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N4T Investigators: Water found in gasoline; how to file a complaint

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N4T Investigators: Water found in gasoline; how to file a complaint

TUCSON (KVOA) — After seeing record high gas prices in June, Arizona drivers are happy to see prices dropping. But a number of you have contacted us concerned about not getting what you pay for when you fill up your tank.

People have raised concerns about their gasoline not lasting as long, a lack of odor, or having car trouble after filling up.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators pulled public inspection records to see how often fuel stations are selling bad gas.

"I notice sometimes my vehicle runs differently from one fill up to the next," said Donald Mathias who drives a 2007 Harley Davidson. "You notice the car doesn’t run or idle as well as it should and you get a lot less gas mileage."

"Over the past year in Arizona we’ve received 40 fuel quality complaints," said Kevin Allen with the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Services Division.

"Out of those 40 complaints, seven of those were valid," said Allen. "And they were all in Pima County in the Tucson area. In all those complaints the culprit was water in the motor fuel, in the storage tanks."

Inspection records show an inch of water was discovered at a Circle K near Palo Verde and Ajo Way on July 28, 2021. The inspection was triggered by two customer complaints. One person said their car broke down “in one block” according to the report.

We reached out to the chain for comment this week, by phone and email, no one has gotten back to us.

Similarly, three and a half inches of water was found at the Speedway near Valencia Road and Interstate 10 on July 27, 2021 after three customers filed complaints.

7-Eleven which acquired the Speedway, provided News 4 Tucson an email statement. It reads, “7-eleven received reports of tainted gas and took immediate action to stop sales of gasoline at this location. 7-Eleven removed and disposed of tainted gasoline and re-opened gas operations after corrections were completed and verified by the state inspector.”

Elsewhere, two other valid complaints were related to fuel content.

"We basically place whatever product has water in it off-sale so consumers can’t purchase that product," said Allen. "And then the location will have to take steps to correct the action, either pump the water out or change the fuel out depending on the type of fuel in the tank."

So how does water get into gasoline? And could it be intentional?

Allen says the most common source of water is Mother Nature.

"Most of the time water is entering the storage tank just through a leak point, similar to if your roof has a leak. Storage tanks will develop that as well. And if it rains or if a station has their parking lot power washed or swept," said Allen.

In addition to tank sticks that turn bright pink when water is present, fuel is also tested by a lab to ensure people are getting what they pay for.

"We very rarely find that anyone is intentionally altering any type of motor fuel. There’s a lot of quality control points along the way in the distribution system and there’s a lot of liability if someone is supplying a motor fuel that’s not meeting the specifications that could damage a vehicle, repairs are very expensive," said Allen.

Tucsonan Kenneth Palmer avoids pumping gas while fuel trucks are filling the tanks, because they can kick up sediment and debris at the bottom of the tank.

"If I see a truck sitting here, then I don’t ever stop because if he’s filling up the ground tanks it will make a disturbance so I just go on by," said Palmer.

Gas station owners are not required to report when they experience fuel quality issues like water in a storage tank. The state only becomes aware of it through routine inspections, or if a customer files a complaint with the Department of Weights and Measures. They respond to all complaints within 10-days. Click here for the link.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.