Drivers told to be alert for 'petrol stretching'
MOTORISTS are being warned to be wary of cheap fuel after Revenue officials launched a probe into 'petrol stretching'.
Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise and Gardai have been investigating the practice after reports of significant fuel contamination in the west, border regions and midlands.
Petrol stretching involves adding up to 10pc of kerosene to petrol before selling it to unwitting drivers.
Kerosene, which is used as a fuel for heating, is widely available for as little as 80c per litre, as opposed to petrol which is close to double that at €1.55.
A retailer who buys in 10,000 litres of petrol, could pay out €15,000 but a competitor illegally adding 10pc kerosene to 9,000 litres of petrol will pay only €14,300 - a saving of €700.
The average price of petrol at the minute is just under €1.56 - but one outlet under investigation was charging less than €1.52. Samples tested showed a positive presence of nearly 10pc of kerosene.
It is estimated that well over 100 petrol cars have already had their engines badly damaged by petrol stretching, including a number of rented 142-registration cars.
A source said: "It is believed that petrol is being mixed with the kerosene after it comes into the county, but this is very difficult for gardai to investigate as there are so many suppliers."
Kerosene will damage an engine even more quickly than most laundered diesel and vehicles with smaller petrol engines are most at risk.
The damage is so severe in many cases that engine pistons have melted and end up coated in carbon, leaving the driver facing massive repair bills.
The common indicators for petrol stretching that motorists should watch out for include a lack of power and misfiring of the engine.
They may also experience a knocking noise and low compression with excessive crank case pressure.
Some insurance companies that used to cover engine and associated damage resulting from contaminated fuel, now exclude it in their policies.
The insurers that will not accept such liability have suggested to customers who have had engines damaged as a result of contaminated fuel that they should seek compensation from the fuel retailers where they purchased the fuel.
As far back as 2009, Customs officers from both sides of the border were aware of a growing trend of stretching petrol but it is now seen as a priority.
In the past, criminals have added methanol and ethanol - which are essentially paint thinners - to fuel to get more for their money.