For many of us who build or drive off-road vehicles and performance cars, being able to buy avgas is a bit of a treat. This 100+ octane fuel is great for helping to make some additional power, and it’s usually quite a bit more expensive than what we’re currently paying for at the corner gas station.
That is, unless you filled up at a few gas stations in Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset and Union Counties in New Jersey a couple of months ago. It appears that there was a distribution company that bought roughly 73,000 gallons of avgas in December, 2012, and sold it to gas station owners for a price a bit less than what they were paying for unleaded gasoline. Nearly 65,000 gallons of the aviation fuel went into customers’ cars.
While the buyers wanted to claim that they were unaware of it, the shipments, and the loading forms, all stated “AVGAS” very clearly. With avgas prices running slightly higher than unleaded fuel, and with the higher octane reading on avgas, you’d think this would be a little bit of a bargain, right? Not unless you knew what you were in for.
Avgas might be great for your sand rail or race car, but it’s not going to be very good to your catalytic converter or oxygen sensors, as it’s high in lead content. Not only will aviation fuel destroy your emissions components, its sale as an unleaded fuel violates the Federal Clean Air Act and several state laws. The Consumer Fraud Act, Motor Fuels Act, Weights and Measures Act, and New Jersey Fuels and Regulations are some of the state laws that are included in the lawsuit that has been filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
Aviation fuel is used in piston-powered aircraft, and contains tetraethyl lead (TEL). TEL is a toxic substance that has been phased out of use in motor vehicles for decades (remember those last leaded fuel pumps from days gone by?).
Violations can result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 for a first violation and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations, as well as other fines for violating other state laws. These fines that can be imposed will make the gas station owners regret any deal they made to save a few bucks on the fuel, as the fines will be far more than the money they saved.
We found out about the violations on the Consumerist web site, and that New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a statement, “We allege that these gas stations clearly knew, or should have known, they were selling aviation fuel that contains toxic lead, while advertising it as unleaded gasoline for motorists. We will pursue restitution for any consumer, if it is demonstrated that this aviation fuel damaged their vehicles. Just as importantly, we are holding these gas stations and the distributors responsible for their alleged, unlawful deception and potential harm to the public.”
What isn’t discussed is how much damage this may have caused to consumer’s vehicles, and what the fallout would be if people have to start replacing catalytic converters. How would this make you feel if you found out you had been duped into thinking the fuel you trusted was actually leaded instead of unleaded?