Ohio has no statewide fuel quality testing

Last April, Larry Hess filled up his diesel truck at a Huber Heights gas station. Less than 70 miles later, his check engine light came on for water in his fuel system. He still has some of what the dealership drained from his tank. PHOTO BY JOHN BEDELL
Last April, Larry Hess filled up his diesel truck at a Huber Heights gas station. Less than 70 miles later, his check engine light came on for water in his fuel system. He still has some of what the dealership drained from his tank. PHOTO BY JOHN BEDELL

Lawmakers to consider bill authorizing testing; county auditors want to conduct the inspections.

After four gas stations in the Miami Valley recently received regular unleaded gas that may have been contaminated with diesel fuel, some are questioning what they’re pumping into their vehicles.

And in Ohio, the question may not be known. An investigation by this newspaper found Ohio is one of three states without statewide fuel quality testing. That might change thanks to new legislation being introduced by lawmakers.

While the Montgomery County Auditor’s office can inspect gas pumps and makes sure customers are getting the same amount of gas they’re paying for, it does not regulate the quality of gas.

MORE: After bad gas at Speedway, auditor says it’s time for Ohio to test fuel quality

Motorist frustration reached a fever pitch in the past month as reports of “bad gas” stretched around the region. “Bad gas” is a catch-all term for contaminated gasoline that won’t properly combust.

A Speedway supplier delivered unleaded gasoline tainted with diesel fuel to four area gas stations: North Xenia Road in Enon, Arlington Road in Brookville, Miller Lane in Butler Twp. and Dayton Pike in Germantown.

Speedway said a delivery mix-up meant gasoline shipments to that station and three others last month may have been contaminated with diesel.

Shaun Demsmarais of Enon bought contaminated gas from the Speedway on North Xenia Road in Enon.

“It’s frustrating knowing we do everything to take care of our stuff and a mistake that somebody else made could cost up to $4-, $5- or $6,000,” he said.

MORE: Four Speedway stations received regular gas possibly contaminated with diesel

Wayne Wilson, the service manager at Wagner Subaru, said they’ve seen at least one vehicle with complications due to bad fuel.

“Our master technician did a fuel sample, and lo and behold, the fuel was a green color and that kind of was a red flag,” he said. “It looked like diesel.”

Last April, Larry Hess filled up his diesel truck at a Huber Heights gas station. Less than 70 miles later, his check engine light came on for water in his fuel system. He still has some of what the dealership drained from his tank.

“The diesel fuel here on top is kind of yellowish,” Hess explained. “That’s contaminated diesel fuel because it’s normally a light green. What the stuff is on the bottom, the dark brown stuff, we have no idea.”

MORE: Customers find diesel in gas tanks after visiting Enon station; some face hefty damages

Purchasing “bad gas” is not a myth. Sediment and water from runoff can enter underground holding tanks at gas stations through loosely tightened or worn-out fuel caps.

Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said it highlights the need for Ohio to implement a fuel quality testing program.

“These kinds of things can cost a lot of damage to someone’s car really quickly,” Keith said. “We’ve got inspectors in the field already. They are going to these stations. They’re checking these pumps. This would just be an added thing they would do. We already have the personnel in place.”

The auditor’s office inspects about 5,000 gas pumps a year in Montgomery County, but they don’t test gas.

“The only thing that auditors are authorized to do under the state laws is to test if (the pump is) working properly,” Keith said.

While Keith said he believes the error at the Speedway stations was a human error, he wants this to get the wheels turning on a fuel testing program.

“Hopefully things like this will serve as an impetus to try and get something done,” he said.

MORE: Battling bad fuel: Area auditors pushing for authority to test gas station supplies

Ohio is one of three states, along with Alaska and Nebraska, that do not check for fuel quality. The exception in Ohio is Summit County, home to Akron, which has a home-rule form of government and has checked gas quality since 2005.

A unique government structure there gives county inspectors the power to test gas on their own. They don’t need a state law to allow it. Summit County’s fiscal office said it tests about 178 stations every year.

Over the last eight years, they’ve received 15 formal complaints from drivers about bad gas.

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds said excessive rain can cause problems and lead to stranded drivers.

“When we get periods of sustained rain, our office starts hearing complaints about water in the tanks,” Reynolds said then. “I don’t have the authority to shut a station down for poor fuel, so stations continue to sell bad gas and Ohio consumers end up paying the price for engine repairs.”

Ohio lawmakers have tried to pass a statewide fuel testing law before, but those efforts have stalled at the Statehouse.

MORE: What causes tainted gas that strands drivers? Butler County auditor explains

“How many more vehicles are we going to see damaged because of no action on fuel quality testing in this state?” Reynolds said. “If the (Ohio Department of Agriculture) is not going to do the job, give local county auditors the authority to test, and we’ll reduce the number of vehicles damaged.”

Good news for county auditors arrived on Monday, according to Mike Brill of the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.

“The fuel quality testing bill has been introduced in the statehouse. It is H.B. 499 and would grant county auditors the authority to test fuel quality,” he said. “We have been talking to George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., and Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, about this legislation off-and-on since around this time last year.”

News Center 7’s John Bedell and Monica Castro contributed to this report.

TIPS FROM AAA

While AAA can’t verify if gas is tainted, here are tips for motorists:

• Play it safe. When drivability symptoms appear, park your car as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.

• Contact the gas station immediately to file a claim. Inquire if other consumers have reported similar problems. (Important that motorist has proof of gas purchase from that station)

• Have your vehicle towed to a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop that can determine the nature and severity of the problem.

• Potential repairs can include flushing the fuel tank and lines, replacing the fuel filter, and cleaning or replacing the fuel injectors.

BY THE NUMBERS

3 — States that don't have statewide fuel quality testing, including Ohio

4 — Area gas stations that last month received unleaded fuel reportedly mixed with diesel

5,000 — Montgomery County gas pumps inspected each year, but only for amount, not quality