25 Investigates: Watered-down gas complaints, damaging cars

BOSTON — In Boston, we love that dirty water, but there's not much to love about dirty gasoline in your car. Contaminated fuel can ruin your car engine. It's a problem at gas stations across the country if you're planning a road trip.

But 25 Investigates reporter Ted Daniel also discovered local gas stations accused of selling tainted gas.

The gas going into your tank should only contain what it says on the label, but 25 Investigates found, that's not always the case.

"We had 14 cars that didn’t want to work because water went into the gas tank," Belmont Car Care owner Steven Sarkis told Daniel. He says ice cracked a plastic cover on an underground storage tank at the Lexington Street gas station in Belmont, and rainwater seeped in days later.

He says he wasn't unaware of the problem until after customers began breaking down.

"We shut down the gas station and the following day we got a company, it's called Dependable, they came with a tanker and sucked everything out."

Water is the most frequent gasoline contaminant.  If it gets into your tank, it can shut down the engine in a matter of moments.

It happened to Ron Goetz.  Bad gas ruined his car engine in December.

"Got gas, just left the gas station, pulled up the streetcar died out and as I'm pushing my car up the road a couple of other cars broke down at the same time," Goetz said.

He was one of the dozens of tainted gas cases our sister stations uncovered along the East Coast. Each state has its own system for checking gas quality.

The Massachusetts Division of Standards handles the issue in our state.

The office confirmed two reported problems in 2018 and is already investigating its second report of trouble this year, at 225 Waverly Oaks Road in Waltham.

25 Investigates talked to the manager there, who said he only had one only one complaint, and it was filed four days after the customer filled-up.

"Everything tested fine?” Ted Daniel asked manager Julio Garces. "Yes, correct.  We checked every single gas tank and everything is good. It wasn't our fault," Garces replied.

The Division of Standards tells 25 Investigates, consumers should notify them immediately if you suspect you filled up your tank with tainted gas.

You should also contact the station and save your receipt, along with any engine repair estimates.

Many stations carry liability insurance to pay cover customer repairs.

Belmont Car Care covered $30,000 in repairs for customers but says thankfully, they haven't had any more problems.

"It's all taken care of there's no water in the tanks right now," Sarkis said.

If the station you're working with is not so accommodating, the state says you can consider taking your complaint to small claims court.

Contaminated gas can be caused sediment, inadequate detergent and octane levels in addition to water.

The Division of Standards says consumers should pay close attention at the pump to make sure they’re selecting the right fuel for your engine.

If you suspect you've filled up with bad gas, you can follow the steps on this site.

Read more 25 Investigates