Pain at the pump means more than the high price of fuel for owner operator, Marty. After fueling up his semi at a truck stop in Southern Illinois last year, his truck broke down. “I fueled up and made it a couple of miles down the highway when my truck started shaking and then stopped.” Stranded on the side of the road, Marty soon learned several other truckers had the same problem from that truck stop. While some of these drivers’ engines were just knocking and running rough, others couldn’t even make it off the lot after filling up.
Marty called the truck stop’s general manager, who notified the corporate office. The pumps were shut down and no further damage to other customers occurred. A government representative came out to investigate, and in the end, wrote a report stating the diesel fuel was contaminated.
It’s not uncommon to hear of a truck stop or gas station with dirty fuel. The problem may have originated at the refinery, during transport by the distributor, or at the fueling station. While damages to a car can be expensive, the damage to a heavy truck’s diesel engine and other heavy truck parts can be devastating. Repair costs are skyrocketing, parts are hard to find, and the resulting downtime can be financially crippling.
If your equipment is down because of contaminated fuel, here are 10 things to remember:
1. Preserve a fuel sample.
Ask the mechanic to put a large sample of the bad fuel in a container with a seal. This fuel sample is your evidence. Saving it is very important because it’s up to you to prove the fuel was contaminated.
2. Notify the Authorities.
Notify the governmental entity responsible for investigating and holding companies responsible for the production and sale of contaminated fuel. Push for them to go to the site immediately, take samples and write a report.
3. Notify the at-fault party and file a claim.
Contact the fuel provider and make a claim ASAP. Ask how they will pay for the repair. If you have a factory warranty or extended warranty on parts that were damaged, contact the manufacturer or warranty company to ask how to move forward. Even if you handle the matters by phone, email summaries to each party. Confirm they received the emails.
4. Save the damaged truck parts.
Ask your mechanic to save the parts damaged by the contamination. Your mechanic will also need to explain in detail how the bad fuel damaged the parts.
5. Get an expert on your side.
Hire a skilled, heavy equipment insurance adjuster to write a report of the damage if the mechanic isn’t able to do so.
6. Pictures speak a thousand words.
Take good photos and videos of the contaminated fuel and the truck parts damaged. Perhaps take a video of your mechanic explaining how the dirty fuel damaged the parts.
7. File a claim on your own policy?
If you have comprehensive insurance and the loss is significant, consider making a claim. While no one wants to file a claim on their own policy, sometimes it’s more important to get the equipment back on the road and stay in business. Before filing a claim, ask your insurance agent if fuel contamination is covered under your insurance policy and how it will affect your standing with your insurance company.
8. Proof of losses.
Save all receipts of all repairs, parts, labor, towing, hotel, rental, etc. If you have a tough time holding onto receipts, take a picture of each with your phone and put in a virtual folder for later use.
9. Get the names and contact information of all witnesses.
This includes employees at the fuel station and any other victims of the same fuel contamination. It may be a great help later if the truck stop denies they were responsible.
10. Call your lawyer for advice.
It is important to have a legal team on your side in case the other side refuses to compensate you for your losses.
Fight for Your Rights
It’s up to you to protect your business and truck. This includes removing the contaminated fuel from your equipment as soon as possible. It may not be as easy as just draining the fuel tank. Everything that the fuel touched between the tank and the engine may need to be flushed and cleaned as well. Demand the at-fault party reimburse you for all these costs.
Contaminated fuel can cause large repair bills. It’s up to you to prove the repairs are the result of the bad fuel. So, whether the contamination came from sediment in corroded pipes or tanks, a poor mixture from the distributor, some type of fraud, or something else, proceed against the at-fault parties for your repair expenses, any out of pocket losses due to the damage, and all resulting downtime losses of income.