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http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/dec04/287536.asp

GM, Citgo turn up often in injector issue
Analysis finds trends in troubled vehicles
By RAQUEL RUTLEDGE
[email protected]

Posted: Dec. 26, 2004
Larry Tredrea cringed when his mechanic told him in September his 1998 Buick Century needed six new fuel injectors. The idea of sinking $1,500 into a well-maintained car with 76,000 miles on it angered the Grafton man.

A week later, his wife walked in the door with more disturbing news.

"She said, 'Guess what? The check engine light came on in the Malibu,' " Tredrea said. "I said, 'Oh no.' "

Two more injectors. Another $500.

The 1999 Chevrolet Malibu had just 30,000 miles on it.

"It's pretty discouraging," Tredrea said. "You figure you've got a great car. I can't afford to keep replacing these things every couple thousand miles. What's the guarantee it's not going to happen again?"

Some patterns emerge
Tredrea and hundreds of other Milwaukee-area motorists have reported similar problems in recent months. And while a state investigation has yielded no answers as to what may be fouling fuel injectors in the region, an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows some trends.

For starters, General Motors vehicles make up the vast bulk of the problems.

Second, more than 40% of the drivers experiencing problems said they purchase their gas at Citgo stations.

Nearly half the troubled cars had fewer than 70,000 miles and more than 80% were 1996 or newer models.

And the average cost of repairing the problem was nearly $600.

The analysis is not scientific but stems from information provided by 298 motorists in the five-county metro area who have had fuel injector problems in 2004 and who completed an online survey conducted by the Journal Sentinel.

Of those who responded, nearly 75% owned a vehicle manufactured by General Motors. Chevy, Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile topped the list of makes with the most faulty fuel injectors. Honda and Ford ranked a distant second and third with 7% and 6% of reported problems, respectively.

General Motors is investigating. The manufacturer accounts for about 28% of all vehicles on the road nationwide and slightly more in the Midwest, said spokesman Tom Henderson.

GM's early findings suggest something in the fuel may have caused various GM injectors to stick and the problem seemed to be linked to one brand of fuel. GM officials wouldn't name the substance in the fuel or the brand of gasoline because the results were preliminary, but Henderson said more information would be available after Jan. 1.

Problems arose in the fall
Auto mechanics began reporting a spike in injector problems in September, as the area switched to its winter blend of fuel and just as the state Department of Commerce began tapering its testing at the terminals. Since October, more than 700 motorists have complained to the department about faulty fuel injectors.

And in fact, roughly 70% of respondents to the Journal Sentinel survey said they began having problems from September through December, with many - 27% - occurring in October.

The Journal Sentinel's analysis also shows that 44% of respondents regularly purchase gas from Citgo stations. The Citgo brand makes up about 30% of the roughly 1,000 service stations in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, said company spokesman David McCollum.

Far fewer people reported using other brands before their troubles began. In fact, the next most popular brand of gasoline motorists said they bought before their injector woes was Mobil. Eleven percent of respondents said they regularly buy from Mobil.

Citgo denies any problems with fuel in Milwaukee. McCollum said the company is cooperating with GM's investigators to get to the source of the troubles. He said all Citgo fuels meet or exceed the EPA standards for detergency. He would not specify how each grade of the company's gasoline stacked up against EPA standards.

EPA standards scrutinized
The EPA standards for detergency, imposed in 1995, have come under fire by auto manufacturers who say the requirements are not sufficient to keep intake valves and fuel injectors free of deposits. And auto industry studies show that half the fuel at the pumps doesn't even meet the EPA minimum requirements.

Automotive fuel expert Joe Colucci, a former longtime fuel specialist with GM, said auto experts have always questioned how well detergents work with ethanol. He suggests people buy brand-name fuel that exceeds the EPA's minimum requirements for detergency, such as those that meet the auto industry's Top Tier standards. GM, Honda, Toyota and BMW collaborated to create the beefed-up standards, which were unveiled in May. Milwaukee-area gas suppliers that advertise their compliance with Top Tier standards are Shell, Phillips and Chevron.

"Gas is gas, but gas is not gas," Colucci said. "There are some major differences in dosages (of detergents). People buy gas based on price, but when you've already spent $20,000 or $30,000 on a vehicle, that you worry about 2 or 3 cents a gallon doesn't make sense. It's penny-wise and pound foolish."

Tim Columbus, a lawyer for the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, disagrees. "There are detergent standards, and I think people meet them," Columbus said. "Some exceed the standards in an effort to differentiate their product, but whether or not it actually makes a difference can be another issue."

State complaints not reviewed
The Department of Commerce, which regulates petroleum in Wisconsin, conducted scores of tests after learning about the rising number of fuel injector problems but could not find the source. Documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel under the state's open records laws, however, show that the department did not analyze data from the hundreds of motorists who lodged complaints. In fact, many of the 278 pages of documents contain only hand-scribbled notes with names, phone numbers and little else.

Philip Albert, director of the department's Bureau of Petroleum Products and Tanks, said inspectors focused on the terminals where the supply enters the state. "We went to the source," Albert said. "By going to the terminals, it didn't matter if it was Shell or Mobil or Citgo, we would know if there was a problem."

But department tests are limited. They are done before fuel is blended with ethanol - a process required in the six-county metro area to meet clean air standards - and before oil companies inject additive packages. And they don't test for some corrosive materials, metals or other properties that may affect injector performance.

The documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel also show that some inspectors and supervisors wanted to expand the investigation but that higher-level managers believed the department had fulfilled its obligation.

One e-mail from storage tank section chief Sheldon Schall to supervisor Erik Humlie states: "Erik, obviously you believe that we should be doing or have done more assessment regarding the fuel injector problem. What strategy and budget would you implement to conduct this assessment and how would you go about it?"

Humlie's reply was not included among the documents submitted to the newspaper.

Another e-mail, from Schall to Albert, talks about a similar problem that happened several years ago in Minnesota.

"They ran their inspectors into the ground and spent many thousands of dollars testing and never did find anything suspicious," Schall wrote.

Albert told the Journal Sentinel that the department did everything in its power to trace the source of all the troubles. "Our authority to test additives is not there," Albert said. "To test ethanol or any of the additives, we would have to have additional statutory authority."

The Department of Commerce forwarded results of its inquiry to the EPA. EPA officials familiar with the issue weren't available for comment.

Jackie Cyliax wondered what was happening under the hood of her 2001 Honda CRV in November when it started sputtering and shaking.

Mechanics at two different shops asked her if she was buying dirty gas. The first mechanic cleaned one injector and thought the problem was solved. But about a week later, the shaking and chugging reappeared and Cyliax had her car - with 29,000 miles on it - towed to Schlossmann's Honda City. Service workers there recommended she replace all four injectors. Cyliax followed the advice and spent nearly $900. Her warranty had expired three months earlier.

"That got me frosted," she said. "That shouldn't happen to a Honda with that kind of mileage. But who do I go to? Do I fight City Hall? Do I fight the oil company? How do you fight the big oil companies?"

Cyliax said she didn't even know what a fuel injector was in early November.

"I do now," she said.
 

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Like I wrote earlier in the other gas post - the "gasoline" part of the fuel is the same, but detergent packages vary by brand. I like the idea of the Top Tier rating.

The article mentions that the Department of Commerce stopped checking the quality of fuel at the terminals - it becomes pretty obvious then, that the possiblity exists for less than high quality fuel to slip through the cracks.

I run a bottle of Chevron Techron Concentrate (the one that treats 25 gallons) every 6 months for good measure.
 

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I may be thinking of some other OTC product/additive. But I thought people suggested not to use the additives to the car, like for oil or gas. Or is just for newer cars that don't need it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

But as for buying gas, I guess the saying you get what you pay for somewhat holds true for gas.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a ranking of gasoline brands.
 
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