Tainted Fuel at High Desert Gas Station Leaves Some Cars Damaged

With more than a dozen customers reporting problems, company officials say they've drained the fuel and are looking for a cause

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    NEWSLETTERS

    At least 17 people claim the gas they bought from a Pilot station in Oak Hills was bad, caused their cars to stop working and smelled like beer. Tony Shin reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. from Oak Hills Friday, July 18, 2014. (Published Friday, Jul 18, 2014)

    Pumps at a popular high desert gas station have been temporarily shut down because of tainted gas that more than a dozen local residents said damaged their cars.

    The gas, which some said looked and smelled like beer, was sold at a Pilot Flying J gas station in Oak Hills, just off the 15 Freeway south of Victorville.

    Jackie McDowell and her daughter Madison said it didn’t take long to realize something was wrong soon after filling up the tank on Madison’s 2009 BMW recently. A few hours after the fill-up, the car refused to turn back on.

    "It's a press button start. You press the button and let go,” Jackie McDowell said. “ And it just made that ‘chung chung chung’ noise."

    Madison was upset.

    "I was about ready to cry. It's my baby," she said.

    The car had to be towed to a BMW dealership, and that’s when Jackie’s husband says workers there told him the tank was filled with bad fuel that had a strange odor.

    "It was just something that smelled like beer but it did not smell like gas," said Mark McDowell. “Real thick, dark beer.”

    Company officials say they have gotten at least 17 complaints from customers, and they are still investigating exactly what tainted the gas and how many people may have been affected.

    Soon after the car was towed, Madison went on Facebook and found other people who also claimed to have had similar car troubles recently after filling up at the same Pilot.

    Local car shops and workers at a nearby Honda dealership confirmed they had gotten at least seven cars connected to the tainted gas.

    Mark McDowell says the repairs aren’t cheap.

    "Draining the fuel tank, cleaning the fuel tank, replacing the fuel pump because it has a filter inside of it, cleaning out the fuel lines, replacing the spark plugs and possibly cleaning the fuel injection systems,” he said. “And right now we are at about $1,900."

    On Thursday, the McDowell family filed a claim with Pilot, and hours later the company shut down their underground storage tanks. They posted warning signs on some of the pumps, and workers began cleaning the tanks and flushing the lines Friday morning.

    Mark said company officials reassured him that they would pay for any repairs.

    "That they accept full responsibility now and that to turn the receipts into them when we are all done."

    In a statement, the company said they are working to determine the cause of the issue, and will work with customers to get the repairs done.

    "If any customer believes that he or she has been affected, please contact customer service at 877-866-7378 with a receipt or credit card number used for the fuel purchase,” Pilot said in its statement. “ If it is determined that the customer purchased the contaminated product, Pilot Flying J will reimburse the customer for all costs associated with the claim.

    "In these infrequent instances, Pilot Flying J has worked with customers to reach an agreeable solution as the company is doing now. The safety and convenience of our customers is top priority at Pilot Flying J,” the statement continued.

    Meanwhile, Madison is encouraging other victims to immediately contact pilot and file a claim.

    "I'm glad they're stepping up and agreeing to pay for everything," she said.

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