'You killed the car': Families complain of dead vehicles, thousands in repairs after station sold bad gas

A mother left stranded at night with a child. A young man's truck that never started again. Another handed an $18,000 repair bill. These are just some of the situations drivers found themselves in after fuelling up with contaminated fuel last summer at the Centex Bearspaw gas station.

Fuelling up left a woman stranded with her child and a man stuck holding an $18K bill

Loraine Bon's son, Evan McArthur, hasn't been able to use his Toyota 4Runner since the summer, when his parents filled it up with gas. The fuel was contaminated with a saline substance. (Loraine Bon)

Loraine Bon and her husband thought they were helping their son when they fuelled up the old truck he takes camping.

Instead, the gas they pumped in Bearspaw, northwest of Calgary, put an end to the 4Runner. The fuel was contaminated, and the truck hasn't started since.

Now six months later, Bon hasn't got the Centex Bearspaw gas station to pay for the repairs, roughly $3,000 worth.

The gas station's insurance is disputing whether the Centex is at fault for the soiled fuel, which damaged dozens of Alberta vehicles.

"We don't care who's at fault. You're at fault," Bon said of Centex. "You sold us the gas. You killed the car."

Whose fault is it?

The insurance companies for the gas station, the tank installer and the tank manufacturer are arguing over who caused saline to leak into the station's fuel.

An investigation after the incident showed the inner lining of the fuel tank split, allowing the saline barrier to leach into the fuel — something the company told customers about in a letter last summer.

That saline solution caused vehicles to seize up, some almost immediately. Some had mechanical issues. Others had to have their entire engine rebuilt, like James Niblock of Cochrane, Alta., who got a bill for an $18,000 repair.

Niblock was one of the first customers that morning in July, as he headed into Calgary early with his toddler. He suspects he got a higher concentration of the saline solution than others who gassed up later in the day.

Out of pocket

Niblock's insurance covered the large bill, but he's still owed for other expenses — the tow truck, car rental and insurance deductible — which total roughly $1,000. He doubts he'll see that money again.

"So between the three of them at the moment, they haven't figured out who is liable," Niblock said. "While this kind of drags on and no one's really communicating with us, obviously a lot of people have got either unusable engines or have basically had to pay out of their own pocket for repairs."

He found out this week that his van needs more work, but from what he's heard, his case sounds like a good one.

This Centex in Bearspaw has some saline mix with fuel last summer due to an issue with the gas tank. (Loraine Bon)

Niblock provided an email to CBC News from the independent adjuster handling the files for Federated Insurance, which insures Centex Petroleum. In it, the adjuster said the insurer was "not issuing any payment" until fault was determined.

"We will let you know when that occurs," the adjuster said in a Dec. 5 email.

After the leak, Centex closed down and called the tank manufacturer, ZCL Composites, to investigate. The manufacturer repaired the split seam in the fibreglass tank and certified the tank as ready to receive fuel. The gas station reopened and sent a letter to drivers.

"Centex has assured all customers that were affected by this event that we will reimburse them for their costs," said the letter from managing partner Shafiq Bhura, which Niblock gave to CBC.

Reimbursed 'almost everyone'

In a brief phone conversation with CBC, Bhura said the insurance company had asked him not to comment "for legal reasons."

"We've reimbursed almost everyone, and those that were complicated or were not straightforward, our insurance company is looking after them," he said. "So we haven't had anyone come directly to us with anything unclaimed for the past at least a month."

He said he understood Centex Petroleum's insurance company, Federated Insurance, was trying to get everything paid out. Bhura declined to comment further.

Requests for comment to Federated Insurance and ZCL Composites went unanswered. A lawyer handling the file for the insurance firm said he did not have permission to talk. The adjuster declined to comment.

Drivers are asking Centex Petroleum for an easier route to get compensation to replace or repair vehicles damaged by contaminated fuel. (Grant Hindsley/Associated Press)

All of this has been stressful for Jamie Lowe, who has two kids. Shortly after she fuelled up at Centex Bearspaw, her 2015 Dodge Ram broke down late at night while she had her five-year-old in the back seat.

"It was a pretty terrible situation. There was no apology, no accountability. They said that you need to talk to our insurance adjuster," Lowe said.

Her vehicle was fixed and Centex paid for the repairs.

Seeking apology, easier compensation route

Lately, Lowe's vehicle has started randomly shaking and rumbling. She said she's worried the cost for further repairs will be delayed until the at-fault party is determined.

"Well, that could take years, and so many people were out thousands of dollars, which really isn't affordable. To me, they didn't go about it the right way," she said. "I'll never fill up at a Centex gas station again because of how the situation was handled."

The mechanics tell her she needs the catalytic convertor replaced — an issue she's heard is common to some of the other cars affected by the saline breach. She said she hopes being persistent and contacting Centex directly will help get her car fixed.

"It was mint condition before we filled up there," Lowe said.

The three customers say they've heard from others still struggling with damaged cars and leftover expenses. Many of the affected drivers stay in touch in a private Facebook group.

​With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.