Contaminated fuel and dodgy petrol stations

I’m collecting case studies for an investigate article looking into contaminated fuel.

It’s when you fill your car with petrol that has been contaminated by water, or even stray particles. Petrol stations don’t usually pay the bill, which can cost up to $22,000.

If you’ve come across dirty fuel, or know someone who has, let me know.

Tony Ibrahim

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Anecdotally I was told by my son that in a mining town where he works a local petrol outlet supplied contaminated diesel and once discovered the oil company owner of the site paid for repairs to any customers damaged engines only when the fuel buyer could produce proof of purchase for fuel during the period of the known fuel contamination.

Another reason to always ask for a receipt after fuel purchases and stuff it i the glovebox.


@tndkemp ‘Keep your receipt’ certainly is the moral of the story.

We’ve been looking through case studies and the big brand petrol stations appear to stand by their customers.

We’ll keep you posted on the full results once we conclude our ongoing investigation.

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Several years ago, my sister-in-law was travelling and filled up in a remote area at a petrol station with low turnover and ended up with dirty fuel. The car was never the same again but has since been written off (unrelated). I don’t think any attempt was made to recoup costs. The rest of the family did get lots of warnings to only fill up at “busy” petrol stations to minimise the risk though…

We always go to one of the big brands (when we can) anyway, so sounds like we should start saving receipts, just in case…

I started religiously keeping receipts when the fuel price spiked a few years ago and fuel theft drive-offs became almost pandemic.
As I always paid cash for fuel and therefore I wanted to keep proof I actually did pay for my fuel so if the there was any claim later to the police by the operator that I didn’t. Remembering some gas stations are very busy and the attendants are responsible to monitor the forecourt plus monitor the in shop sales and they might inadvertently attribute my registration to a drive-off theft event.

I worked for one of the large fuel companies and dealt with many contaminated fuel issues over my 30+ years in quality control. Most of the contamination in fuels is due to water and diesel used to be the main culprit as it takes up small amounts of water from the atmosphere and , if the storage tanks at sites are not maintained and inspected regularly, will build free water until it reaches the pick up of the tank and a slug of water is dispensed into vehicles.
We now have a second problem fuel and that is E10 gasolines. The ethanol absorbs water easily and maintains it in suspension until it reaches a certain point and all of a sudden it drops the water out of solution and it is picked up in the draw off line. This has always been known and these storage tanks at service stations require regular draining and inspection and most receive it. Most modern stations have electronic monitoring for this contamination now.
With the fuels introduction the time between tank checks had to be established as this was a new product marketed in Australia so some data was accumulated and storage conditions monitored so that the larger companies could assure their customers of quality. Note- all ethanol is only mixed with the gasoline upon loading for delivery and the ethanol water levels are monitored and are extremely low.
It is my experience that the larger oil companies will compensate and treat contamination very seriously as their reputation is at stake. They are justified in asking for proof of purchase as some people will receive contamination from cheap outlets, as they shop around, and will only notice problems when they refill their tank and disturb the contamination that sits on the bottom of the tank.
Note : if there is contamination at a site then it normally affects more than one car as there is large throughput in short time scale but sites close down problem tanks very quickly and investigate promptly.
It is my experience that made me want to comment. Oil companies cop a lot of bashing but they do provide a good service much of the time. Please note - I no longer work for one of these majors so have no reason to stand up for them but believe they should not be unnecessarily bashed over these issues as they attempt to do the best for all.

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RACV website has some useful information.

Hi Tony,

I’ve bought contaminated diesel from a Woolworths branded Caltex store ion August 2014. It cost me $4595 to have my car repaired as it damaged the injection pump.

No problems, Woolworth will pay, the store manager said so.So did the the lady on the phone from Woolworths I had rang in regards to the matter. On sending in the claim form and my receipt, they denied their station had contaminated fuel. Their reply was that they tested their tanks and found no water, plus no other person had made a claim from that station.

I sent in a picture of the contaminated fuel with foreign particles and water which the Ford dealer had kept. I went on to explain that I could not have bought contaminated diesel from another station as I had driven the car 583 kilometres with only 12 litres left before filling up at their station and had only travelled 136 kilometers before I had trouble.

I also informed them that the Ford dealership said that in their opinion I could not have driven the car for 583 klms with contaminated fuel. They still did not admit they sold contaminated fuel. My only option would be to take legal action against them, to which I had neither the money or time.

I had written in a letter to them explaining that I had been a Woolworths supermarket and Woolworths Caltex fuel customer for many years, spending approximately $1400 a month on fuel and groceries, and wanted to continue that relationship, but it seemed my loyalty and a belief in fair treatment in the matter with Woolworths was misplaced. They didn’t care, so now I shop and buy my fuel at Coles. I will only by a product from Woolworths if I cannot find a substitute or buy the item elsewhere.

It cost me $4595 and I was with out my car for eight days, it’s cost them $26600+ of lost sales to date, and I will continue to avoid buying anything from Woolworths, Big W and their petrol stations

Hi @anwitham

Did your insurance provider cover the cost of repairs?

This is an interesting case. Many people claim water in fuel will cause damage to a car immediately, typically after driving ten kilometres.
However, I’ve come across two other cases that call this into question.

Do you still have your documentation, including the photo of the fuel sample?


Hi Tony,

No, my insurance would not pay, as it was not wilful damage, I was with Budget Direct, I have since changed to RACV who probably would have covered the cost of repairs.

I still have all correspondents regarding the matter with the photo’s and the diesel sample kept for me by the Ford dealership.

Water in Diesel does more damage than Petrol I was told by the dealership. Usually flushing the lines and tank usually fixes the problem in Petrol. They had to change the fuel pump and filter in the tank, plus the injector pump. If that didn’t work the cylinder injectors would have had to be replaced at $1500 each.



Your case interests me and some of the people around the office. Can I get you to send me your contact details for a quick chat over the phone?

My email address is


Tony Ibrahim

My view of modern common rail diesels are they are overall too expensive in the longterm maintenance and servicing to make good practical everyday driver cars. The buying public focusses on the the L/100km and forgets al the other considerations.
The old style and relatively dirtier diesels of the 60’s 70’s and 80’s were simple beasts and withstood a lot of abuse intended or unintended. But these modern common rail diesel have a lot of emissions gadgets to make them produce relatively clean emissions, but it comes at a price in upfront purchase costs, extra servicing costs and increased attention required of the emissions systems particularly around 100,000kms when a lot need decoking of the inlet manifold/egr system and expensive partial disassemble to adjust the engine rockers etc.

Then have one major failure like mentioned above (and that is not that uncommon) the the diesels better fuel milage becomes a very secondary consideration. The almost $5000 repair bill is pretty well the norm for major repairs on diesels and in my opinion you can buy an awful lot of gasoline for that money, and therefore I am of the view that you are better off saving the $3-5K purchase premium for the diesel engine by purchasing the petrol engined equivalent and cop the higher fuel use because over the life of the car you will still be in financially in front. I’m not saying that major failures don’t happen on petrol power vehicles but they happen less frequently they also require less expensive servicing and don’t suffer the common regularity of major emission systems failures of modern CRDs.

I work out that for our petrol family car returns 8.1L/100KM if I replaced it with a similar sized diesel car that delivered approx 6.2L/100km that the we would need to do in excess of 35,000kms per year for 3 years to payback the extra purchase price of the diesel, and that payback does not include the increased serving cost of the diesel.

Hi all,

My article on contaminated fuel went live today, but the work isn’t done.

We’re still asking for victims of dirty fuel to come forward. The more that do, the more patterns we notice.

Read the full article here:

Thanks for your help,

Tony Ibrahim


We bought water contaminated e10 fuel between Coffs Harbour and Grafton on Boxing Day 2015. We broke down within a few kilometres of the fuel station. Being a public holiday meant a long wait for towing. Thankfully we had roadside assistance and insurance, with $600 excess. Family came to the rescue and drove us home to the
Lismore area as there was little chance of hiring a car from Grafton over Christmas. It took over a week to get the car repaired due to all the public holidays and weekends between Christmas and New year. Thankfully there was no major damage and the repair bill was around $700. We paid the bill. NRMA insurance were great and while the petrol station initially denied they were responsible NRMA kept on the case and finally got us a refund a few months later.

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Hi Ianandchez,

Im thrilled to come across a case where the insurance provider held the petrol station reliable. I’d like to include your case in following article.

Do you have any documents/photos/receipts that you could share? If so, please send them to me via email, at:


Tony Ibrahim

Hi Rosscath,

I’m doing a follow up on contaminated fuel and I was hoping I could ask you some questions.

I believe you’d be able to give me some insight into the companies which have invested in the electronic monitoring systems. If one or more brands have these systems, then I’d like to mention it in the article.


Tony Ibrahim

For those interested, here is @TonyIbrahim’s article on contaminated fuel.

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