quick,” he means less than a mile. As you leave the gas station, your vehicle uses up the gas left in the fuel line and usually starts drawing from the bottom of your gas tank, he said. When the watery gas reaches the engine, it starts running poorly and stops.


Water is heavier than gasoline. It settles to the bottom, meaning water usually is drawn first by a vehicle’s fuel pump or a gas station pump because they draw from near the bottom of the tank, Frederick said.


The cost to repair a vehicle with water in the tank can run from $500 to $800, but each one is different depending on how easy it is to access the gas tank, Frederick said. One BMW that came into the shop racked up a $1,300 bill because it took six hours to access and remove the tank, he said.


Repairing a vehicle includes removing the gas tank and contaminated gas, installing a new fuel filter and putting the gas tank back in, he said.


Using additives such as Heet, which absorbs condensation in a gas tank, wouldn’t be effective with the amount of water in these cases, he said.


Matt Hauser, director of government affairs of the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said gas stations are required by law to electronically monitor if water is in their tanks. Station attendants generally check those numbers each shift or day, he said.


When a reading shows fuel is contaminated, a bag is placed over the pump and steps are taken to correct the problem, he said.


“Generally, water in the gas is something retailers take very seriously,” he said.


WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Local auto service managers offered these tips:


-- Fill up your gas tank before a storm that’s predicted to bring a lot of rain.


-- Avoid gas stations that have a lot of standing water.


-- Keep your receipt in case you have problems.



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