Taken for a ride: How to avoid bad fuel when you fill up

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- When you fill up your tank you hope the fuel you're buying won't cause problems with your vehicle, but hundreds of drivers around the Triangle say that's exactly what happened to them last year.

Ramby Royal of Wake Forest is one of those drivers. He says one trip to the gas station cost him more than $500.

Royal says he filled up his tank back in November, and a short time later he started having problems with his 2018 Toyota Camry. Royal immediately went to a repair shop, and he says he was surprised by the diagnosis.

"They hooked the computer up to it and it registered a code that pointed to the fuel, a problem with the fuel," Royal said.
The repair shop ran a test on the fuel and provided documents showing the fuel contained between 20-30 percent ethanol, more than the 10 percent advertised.

The shop also said the gas was causing the car to misfire and not run smoothly. Royal says he went back to the gas station to double check the pump.

"I even went back to BJs to look at their gas pumps just to see if I could've made that mistake and pumped E-85 fuel but they don't even have that." Royal says he pushed the right button, but he's not sure he got the right fuel.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture's Standards Division Motor Fuels Section says problems at gas pumps around the area are not common, but they do happen. The group received 233 gas complaints in 2018. In addition to investigating consumer complaints, employees perform regular checks at gas stations. Chemists completed 103,937 tests last year and say they found problems with 1,816 samples, a failure rate of 1.7 percent.

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Nikki Brown is a field chemist for the Motor Fuels lab. She says if problems are found during an on-site inspection the station is ordered to stop selling the product immediately until the issue is fixed.

Brown says if drivers think there is an issue with their fuel, the most important thing to do is make sure they have their receipt, then contact the Motor Fuels lab to have the fuel tested.

"If there's an issue you want to be able to go back and prove that you got fuel there, what grade it was, what day you got it," said Brown. The lab does both on site and in lab testing for free.

Brown also says drivers should beware if they see bags on any of the pumps at a gas station. She says many people assume that the bags are there because the station is out of gas, but it could be a sign that there is a problem with the tanks.

"If you see bags on all the pumps except one, before you fill up you want to ask why. Or just find another gas station," Brown said.

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Field Chemist Nikki Brown shows you how she tests gas pumps and the gas inside them for discrepancies.

Royal did eventually reach out to the state, and he also contacted BJ's to ask them to pay his $530.89 repair bill.

The company told him there was no problem with the fuel.

They sent the same response to the Troubleshooter. Director of Public Relations & Social Media Kristy Houston saying in an email, "BJ's fuel adheres to the strict quality standards of the EPA and our data indicates there were no issues with our fuel. In fact, we have not received any other complaints about fuel quality at this station."

The Motor Fuels lab says they also found no problem with the gas at BJ's.

If you have a problem with fuel and would like to have it tested, you can call the Motor Fuels section at 919-733-3246.
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