9 Investigates

Tainted gas: What it can cost you

ORLANDO, Fla. — “It was bucking.”

“It suddenly surged.”

“I can’t get it to start.”

When a driver pulls into Jay Zembower's Auto Center and uses any of these phrases, it’s usually an indication that they have water in the fuel system.

“The problem with water is, it’s not combustible and in newer cars it gets recycled through the fuel system and turns to steam,” says mechanic Jay Zembower.  “If you buy fuel from a fuel station that has not maintained its tanks, and you get a full load of water, right then you’ll know there’s a problem.”

That problem, according to Zembower, can start at a few hundred dollars and quickly escalate to several thousand dollars depending on how severe the damage to the engine is and what needs to be replaced.

“In the older days when we had carburetors you could drain the system or add an additive to it, and maybe clean that up without additional harm, but with today’s high-tech systems, the fuel injectors can be damaged, some of the regulators can be damaged, fuel pumps can be damaged.  So you can have a $3,000 or $4,000 bill,” says Zembower.

Florida drivers burned through more than five million barrels of fuel in 2017.  Keeping that supply flowing safely from out of state refineries to distributors to gas stations and ultimately to your vehicle requires precision.

At any step of the process, water can get into a supply, and therefore into your vehicle.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service's Bureau of Standards checks stations every 13-months.  Inspectors also respond to complaints from consumers.  At any inspection, if a station is found to have water or sediment in its fuel supply it is documented by the state and ordered to correct the problem.

Stations can pour in an additive to tanks to eliminate water or in severe cases, drain the tank.

In February, the Sonoco off Bedford Road in Sanford was flagged for sediment in its diesel during a routine state inspection. According to the company, “sales were suspended” and “the water and sediment were removed from the affected tank and fresh product was delivered” before any vehicles were damaged.

The station was re-inspected, with the state finding no issues.

But not every problems is discovered before drivers are impacted.

The state encourages drivers to document each fill-up, either through retaining the receipt or by paying with a credit card.  Drivers are also encouraged to report any problems at (850) 921-1545.

Look below for a list of gas stations that had a documented issue with water or sediment: