Advice on seeking reimbursement from gas station for bad fuel?
March 26, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this month, my 2007 Toyota Prius stalled right after a drive-through oil change (where you sit in your car while the work is done). I had it towed back to the oil place, and they checked and said no fluids were leaking and confirmed they'd used the right kind of oil. Then I had it towed to a Toyota body shop--it wouldn't go into neutral at that point, in case that's important--where the service dept. checked various things, drained the gasoline and refilled with new gas, then drove the car 10 miles with no problem. I have the receipt from the last place I bought gas (5 days before the oil change; a chain service station called Mapco Mart) and a receipt from the body shop saying the "fuel volatility [was] poor" which caused the stalling. I also have a receipt for the oil change showing what they did besides the change itself: they added windshield washer fluid and checked that brake lights, headlights, and wipers were working. Should I go to the gas station in person, or write to or call the company that owns it, or something else?
posted by homelystar to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly? "Bad gas" is often one of those go-to diagnoses that mechanics go to when they really can't figure out exactly what was wrong. Yes, it can happen sometimes, but it's pretty uncommon these days. Your car is running now. Just avoid the gas station you went to previously. It would simply be your word against theirs.

I'd be more worried that at one point your car wouldn't shift into neutral. That has absolutely nothing to do with the gas. Did the oil-change place also drain/refill/top-off your transmission fluid?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

you were able to drive the car for five days after the fill-up before the problem manifested? the gas station will tell you it wasn't their gas, but something else that happened during that five days, bet on it. also, what thorzdad said about the transmission.
posted by bruce at 11:11 AM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks Thorzdad: the oil-change place (Valvoline) receipt says "Transmission Fluid Level: Sealed," and I'm not sure if they checked it or not. I'm pretty sure they didn't add or drain transmission fluid.

I will certainly avoid the gas station in future, but the repair bill was several hundred dollars and I'm unemployed. If they are at fault I can't afford not to try getting them to pay it. I would think other people who got gas there would've experienced the same thing, if water got into their fuel lines or something...

The five days between getting gas and the car stalling seems like a lot, so I thought Valvoline was the culprit, but the body shop disagreed.
posted by homelystar at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks Bruce, didn't see your reply until I posted mine, but yes, five days. Or four and a half, 7 pm Sunday for the gas and 9 am Thursday for the stalling.
posted by homelystar at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2014

I sympathize, homelystar, but I don't see you getting anything out of anyone. I had an Iffy Lube cause half a grand damage to my car and then claim they couldn't have possibly done it and I ate the whole thing.
posted by tilde at 11:29 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wait, my math is wrong: that's three and a half days. But still.
posted by homelystar at 11:29 AM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Yikes, tilde, I'm sorry to hear that. Sounds like I need to learn how to change my own oil.
posted by homelystar at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2014

It may be a weird coincidence, but I just had some odd stalling and rough idle issues with a brand new Subaru that went away at the next fill up. This time of year, bad gas does happen, and it can futz with your car's ECU (hence the reluctance to shift into and out of gear).
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:48 AM on March 26, 2014

This time of year, bad gas does happen, and it can futz with your car's ECU...

It isn't so much "bad gas" as it is that, at this time of the year, manufacturers are starting to transition from winter blends to warm-weather blends, which can cause some cars a little trouble for the first tank or so.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:02 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mapco is currently introducing E15 fuel in many locations. Is it possible you got a different fuel mix than normal?

Unfortunately, you're at a dead end even if the gas was the culprit. Here's how it looks to Mapco: 7 year old car with a shifting problem. Two sets of mechanics monkeyed with the car. Lots of potential culprits there. Mapco isn't going to take responsibility for a problem that could be the result of age, transmission or screwed up repairs.
posted by 26.2 at 1:28 PM on March 26, 2014

I agree that you're not going to get money out of anyone but I think the oil change place is the much more likely culprit, particularly given the chain of events. I get some of the technical possibilities for "bad gas," but frankly bad gas is something that you get when you're buying it out of a barrel in Guatemala, not at a gas station in the US.
posted by MillMan at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2014

The last thing drive-through oil change places are known for is honesty and quality work. It's possible a new tech accidentally drained your transmission fluid instead of the oil, and they caught it and refilled it when you came back, all the while telling you everything was fine. I would avoid them at all costs if you care about the life of your vehicle.
posted by bizwank at 5:25 PM on March 26, 2014

I once had an older VW that was running just fine, until I took it to a place to get two new tires. Driving away immediately after, I had to drive slowly over a speed bump, and the car wouldn't go up! Turned out the transmission was suddenly slipping and needed a rebuild.

Does that sound like maybe the guy who changed the tires did something wrong?

Well, actually the transmission let go just before the tire change. It was fine when I parked to buy the tires, but when I started it to drive it to the service bay (over the aforementioned speed bump) it let go. If it had lasted 100 feet more before dying I might have erroneously blamed the tire guy.

Sometimes a coincidence is a coincidence. Take it to the Toyoya dealer and pay for a transmission diagnostic; don't mention gas or oil or anything, but do mention that it stalled once on a warm restart then wouldn't go into neutral, and that's why you want the diagnostic.
posted by davejay at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2014

Also: drive through places don't staff skilled mechanics, and neither do body shops. Take your car to a reputable mechanic who has experience with hybrids, get the oil changes done there to establish a relationship and judge their service, then you'll have a trusted source for repairs later on.
posted by davejay at 10:40 PM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the answers!

davejay, I did take it to a Toyota dealership's repair shop...when I wrote "Toyota body shop" I should've explained that. They do have experience with Priuses and I'm satisfied with their service--the car does seem to run fine now--but they did charge me $600 to say, essentially, we don't know what else could've caused the car to stall so we conclude it was poor fuel volatility. Arrggh.
posted by homelystar at 7:28 AM on March 27, 2014

Just in case you were serious about doing your own oil changes...I have a 2005 Prius and it is very easy. The little gas engine uses a very modest amount of oil, usually less than $10 worth, plus a filter (which is the same as used by a certain Toro commercial lawnmower!) for another $4-5. The drain plug is very easy to reach and the filter isn't too bad either.

Never trust a lube place. Never.
posted by werkzeuger at 8:41 AM on March 27, 2014

Apparently, an Exxon refinery in Louisiana recently shipped-out thousands of barrels of truly bad gasoline. The refinery also supplies non-Exxon retailers. It's a long-shot, but you just might have gotten a tank of this stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cool/notcool, Thorzdad.

Side note - a drive through quick lube changed your oil? None of the Iffy Lubes around here touch Prii. I still go to an Iffy Lube, but it's a couple counties away and have been doing my cars for over a decade. It was a couple of their sister stores that screwed up.
posted by tilde at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2014

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