An Edmonton driver, who sold poor fuel at the Esso station in east-central Alberta last month, says the station owner is refusing to pay the full cost of fixing his car.
Sheldon Wakwan, who works as a manager at an IT company, told CBC News that he filled the tank of his 2014 Lexus IS 250 with premium gas on August 1, after a camping trip.
Wakwan said shortly after he drove away from Esau Station in Wainwright, Alta, the car started falling off. Then the engine stopped and failed to start again.
Wakwan said that the next day, he towed his car about 200 kilometers to DynEco Automotive Service Center, a store in the Napa Autobro in south Edmonton, and received an estimated repair of about $6,000. That day, he called the owner of the gas station, Sunghee (Sunny) Kim, and sent him an appreciation.
Two days later, Kim texted Wakwane saying, “They can start repairing your car and let them email the bill.”
About two weeks later, while his car was still in the store, waiting for parts, Wakwan said, Kim called again to say that other customers who had bought the bad gas had billed for smaller amounts. He sent two invoices to other customers, as well as an email from a car dealer estimating the cost of repairs at a similar amount.
Kim thinks Wakwan asked for too much money, and told CBC News that the other three complaints were “happily resolved,” each for less than $1,000, but Wakwan wanted to pay the bill in full because he didn’t damage his car.
“All I did was fill my car at his gas station and [I] Walk away like any customer.”
“It’s very frustrating.”
A repair shop defends the bill
The biggest charge on the Waquan bill from the repair shop was the fuel tank and fuel pump service.
The store told him they could just remove the tank and flush the lines, but if the fuel pump contained contaminated fuel, it could fail prematurely.
Store owner Mark Stevens told CBC News that high-end vehicles like the Waquan have less ability to withstand grit, dirt and moisture than older pickups.
“You take the risk of not changing the pumps,” he said.
Repairing a car affected by bad gas can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, but more if the contaminated fuel has been circulated in the fuel system, said Marty Sims, a mechanic and longtime instructor in automotive programs at the North Alberta Institute of Technology.
He said that if the car was actually driven with bad gas inside, removing the tank and flushing the lines only eliminated part of the problem.
“There will always be some left over in the rest of the fuel system, and there’s really no good way to flush it out per se, so the extent of the damage can be quite far-reaching — in that case I would likely, personally, recommend a full-scale repair.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to spend $5,000 or $6,000 to replace my entire fuel system on a small gasoline car.”
“People think all Esso stations are rich’
A spokesman for Imperial Oil, which supplies independent stations that license the Esso brand, linked the bad gas to an “on-site operational issue” and said it was not related to the company’s fuel quality.
Kim said water vapor can develop in the station’s gas tank during hot weather or enter through the underground tank cover.
According to the owner, this is the first time his station has dealt with this problem. He said he got a line of credit to cover customer repairs, water pollution confirmation and water removal from the gas tank.
He said Wakwan asked for a lot of money — nearly $7,000, including the cost of towing his car — and that other customers who complained billed much less.
Kim described himself as a struggling businessman who lost thousands of dollars due to the gas incident.
“Wrong, a lot of people think that all Esso plants are rich but that’s not necessarily true,” he said.
Wakwan said Kim initially offered to pay him $4,000 — $3,000 for repairs and $1,000 for a rental car — but he refused.
He said Kim later offered $3,000 through a lawyer.
Wakwan considered filing an insurance claim, but was told the company would treat it as a fault-to-fault collision, as if he had put the wrong gas in the car. Instead, his insurance company said, he could pursue the case in court. He is now preparing to file a civil lawsuit against Kim’s actions.
Wakwan said he just wants to pay the entire repair bill and will take care of the fuel and towing costs.
While the car was in the store for nearly seven weeks, he relied on his family members for borrowed cars.
“It’s unfair to me, and anyone like me is going through this process,” he said.