What does a batch of bad fuel really cost you?

No-one likes to get a batch of bad fuel.  But it can happen.  It did happen – to me!  I thought I’d share my story to explain how it happened, what it cost to repair, and share a few ideas on how to prevent it.  The good news here is that if you are insured with Club 4X4, then you are covered for contaminated fuel, and we can help you through the process.

How it happened

I’d just finished doing some filming for a segment of Pat Callinan’s 4X4 adventures (yes, you’ll see my mug on the show, along with my beautiful family).  I was heading back towards civilisation in Northern NSW, and the fuel light came on.  I know in the Everest that I’ve got a little more available in the tank than the computer tells me, but I was also towing out Tvan so I wasn’t sure if I’d make it back to the next major town.

On scene with the family for some filming – it will air on TV sometime soon!
My son having a go at skimming some rocks…
Our setup by the River – It was magic…
The Everest is such an under-rated offroader. It performed brilliantly off-road…

Anyway, I jumped onto the inbuilt Navigation system and looked up the nearest fuel stations.  I found one that was listed as a major brand about 60km away in the direction I was headed, which I was confident I could reach. 

When I pulled up to the service station, it was a different brand to that listed on the navigation system, but the kids were hungry and tired and it had a takeaway shop too which meant it ticked the boxes.

I filled up a full tank, paid the cashier, then joined the family for lunch.  Everything had gone perfectly with the trip so far, and before long we jumped back into the Everest to continue our journey back towards Coffs Harbour.

I got no more than 20km down the road, when up a big hill I heard a beep, and noticed the Everest start to decelerate.  I looked down and the error message was ‘low fuel pressure’.  I pulled over half way up the hill, turned the vehicle off, and waited 5 minutes.  I had a Scangauge so I attempted to try to reset any error codes, although there were none showing in the system.

When I went to start the car again, it fired up, but straight away the low fuel pressure warning came on.  It clearly wasn’t going to go away.  I didn’t want to stay on the side of a hill, so I limped the Everest and trailer to the top of the hill and then pulled over and called the Roadside assistance number.

Pulled over at the top of the hill. At least we had plenty of food and water, and somewhere to sleep if we’d needed it!

They sent me a text with a link to record my GPS location (despite me having the co-ordinates), and then sent someone out. 

Something you never want to see, but when you see the fuel sample you can understand…

Several hours later, a tow truck arrived and loaded the vehicle onto the tilt tray. The nearest ford dealer was 2 hours away, in Coffs Harbour so that’s where we were heading. On the way, I looked up accommodation, deciding to settle on the closest motel to the dealership so I could chase them the next morning.  This would also ensure the family got a good nights sleep given the hours sitting on the side of the road and the fact it would be well after dark when we arrived back in Coffs Harbour.

I rang ahead to the motel and confirmed they could store the Tvan there until the vehicle was fixed, and the towing company dropped the Everest out the front of the Ford Service centre and Tvan at our Motel. We ordered room service, and then went to bed. 

What happened next

First thing the next morning, I walked down the road to the Ford Service centre with the vehicle keys and had a chat.  I have to say that the guys at Mike Blewitt Ford in Coffs were fantastic.  They listened to my story with interest, and got to work straight away to diagnose the problem.  They offered me a loan vehicle while mine was being repaired, which meant the family wasn’t trapped in the motel, and also promised to keep me updated.

Given the 11am checkout of the Motel, I asked for an update then so I could book another night if necessary.  True to their word, they called me at around 11 to confirm they were of the belief that it was a dodgy fuel issue, but that they would need another 24 hours to work through things.

I booked another night’s accommodation and took the kids to the Big Banana.  Later that afternoon I got a call to say that they had drained the tank and it was definitely the fuel.  I popped over and had a look, and the fuel certainly didn’t smell right and it also had bits of debris floating in it.

Pretty sure that there shouldn’t be sediment in here…

At that point, the guys explained that the fuel pump had burned out as a result of the contamination, meaning it had to be replaced, and that the fuel lines were all wrecked too.  The team at Mike Blewitt Ford pulled all stops to get parts and get me back on the road, which I’m really grateful for! 

Coffs Harbour

Early morning walks to tire the kids out while waiting for news…

I got out early in the morning with the kids and did some walks.  There is a beautiful breakwall and also a beautiful walk out to Mutton Island from the jetty in the centre of town.  It was magic getting out there early, to tire the kids out and take my mind of what else was happening…

Car Ready again – D+2

At the end of our second day in Coffs Harbour, I got a call to say that the Everest was running again.  I went over to pick it up and the team ran me through what they had done:

  • Drained and cleaned the tank
  • Replaced all fuel lines
  • Replaced the fuel pump (which it turns out had burned out due to the debris int eh tank)
  • Flushed the injectors and engine with 35L of clean diesel, along with additives in an attempt to clean them

It turns out injectors were in short supply, so if they had replaced them, I would have been waiting for a while, which is why they did what they did.  The good news is that after this, the Everest came back to life.

What was the cost?

The costs incurred were as below:

Repairs:                              $2,600.00

Tow:                                    $450.00 (the vehicle was covered by Roadside assistance, but we had to pay for the Tvan)

Accommodation:              $750.00

Incidentals:                        $400.00

Total:                                  $4,200.00

What did the fuel station say?

Once I had seen the fuel myself, I called the Service Station to advise them I had broken down 20km after filling up. I advised them that there were particles in the fuel I wanted them to know so on-one else would breaking down from the fuel.  They got quite defensive, and told me that the mechanic was probably lying to me, or that my fuel tank was the problem.  I let them know I’d be doing some testing and be in touch, surprised at the response.

Getting the fuel tested

I decided to get the fuel tested to understand what it was.  I took about 10L of the fuel from the dealer, and when I got back to Sydney I sent it off for testing.  It cost $265.00 to get the fuel tested, and it also took about a week to get the results given the comprehensive nature of the tests.

When I finally got the result, it showed that the fuel itself was within the standard specification that is allowed with the exception of solid particles being in it, which were visible to the naked eye.  Unfortunately the testing isn’t able to identify what the particles were, but this was sufficient to be confident that the fuel was contaminated.

The outcome?

I was lucky the injectors didn’t need to be replaced, which would have increased the bill significantly.  But, the episode had cost $4,465.00 including fuel testing, and 3 days of my trip. 

What would you do next?

Given the result of the fuel testing confirming contamination, you could attempt to recover from the fuel station by sending them a letter, along with copies of the fuel receipt, and documentation from the roadside provider confirming the time and place of the breakdown, invoice for the repairs and costs incurred as a result, requesting payment of the costs incurred.

Whether you’d get anywhere would probably depend on how hard you chased, but it isn’t always easy to recover even with the evidence.

The good news here is that Club 4X4 covers fuel contamination.  Yep – that’s right.  If you’ve got dodgy fuel, it is covered by your policy (although misfuelling is not covered).

Key learnings

  • Always keep your fuel receipts.  This will prove what you bought, and when.
  • Fill up at name brand service stations where possible, and avoid ones where you see the tanker filling up  – that stirs up sediment from the tank which needs to settle to avoid you picking that up
  • Make sure the fuel filters in your vehicle are regularly changed.
  • Even if you have cover for dodgy fuel, it’s likely you’ll initially be out of pocket for repairs – the testing process that needs to happen takes 5 business days to complete, so you’ll likely need to get repairs done and then attempt a claim, unless you are prepared to delay the repairs until testing has been completed.
  • A secondary fuel filter may help.  Steve Etcell from AE Co 4X4 recommends a post filter, because it allows the factory filter to capture bigger particles and the secondary filter to grab finer ones.  Unfortunately in this case, that kind of setup may not have prevented the fuel pump from burning out, but it could have reduced the contamination into the fuel lines and injectors.  Please speak to your manufacturer about warranty before fitting a secondary filter if your vehicle is still in the warranty period
  • Understand whether your insurance provider will cover contaminated fuel (separate from misfuelling which is a different issue), so you know whether you can rely on them to help you through the issue, or whether you’ll have to try to recover from the service station yourself.

I hope you’ve found this as interesting as I did going through the process.  If you’ve got further questions, please feel free to ask!

Aiden

Ready to hit the road again – thanks again to Mike Blewitt Ford for the fantastic service!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Comments 31

  1. Great write up, thank you for sharing. Would be beneficial to know just where this gas station is, so that others can avoid.

    1. Yes it would, but then there are potential issues with litigation.
      On a side note – we don’t live in the US and he didn’t fill up with Gas……..

  2. Hi Aiden

    Did insurance cover the cost of accommodation and car repairs, a tow to the total of $4,465.00? Just curious exactly what is covered.

    Malcolm

  3. I don’t understand what caused the pump to burn out? The larger particles should have been stopped by the filter and the test results come back good besides the particles? Interesting that it said low fuel pressure which may be because the pump failed and no pre emotive ones like filter blockage etc….

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Josh,

      There were clearly particles in the fuel and a sludge like substance too. I’m led to believe that this worked its way past the filters.

      Aiden

  4. Had a similar issue with bad fuel in my TDV6 Range Rover sport. Had always bought fuel from the United servo in Casuarina, Darwin. The fuel was the colour of milk coffee and end result $10,500 repair bill, lucky Shannon’s paid. Despite only having fuel receipts from this servo United denied any issues but their fuel is well known by mechanics in Darwin for water contamination during our wet season. Changed fuel company and fitted a Water Watch.

  5. As a Fuel Tanker Driver I’d like to point out that the statement about avoiding filling up where you see a Tanker on-site is slightly misleading. This might apply to older Servos with the original steel tanks in use that do have sludge, rust and sediments in them but newer Stations have fibreglass tanks that are very clean nowadays. So if you fill up at a new or refurbished site you will be fine as the fuel from the terminal to the site has been tested and is up to specification. Any contamination in the fuel comes from the individual site. Cheers

  6. Hi Aiden, I am just a bit curious as to the items that the ford dealer advised and charged you for.
    1: Drained and cleaned the Fuel Tank. = OK
    2: Replaced all fuel lines. = now I don’t know much about Ford’s but there would probably only be some small rubber hoses, but most of the fuel line would be steel tubing.
    As the car is reasonably new, would not the dealer just replace the rubber hoses, and flush the steel pipes?
    3: Replace the Fuel Pump. = is the fuel pump on a ford before the fuel filter? if so I could believe that it may have been burnt out by the “Solid Particles” in the contaminated fuel. BUT, if the Fuel Pump is after the filter then supposedly the filter should have strained these particles out? or was the filter so blocked that NO fuel was getting to the injectors at all?
    4: Flushed the Injectors and Engine with 35 liter’s of diesel.= Why would they do this? The Fuel filter is in the system to stop any particles large enough to block an injector nozzle ( larger than 2 microns). An “engine” does not need to be “flushed” at any stage of its life with diesel fuel.
    I have grave thoughts about this story.
    thank you
    Ian

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Ian,

      Some really good questions here. I must admit, I’ve shared this information based on what I was told by the service manager. My understanding is that the particles also formed a kind of sludge. I was told that they found this sludge in the fuel pump, and also fuel lines, and that the hoses had all swelled as a result. They said they generally replace the fuel lines after contamination because it is hard to clean, but I’ll have to ask them for some more detail to answer the question about the fuel lines. The sludge pretty much fully blocked the filter, which contributed to the fuel pump burning out (along with the sludge) is what I’m led to believe.

      I’ll chase some more information for you.

      Aiden

  7. Strange about the Tvan recovery being extra as I had a break down 14kms north of Erldunda some 3 years ago and the towing of my camper trailer back to Alice was considered as part of the tow so I guess it depends on what state and what roadside assist you have.

      1. Post
        Author

        Hi Neville,

        It was about 2.5hrs to travel back to Coffs Harbour from where we broke down, the guy would have had to travel to us, and he spent 10-15 minutes at either end loading and unloading, so I don’t think it is crazy for over 5 hours work running a big truck. Plus a captive audience – you don’t want to leave your trailer on the side of the road…

        Regards,

        Aiden

    1. dont be fooled Chris, i have seen and spoken to many people who’s tow vehicle has broken down and had to pay obscene amounts of money to get their caravan towed along behind the tilt tray or the towie would just leave it on the side of the road where it was and its your job to work out how to get it to the destination.
      one bloke had his car, caravan and roadside assist all covered by the same insurance company but because the roadside assist only covered his car he had to pay $600 for the tow to the next town. the towies excuse for the blatantly extortionate charge is that its treated as a separate job and thats what it would cost to come and get it.

      1. Like I said Glenn it could depend on what state you are in and what roadside assist you have, my roadside assist allowed for 300kms of towing including the trailer for the 400km round trip for the tow truck it cost me $360 including camper trailer.

  8. Could it have possibly been crap already in your tank that hadn’t settled from your fill up at that station? You said you were running pretty low before driving to that station. What would be the outcome then for the insurance? Could they prove it was the fuel from the last station and not negligence on the part of the driver?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Dan,
      Good question! I guess this is technically possible, but I’d say highly unlikely given that I’ve only had the vehicle since March this year, and I was doing some pretty tough off-roading prior, which would have shaken up the tank and caused the issue prior. The fuel light was on, but I still had 10L in the tank based on what I filled up with prior. I’m not an expert in this area, but I find it interesting it happened only 20km after filling up at the service station. Why now, and not before? As far as negligence goes, it would depend. If you misfuel (unleaded in Diesel or other), then that is clearly user error. But otherwise, if you have the receipt and it happened relatively soo after filling up what else is it likely to be? Thats the great part about insurance that covers contamination – it doesn’t matter if they can claim back rom the service station or not, you get covered as long as testing confirms the contamination.

      Hope this helps,

      Aiden

    2. Getting the second sample direct from the pump in a sterile container which showed contamination rules out the vehicle being at fault.

  9. Great write up, the cost can be quite significant. I may have to check my insurance policy to see if I’m covered.
    A second filter can be handy but it can also cause the injectors/engine to under fuel. The trick is in how many microns the filter is.

    1. Hi Karen

      Info regarding microns for filters, and I can only comment on my Dmax specs is that a modern Dmax factory filter is 8 microns. I have installed a Fuel Master 2 micron filter after the factory one. The fuel flow rate is still above factory requirements and have had no issues since install over a year ago.

  10. Hi guys,
    Very interesting read and this is a topic which Inthink about regularly as I have a common rail disel. Having said that and doing my research and watching countless videos etc I have installed a pre filter but prior to this and even to this day I use a product called fuel doctor in every tank I fill. Have a look at the videos on YouTube to form your own opinion. I swear by it.

    Reg

  11. Great article, raises some more questions though. Is this the price of modern technology.
    My 2009 hilux, common rail injection, has had a few contaminated diesel fuel issues over its life.
    However, a filter warning light comes on, I have ample time to choose where to stop.
    Then the fix is DYI, undo the filter container, drain it, replace the filter, or flush the existing and get back on the road.
    These days I also use a high quality fuel conditioner. It’s very worth the price.
    Cheers.

  12. Where the fault can be attributed to third party, the insurance company would normally chase this up so you dont get saddled with a claim and increased premium. Did you refer the evidence to Club 4×4 and what is their position on this.

  13. Very interesting article, it points out the need to be ever vigilant when purchasing. Pity you did not name the supplier of the polluted fuel! look forward to future articles.

  14. I’m with Ian Longston.
    There are at least several anomalies in your story Aiden.
    One thing for sure, if I find myself in your situation at a Ford dealer, I would be sitting on their shoulder or asking for photographic evidence of the “sludge” being in areas past the filters, and I also find it interesting that the rubber fuel lines were swollen…..
    I would be interesting to take your story to an unbiased independent expert diesel mechanical workshop.

  15. I picked up a bad lot of fuel 220 litres in Karumba in LC200 and had problems with the vehicle going into limp mode before we reached Burketown. Had the vehicles fuel filter changed, got as far as Adels Grove, Riversleigh and was flat towed back to Burketown. Had 2 nights accommodation RACQ via NRMA towed back on a tilt tray to Mt. Isa. Spent the next 10 days getting the vehicle repaired. The fuel tank cleaned. pump replaced, fuel lines cleaned and injectors and replaced the injector pump. Total cost $10,000.00.
    GIO Insurance covered all repair costs plus part of the additional accommodations costs. NRMA picked up the $3500.00 tab for tow from Burketown to Mt. Isa and Accommodation costs in Burketown.

  16. I’m thinking that an appropriate strainer fitted to the pump pick up should have avoided the problem altogether
    Do the Everest have one ?

  17. you no it could be that you ran the tank to low and it stirred up rubbish in your tank i had a Isuzu demax once and i had to fight the dealer to change the filter ever 5000 km in the end i had to do it myself, but it was always full of crap so we flushed the fuel tank as it appeared to have crap in the tank from new.

  18. Hi Aiden, If I understand your policy correctly, club4x4 allowed you to submit the insurance claim and proceed to have the repairs done prior to club4x4 receiving the independent proof of the contaminated fuel.
    Ive spoken with other insurance companies that wont approve repairs until the fuel contamination report has been received and accepted which could take weeks.
    As a fellow 4x4er and potentially stuck in a remote location, the first thing I want to do is get the vehicle repaired and back on the road which seems to be a more practical approach by club4x4. Good to see a sensible approach to this problem.

    1. Hi Jed,

      That’s a tough one to answer, but we will usually work with our client to get things streamlined. Yes, like others, we need to assess the fuel sample to ensure there is contamination that may have caused the damage. Often with the client agreement we will fast track things on the understanding that if the sample comes back not supporting the damage then the costs are on the client.

      There’s no one size fits all approach i’m afraid.

      Kalen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *