Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part III: And then someone poisoned the car.

Some things are unavoidable. As it turns out, occasionally accidentally poisoning your car is one of them.

Unfortunately, sometimes pipes burst, tanks leak, deliveries get mixed up, or janky gas stations in the middle of nowhere try to cut costs by selling gas with a prize inside.
(The prize is extra chemicals.)
All told, it’s not really that unlikely that you’ll end up with a bad batch of fuel that has the potential to turn your car into a very expensive, highly impractical paperweight.

We filled up in Mississippi, and again in Tennessee. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the trouble started — it’s not like we could call a gas station and say, “hey, you just broke my car,” and expect whoever answers the phone to just sort of agree with us, you know? Either way, we ended up en route to Nashville when the check engine light came on, and we started feeling a pretty serious knock.

We were on the highway, and not far from Nashville, so we looked up a mechanic in the area and got there as fast as we could. Several hundred dollars later, we had replaced all the spark plugs, tested the fuel for diesel several times, and were not really any closer to an answer. The mechanics were pretty awesome about everything, though, and did their best to get us back on the road as soon as possible. We managed to get home, driving the last seven-odd hours with our fingers crossed and me fervently hoping that the travel protection amulet I’d made also extended to car engines.

(It did. We limped it back to our apartment’s parking space just in time for the car to decide it was not going to start again.)

Another mechanic and yet more hundreds of dollars later, we managed to get the car running — after dropping the fuel tank, flushing it out, and accepting a very flexible definition of the word “running.”

If you’ve been in this situation, it is scary (in a very how-am-I-going-to-get-home-oh-god-isn’t-this-basically-the-beginning-of-House-of-1000-Corpses way), frustrating, and infuriating. It’s expensive to fix, and it isn’t even a problem you can try to avoid to begin with, unless you visually inspect and thoroughly test every drop of fuel that goes in your car. So what do you do if you end up with a tank full of tainted gas?

As it turns out, this:

  1. Call your insurance company. Your coverage may handle tainted gas, but it’s important that you contact them before having any repairs done. Damage from tainted gas is not your fault, or a consequence of regular wear and tear on your vehicle, so it’s not really any different than any other damage someone else inflicts on your vehicle. You’ll have to be able to provide some proof that the damage was from contaminated fuel, though, so…
  2. Narrow down where you got the gas from. This is important — save your receipts when you get gas. Always have the last receipt from the last place at which you filled up. We didn’t think to keep our receipts, so we had to go by a bank statement. It made the process a bit longer and more tedious.
  3. Call the Department of Weights and Measures for that station’s county. As it turns out, they’re the ones with jurisdiction over this, and they’ll see what’s up.

It should be noted that, if you have a feeling you somehow ended up with diesel-tainted fuel, it is not a super great idea to keep driving your car. The longer you drive with contaminated gas, the more extensive (and expensive) the damage is going to be. We didn’t have much of a choice — the first mechanic said we’d be alright if we added some octane booster and let everything cycle through, and we didn’t have another way home.

All told, it was definitely one of the more nerve-wracking trips I’ve ever been on, and I once went on a cross-country train ride where someone died, four people got arrested, and we spent an extra twelve hours stranded in the Utah salt flats. True story.

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