Thursday, March 01, 2007

UK - Motorists stranded by sub-standard fuel

Risky business - many drivers are worried about filling their car

Fuel investigations are underway with Trading Standards Officers testing fuel at filling stations after cars all over Britain were said to be damaged by substandard petrol. BBC News 24 reported on some cases going as far back as 19th February. But it was only yesterday that first reports started to emerge. BBC Essex radio reported that some motorists had been affected after filling up at Tesco and Morrisons filling stations, but even at that time there was no mention of any wider concern. By 22:30 GMT Wednesday, the seriousness of the problem was becoming more evident. ITN’s report on ITV said that motorists were experiencing problems up to seven days ago. And it appeared the problem was not confined to the South East of England [Basildon Echo], as early reports had suggested. E-mails received by ITN revealed that motorists from as far a field as Dundee to Swindon had suffered problems with their vehicles. One motorist from Coventry described her vehicle as having “wind” before misfiring and coming to a standstill. Another driver from Malden told how their family was stranded after their car came to a halt, whilst another described how their vehicle showed symptoms of “juddering and back firing” before stalling.

According to news reports, the affected part is an Oxygen sensor, part of a fuel management system in many modern cars. Repairs was costing motorists around £200, but where there were delays in seeking help many faced further costs with damage being done to the catalytic converter. One Mercedes driver from Tunbridge Wells described having spent in excess of £1,100 in repairs. He specifically blamed a filling station at Morrisons in Crowborough, Kent, where he had filled his car for the last month. Other drivers talked of having spent £800 in repairs as well as having wasted £35 on a full tank of fuel. And it’s the disposal of the supposed contaminated fuel that is creating a problem for car repair workshops. Many do not have the facility to store or dispose of the huge quantities that are being left in their hands. The issue over compensation is beginning to worry many motorists. The general advice was to keep samples of the fuel and retain receipts. But it will be consequential loss that may be harder to claim. Use of alternative transport, hiring of taxis or public transport may have to be fought in a County Court according to one motoring expert.

And as hundreds of motorists ground to a halt the mystery deepened as to what might be causing the problem. Trading Standards Officers have been unable to find anomalies in fuel supplies, nor contamination in any petrol sold on forecourts. It may be too late if the supposed contaminated or substandard fuel has already passed through the system. The fact that the danger may have passed is of little comfort to thousands of motorists who have increased call levels to motoring organisations and help lines. The Automobile Association say they have seen a 145% increase in calls received. Though many reports did not make it clear, the only fuel affected is unleaded petrol. Drivers of gas guzzling diesel 4x4 SUVs are apparently unaffected by the crisis.

No comments: