LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) - The tainted fuel that heavily damaged a Leander's woman sport-utility vehicle over the summer contained nearly 10 times the amount of ethanol that is supposed to be sold at commercial gas pumps, a KXAN investigation shows.
Angie Fitzgerald, a mother of two, contacted KXAN after the station that sold her the tank of gas which she believes caused the problems told her it was not at fault. This also after she had taken the vehicle to the dealership for repairs that cost nearly $3,000.
Now she's contemplating legal action in attempt to recoup her losses after not getting much help from a state regulatory agency.
KXAN first reported Fitzgerald's story in late August. She had put three-fourths of a tank of gas in her SUV at a Speedy Stop on U.S. Highway 183 in Leander.
"We were later told the gas tank was filled with something other than gas," said Fitzgerald.
Service technicians at Mac Haik Ford, the dealership where Fitzgerald bought the vehicle, showed her -- and KXAN News -- her fuel system. The lines, spark plugs and injectors were ruined, clogged with a soupy mix.
KXAN collected two samples of the liquid -- one for an independent testing lab, the other to give to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Here's what the private lab, Southern Petroleum Laboratories of Houston found: what was in Fitzgerald's tank was 95 percent ethanol. The lab says the rest was water. We could also see dirty, rust-like particles in the liquid.
- If you think you may have purchased bas gas or have any kind of problem at the pump, the Texas Department of Agriculture says to report it immediately by calling 1-800-TELL-TDA, or file your complaint online. The Department also has a program that can be downloaded on a mobile device to report issues with the sale of fuel.
Ethanol is a bio-fuel made from corn or sugarcane. It's commonly blended with gasoline to help the fuel burn cleaner. Normally, it's only 10 percent of every gallon. Most modern engines can't process more than that, unless they're in a flex-fuel vehicle.
Fitzgerald called the finding outrageous, questioning how a tank of mostly ethanol ended up in her conventional Ford SUV. She says there was no sign of tampering and continues to blame the gas station. But no one else complained of the same problem.
The spokesman for Speedy Stop, Mark Gresham, told KXAN News:
"We're 150 percent convinced the root cause of this issue did not come from our underground storage tanks," Gresham said.
He pointed out in the event of water or other contamination, sensors would kick in and immediately shut down the gas station pumps.
Responding to Fitzgerald's complaint, which came a week after she purchased the fuel from the Speedy Stop, the Texas Department of Agriculture's inspector found the fuel at the Speedy Stop appeared fine in a site test conducted a week later.
"It passed the visual inspection. But we always take it a step further. Our lab will take a look at that," department spokesman Bryan Black told KXAN. "If there are any problems, we're going to go back out there and take action at that gas station."
But by law, TDA couldn't test the fuel in Angie's tank, according to Black. He also said back in late August TDA would be interested in seeing KXAN's lab results. However, when KXAN shared them with him, Black only emailed a statement that said:
"Enforcement actions taken by the Texas Department of Agriculture must be based upon our inspection and investigation findings. (In Fitzgerald's complaint) TDA was unable to determine that fuel previously sold by the station failed to meet quality standards."
That explanation did not satisfy Fitzgerald. "To me it's inadequate," she said. "I mean, if there's no resolution, to me it's an inadequate investigation."
TDA said in its statement that Fitzgerald has the option of suing the gas station in small claims court for the cost of fixing her SUV.
She isn't ruling out that option.
"I have contacted an attorney," she said.
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