If your car’s engine is damaged by “misfuelling”, through no fault of yours, you shouldn’t be out of pocket, but you may well be. If a petrol attendant puts the “wrong” fuel in your tank, and neither they nor you notice before you pull off, you won’t get far.
Once the car has spluttered to a stop, you’ll have to get it towed to a dealership for the fuel tank to be drained and engine repairs carried out. Clearly, you shouldn’t have to foot the bill if the mistake wasn’t yours, but while many service station owners take responsibility and pay, some resist.
Motlatsi Gabaocwe’s fuel mix-up happened one evening in early October at the Shell Amberfield filling station in Centurion. The fuel tank of her car, a 2009 Volvo S40, was almost empty when she asked the attendant to put in R500 worth of low-sulphur diesel.
As she got home, having travelled about 5km, the car spluttered and stalled. It was then that she noticed the smell of petrol, and her receipt confirmed the tank had been filled with petrol. This despite “diesel” in large red letters on the inside of the fuel cap.
When the misfuelling was reported to the filling station owner, Rayno Strauss, he acknowledged the error and accepted responsibility for it, Gabaocwe said. The filling station initially arranged for the car to be repaired by a technician of their choice, but when that failed, they had it towed to a Volvo dealership.
Somewhere along the way, the car’s engine control module had been damaged, which meant the dealership first had to replace it, at a cost of R13450, before attending to the misfuelling issue.
The dealership would only proceed with the fuel damage repair after it had been paid for the computer replacement. The filling station paid the first repair bill, but things soured when the second one of R18600, for fuel damage repair, was submitted.
The service station’s insurer, Hollard, sent a letter to Gabaocwe, saying that because there were “clear disclaimer signs” stating it is the customer’s responsibility to ensure the correct fuel is dispensed, the filling station was absolved of all responsibility and, therefore, it was not “prepared to entertain” the claim.
“I cannot begin to express how cheated and prejudiced I feel as a consumer,” Gabaocwe said. “The filling station accepted responsibility and I have proof, but now I’m being left in the cold.”
Here’s the thing: companies are responsible for negligence on the part of their employees, regardless of the signs they choose to erect.
I wrote to Strauss, arguing that as the owner he was compelled, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, to refund Gabaocwe, regardless of his insurer’s decision.
A response came not from Strauss, but from the same Hollard claims specialist who had previously rejected the claim.
Happily, the claim will be settled.
WHAT TO DO
- Be alert when filling up. If either you or the attendant isn’t paying attention, misfuelling can occur.
- Look at the pumps, use your nose (petrol and diesel smell different) and check your slip to make sure the right fuel was dispensed. That way you can spot a problem before you start up, and arrange for the car to be towed away for tank draining.
- If you do drive off and the car splutters, then stalls, call for assistance. Contact the car manufacturer’s franchised dealer for advice, and alert the filling station.
- Some insurance policies include cover for misfuelling. Check yours.
GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @wendyknowler. She’s In Your Corner for consumer issues.