HOUSTON - Putting contaminated fuel in your tank can cause hundreds of dollars in damage to your vehicle. Proving where you got the tainted fuel was already tough, but state lawmakers just made it more difficult for consumers to hold gas stations accountable for bad gas.
What did lawmakers do?
They passed Senate Bill 2119 in the 86th Legislature, transferring the Motor Fuel program from the Texas Department of Agriculture to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. TDA has been the state regulating agency that inspects and licenses fuel pumps at gas stations. Its inspectors would also respond when consumers suspected they were getting shorted at the pump or they thought pumps were dispensing contaminated gas. This service was valuable to consumers because they could obtain a copy of the state's findings as evidence of contaminated fuel.
In the 85th Legislature, lawmakers changed the gas quality testing process, requiring TDA inspectors to leave a test kit with gas station managers.
Station employees would collect the samples from their own pumps and send them to a private facility for testing. Senate Bill 2119 takes all of the oversight away from the TDA. Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation does not currently have the processes, staff or equipment in place to take over the duties.
Both TDA and the TDLR say SB 2119 does not allow either agency to perform gas quality testing until Sept. 1, 2020. At that time, TDLR will be the responsible agency. Until then, TDLR says it is forwarding complaints to the Office of the Attorney General for possible Deceptive Trade Practices Act enforcement. The AG's office did not respond to our requests asking how it is handling gas quality complaints at this time.
"The consumers of Texas got the bad end of this deal all the way around," said TDA Commissioner Sid Miller. "They're losing protection. They're losing the ability to respond. They're losing the ability to file complaints."
State Sen. Carol Alvarado authored the bill that switched the regulatory oversight of gas stations to TDLR. By phone, she told consumer expert Amy Davis that she had received many complaints from gas stations and the fuel industry about the TDA and its oversight.
"They were imposing fees that were double and triple.. in excruciating amounts for various things," Alvarado said of the TDA.
What's happening now?
The TDLR has a 60-day agreement with TDA to continue inspections of the pumps and to respond to measurement complaints. At the end of the 60 days, TDLR hopes it can handle those takes with its own staff. A TDLR spokesperson said the agency will not be performing fuel quality tests before Sept. 1, 2020.
What you can do now?
1) Save your printed receipt every time you fill up in case your car has mechanical issues once you leave the gas station.
2) If you do have car problems that you suspect are related to contaminated fuel, take your vehicle to a reputable mechanic. Ask them to save a sample of the bad gas for proof and testing. Also, ask them to note the presence of bad gas on your invoice.
3) Send documentation of your issue to the gas station and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
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