State of Florida Dealing with Tainted Gasoline

The state is stepping in to make sure bad gasoline that may have damaged thousands of cars in Florida doesn’t make it to the pumps in the future. The problem occurred in south and central Florida over Memorial Day weekend when sulfur in a new gas blend corroded sensors in fuel gauges.

While the gas companies battle it out with car owners, state officials are kicking in an emergency rule to protect other motorists.

This is the part that’s been damaged in potentially thousands of cars around Florida. It’s a sensor from a fuel gauge. The sensor was corroded by the high elemental sulfur content in a new gasoline blend intended to meet tougher environmental standards.

Eric Hamilton is a chemist in the petroleum testing division of the State Department of Agriculture, which oversees gasoline quality.

“The fuel gauges froze to full, so consumers didn’t know if they had gas or not,” Eric says.

Attorneys pursuing a class action lawsuit say the gas companies want to get off cheap. Shell and Chevron Texaco only want to pay for the damaged fuel sensors, not the more extensive engine problems angry motorists fear will show up later.

Gas industry insiders tell me this problem points to a larger issue. Environmental standards keep changing while automobile technology is also changing, so you could see similar problems down the road.

In the meantime, Florida’s agriculture commissioner is filing an emergency rule with new testing requirements for fuel as it comes into the state. Now, sulfur content will be checked before the gas gets to the pumps.

Hamilton says, “We’ve tried to narrow it down to a test and a standard where we can be sure consumers’ vehicles will be protected.”

The state says so far Shell and Chevron are trying to make good on the public relations disaster, but the consumer complaint division says it stands ready to step in if motorists aren’t treated fairly.

The high-sulfur gas went to about 300 stations in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Shell customers can call 1-888-502-7323 or 1-866-562-6690 or Chevron Texaco customers can call 1-800-363-8900.

Customers having trouble with the claims process can contact the state’s consumer complaint help line at 1-800-HELP-FLA.