CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Days after Channel 9 reported on gas stations accused of having tainted gasoline in their pumps, Ken Reilly and Gerry Petitt thought they were the next victims.
"Put gas in it. Pulled away from the tank and the car died," Reilly said.
Their Ford Thunderbird has 60,000 miles on it and they've never had issues.
So Channel 9’s report was in the back of their minds. It was even on the mind of the tow truck driver who came to help.
"He says 'You know, there's this report on TV -- I've been towing people,'" Reilly said.
So they contacted the state -- specifically the Standards Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Mecklenburg County gas reports:
And they weren't alone -- in the month after Channel 9's report aired, the state got 16 complaints from Mecklenburg County alone. During the same period last year, they got 16 for the entire state.
Our original investigation uncovered that 53 gasoline samples taken from stations in Mecklenburg County last year were condemned. That means water sediment or other problems were detected. Forty percent of the bad gas samples came from Circle Ks.
Channel 9 looked through years' worth of records.
At least seven stations in Mecklenburg County have been dinged by the state multiple times for selling condemned gasoline.
The Circle K on North Graham Street in Charlotte had samples condemned in 2017 for octane issues and in 2016 for water.
At the Quick Trip on Eastway Drive in Charlotte, water was discovered in the diesel fuel once in 2017 and twice in 2016.
When asked why these stations had repeat problems, state officials said there can be a variety of reasons -- and it's not always a sign of intentional negligence.
Factors can include how busy a station is – or if the gas in the tank has gotten too old.
When the state gets a complaint, it sends a mobile unit to conduct an initial test and take samples.
The samples are taken to a lab in Raleigh, where they are put through a battery of tests.
"We are out there every day, making sure quality standards are being met. And the gas companies are doing the same," said Marcus Helfrich, who runs the state lab.
But problems happen.
So, there are two things you can do to protect yourself.
First, never fill up if a fuel truck is filling the tanks. That process stirs up sediment in the tanks, which can end up in your car’s tank.
Second, if the flow is especially slow at a pump -- stop filling up immediately.
That's another key indicator of contaminated gas.
As for Reilley and Pettit, the state didn't find anything wrong at the station they got gas from.
Their mechanic thinks that gas was to blame, but they can't prove it, so they're out $350 for repairs.
Still, inspectors say they did the right thing. If you think there is a problem – call the state's Standards Division.
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