RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – You pump gas into your tank, drive off and not too many miles later, your car starts behaving out of the ordinary.
Eventually, the car stops. If you’re lucky, you were able to ease onto the side of the road somewhere safe. At first, you have no idea what happened — but when your car is towed to the nearest mechanic, that’s when you learn the gas you pumped was bad.
Maybe there was water in it — or diesel. The latter is what happened to Shequita Sledge on the night before last Thanksgiving in Caroline County.
“I just purchased my car,” said Sledge, recalling the night she barely made it off Interstate 95. “And I’m like, ‘Alright, did the car dealer sell me a lemon? Why is my car breaking down on me?’”
If you feel like you’ve been hearing more of these stories in central Virginia, on the 8News airwaves or from your family and friends, it’s possible that it’s happening more. The state confirmed that the problem is being reported far more than ever before — and that it is more common in central Virginia than in the rest of the state.
Last year, there were 13 central Virginia complaints filed with the state’s Department of Weights and Measures, which investigates fuel quality and quantity complaints. Investigators found six of those to be justified. By the end of September this year, the same region had 21 complaints filed. Investigators deemed 12 of them justified.
Notably, central Virginia’s share of complaints filed has jumped too, year-over-year.
The 21 central Virginia complaints this year represent nearly a third of the 67 complaints submitted statewide. Last year, only about a tenth of the Commonwealth’s complaints came from the region.
It’s important to note that official complaints only represent a portion of drivers who have fallen victim to poor quality or simply the wrong fuel. 8News has been contacted by dozens of drivers sidelined by bad gas over the past 11 months. Many, like Sledge, didn’t even realize the fuel was the problem at first — and once they did, they didn’t know to report the issue to the state until well after the bills had started stacking up.
“I had to pay babysitters to babysit my children, I had to take off work, it was a lot,” said Sledge. “So if I actually total it up, it was probably like $3,000.”
That’s in addition to having to buy an entirely new car, after selling her first car back to the dealership before she or they realized that fuel was to blame. Since she’d been traveling for Thanksgiving with her two sons, she needed a car to get home and had to bite the bullet.
Three and a half months later, after some back-and-forth with the fuel company’s insurer, Sledge received $1,500.
She advises anyone whose car stops soon after buying gas, to find the receipt for the gas purchase, keep track of every receipt for every expense after that — from mechanic work to unplanned meals — and immediately report the possibility of tainted gas to the Office of Weights and Measures.
If the problem is reported immediately, state technicians can immediately investigate, while the same fuel with quality issues may still be at the station.
A Weights and Measures spokesperson told 8News that, in some cases, claims are justified solely by an employee or the owner of the station admitting there’s a problem when the technician shows up to investigate weeks later when the report is finally filed.
By then, the fuel is long gone and any tests come back clean. Without that admission, it would be closed as “unjustified” and would likely make it much tougher for a driver to get reimbursed for money spent fixing their car after receiving tainted gas.
Sign up for gas stations’ rewards programs that save each transaction on an account and email receipts to you — or click, “Yes” next time when the screen prompts ask if you want a receipt. It could be the difference between getting your money back or being out thousands of dollars for good.