Contaminated fuel can cause serious damage to your car’s engine and leave you with a hefty bill for repairs.
There are two common types of fuel contamination in Ireland – ‘laundered’ diesel and petrol ‘stretching’. These are both illegal and can be costly for unsuspecting motorists.
Diesel that is used for off-road purposes (such as agriculture, forestry and construction) is subject to lower tax than diesel for road vehicles, and is cheaper as a result. As the fuel is the same, off-road diesel is marked with a harmless dye to distinguish it from road diesel.
Illegal traders remove this dye and sell it as road fuel. Diesel is ‘laundered’ or washed by removing the dye, either using acid or passing it through filters. This illegal laundering can have a number of side effects, including the removal of lubricants in the fuel which can affect the fuel pump and engine, acid corrosion of the engine and damage to the exhaust gas after-treatment system.
The possible symptoms of laundered diesel are: the car may suffer a noticeable loss in power, it may not run as smoothly as before and a ‘check engine’ light may appear on the dashboard.
Petrol ‘stretching’ involves adding up to 10% of a lower-taxed product (such as kerosene which is used for home heating oil) to the fuel before selling it to a service station and then on to motorists.
Stretched petrol can cause serious engine damage.
Possible symptoms of petrol stretching include: a lack of power, the engine misfiring, a knocking sound and a lot of smoke coming from the exhaust, and a ‘check engine’ light appearing on the dashboard.
How to protect yourself
Be cautious if you are not buying from your regular garage. Be wary of a price that seems too good to be true. Also the Irish Petrol Retailers Association(IPRA) has a Quality Assurance Scheme for its members. Retailers who display the Quality Assurance Scheme logo must verify their fuel suppliers and sign up to random testing of their fuel.
What you should do if you suspect your fuel has been contaminated
There is no regulatory body in place in Ireland for the regulation of fuel. If you suspect that your petrol or diesel may have been contaminated and want to get your fuel tested, you should consider getting it tested independently.
If you find out you have purchased contaminated fuel, you should report it to the service station where you think you bought it. This mightn’t necessarily be the last place you bought fuel. If the service station can’t or won’t offer you a remedy, you should contact your insurance company. Some insurance policies do not cover damage caused by contaminated fuel. Such insurers often suggest that motorists look for compensation from the fuel retailer.
Lots of fully comprehensive policies do cover damage from contaminated fuel, but claiming on this will result in losing your no-claims bonus. Make sure to check the terms of your policy.
Finally, to help other motorists avoid problems report the incident to your local Garda Station and to the Revenue Commissioners. Revenue has more information on how to report such activities to them.