Ripped off at the E85 pump
February 27, 2007 12:02 PM   Subscribe

"My first experience purchasing an alternative fuel (E85)", or "How can I get my $20ish back?" or, "why is this such a pain in the ass?"

Brace yourself:

So Saturday I bought a flex fuel vehicle, a 07 Impala. I feel good about running E85, it's cheaper than gas right now, and there are a few stations in the area, it seems like a good idea that i can feel good about.

Today I go to one of the few E85-carrying stations in Milwaukee, near my job, at 425 E Capitol. They have 2 E85 pumps, one is out of order. I quickly find that the credit card reader on the "good" pump is also out of order. No problem, I'll pay inside. I begin pumping. When the gallons meter hits 25, I say to myself, "there's no way this tank is that big". So I stop the pump, and take the nozzle out, at which point the overflowing e85 spills down the side of my car into a puddle on the ground which appeared to be water. Apparently the auto stop on the pump is not working. I go inside to get a towel (because this is the kind of station that never refills towels or window washer), and the clerk asks for me to pay, at which point I do, like a complete moron with my mind more concerned with what the ethanol is doing to my new car's paint. I walk out with the towels and wipe off the car, then look at the owner's manual to see that the tank has a capacity of 17 gallons. I never saw fuel spilling out, but it had to go somewhere. I just paid $56.35 for 25.626 gallons. After arguing with the clerk, who i could barely understand and could barely understand me, showing him the capacity in my owner's manual, calling the citgo distributor as he told me to (who said to call the station owner), I gave up. Back at work I tried Citgo's website (all stations independantly owned and operated) and called the station again, got the name of the owner (Multani Petroleum), called them only to hear that they no longer own that station. I once again gave up.

As I was leaving the station, the clerk put an "out of order" plastic bag over the nozzle, and I assume it will sit there for weeks if not months. The small E85 sign in front sits behind a snow bank, and has no price numbers on it.

It's difficult enough to get regular unleaded in a city full of gas stations that are improperly maintained, dirty, overpriced, and not customer friendly, how is one supposed to take advantage of this new fuel, and aid in helping set up an infrastucture that could help us consume less oil?

Also, any ideas how I can get my money back?
posted by bradn to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As far as getting your money back: it seems unlikely that you'll ever get a dime from anyone other than the actual owner/manager of the station where the overfueling happened. See if you can get his/her number from a clerk. Don't hold your breath, and seriously consider letting go of that twenty bucks.
posted by cortex at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2007

I doubt you'll get your money back, at least without taking them to small-claims court, and at that point you have to decide what the value of your time is like. If the place didn't sound so scummy, I'd say maybe you can talk to the owner/manager, and see if they'll give you a refund as a goodwill gesture, since you're an "early adopter" and it might make sense to make friends. But that would be mostly their gift to you, I think.

They're probably going to say, if you push them, that you were pumping the gas, you should have known the capacity of your own tank, and you basically are responsible for the spilled fuel. You might be able to go back and forth with them because of the auto-shut-off not working, but I doubt you'll get anything out of them without a big fight if they don't want to.

Just FYI, usually there is a small hole right below the fueling port/opening (where the gas cap screws in) that catches overflowing fuel and funnels it away down below the car, before it starts running down the outside. They get clogged pretty easily and don't work too well, but I've noticed them on the last 3 cars I've driven (2 VWs and a Jeep).

I had a diesel pump do something similar to me once, and I didn't notice that anything was wrong until I noticed that my foot was in a puddle of diesel. I was so happy that the thing had just overflowed, and that there wasn't a horrendous leak in my fuel system, that I never thought about getting the money for the fuel back.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2007

Congratulations! You just bought a brand new 2007 automobile with alternative fuel capabilities, which means you have already learned a valuable lesson somewhere along the way. After all that, what's another $20, to have learned the same lesson on a microcosmic scale? When certain fuel providers cunduct sloppy and unethical business and don't meet your consumer standards, SEEK ALTERNATIVE FUEL OPTIONS. Which you will certainly now be sure to do, taking your business to other stations.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, proposing a story about the need for more ethanol providers in the area, and shove a little bad publicity this station's way.
posted by hermitosis at 12:24 PM on February 27, 2007

All gasoline pumps will have inspection and licensing tags, from the state agency which regulates and inspects said pumps. Or... let's see... Google... Here we go.

Contact these people and file a complaint. At a minimum they'll make sure the pump is fixed.
posted by jellicle at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2007

Response by poster: thanks. As a side note, I'm sitting here wondering how 8 or 9 gallons of ethanol could have overflowed and dripped to the ground as I stood right there and not noticed, and it struck me: the overflow that came out when I took out the nozzle came out after I stopped the pump, and it came out of the vapor recovery sleeve. Is it possible that the vapor recovery system sucked up all of the excess fuel?
posted by bradn at 12:43 PM on February 27, 2007

How does this have anything to do with the fact that you were pumping E85? It sounds like the exact same thing could have happened pumping anything from gasoline to jet fuel.
posted by bcnarc at 12:46 PM on February 27, 2007

I'd call the pump inspection/license people, and report that their pump somehow managed to put 25 gallons of ethanol into your 15 gallon tank.

You'll never see your $20 again, but at least you'll help prevent the same thing from happening to somebody else, and you'll likely smack the owner with a fine.
posted by PEAK OIL at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2007

I'm nowhere near Milwaukee, but I see that the station is affiliated with a large multinational oil company. Why not fire off a disgruntled (paper!) letter to head office? Worst that can happen is that they'd ignore it and you'd be out the price of a stamp, but they might just send you some fuel coupons, and get the offending station to pull up their socks.
posted by hangashore at 1:04 PM on February 27, 2007

Response by poster: bcnarc, that wasn't the point, but I have pumped gasoline hundreds of times and it's never happened once.

My point is - how are us "early adopters" supposed to support a new fuel when the same station operators that put minimal into maintaining regular gasoline equipment are now supposed to maintain new fuel equipment. I'm sure that equipment is very similar, but obviously they are having some problems. Are there any other e85 users out there that can share their experience?
posted by bradn at 1:05 PM on February 27, 2007

Yep. There was a station that was overfilling/overflowing -- all of the pumps were doing the same thing -- near my house in Oregon when I was in high school. I filed a complaint with the web form, and the state shut down the gas station. It closed later that month until a new (and more ethical) owner bought it.

Interesting... Ethanol and Ethical are nearly the same words.
posted by SpecialK at 1:07 PM on February 27, 2007

Fuel Finder Link

MapQuest has a fuel price finder. Note the drop-down menu for the first search item lets you choose alternative fuels.

A government site for finding alternative fuels
posted by nanojath at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2007

Also, the E85 may have been cheaper than the comparable gasoline but you also get fewer MPGs with it as well.
posted by mmascolino at 1:51 PM on February 27, 2007

Congratulations! You just bought a brand new 2007 automobile with alternative fuel capabilities, which means you have already learned a valuable lesson somewhere along the way.

"Early adoption is a mug's game," perhaps?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:00 PM on February 27, 2007

There's no way you spilled that much fuel. Your state inspects these pumps. I'm not sure what state youre in or what agency you should talk to, but you should file an official complaint with the goverment. Might as well send something to the BBB too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:08 PM on February 27, 2007

I'd call the pump inspection/license people, and report that their pump somehow managed to put 25 gallons of ethanol into your 15 gallon tank.

This is the proper answer.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2007

Did you pay via credit card? Call your credit card company and say you were overcharged. Which you were - your tank holds 17g, you drove away with 17g, the station is legally required to maintain a pump that has a working autoshutoff.

They'll send you a form, you'll fill it out. Even if you don't prevail it'll be a PITA for the station.
posted by phearlez at 8:15 PM on February 27, 2007

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