The high cost of petrol stretching

Mechanics John Leonard and Philip Duffy at Michael Shaw Car Sales on the Athlone Road in Longford working on an engine that has affected by petrol stretching. Photo: Michelle Ghee.
A County Longford pensioner whose car fell foul of Ireland’s latest fuel racket known as ‘petrol stretching’ claims the scam is going “haywire”.

A County Longford pensioner whose car fell foul of Ireland’s latest fuel racket known as ‘petrol stretching’ claims the scam is going “haywire”.

Seamus Flaherty says he is staring into a €1,500 bill to repair the damage to his 09 Toyota Igo after its engine effectively ground to a halt outside a friend’s house three weeks ago.

“When I phoned the garage guy to come out, he said he could smell the kerosene in the car straight away,” said a plainly upset Mr Flaherty.

Also known as petrol thinning, where cheaper kerosene is added to petrol, it’s rumoured the practice has already cost the motor trade at least €2m.

Kerosene, which is used as a fuel for heating, can be obtained for as little as 80c per litre, almost half the price of petrol which currently stands at around the €1.55 mark.

Without going into the specifics of his own case, Mr Flaherty firmly believes he is just one of many to have fallen victim to what is a rapidly growing phenomenon.

“My car which I bought off Michael Shaw (Car Sales) four years ago has never given me an ounce of problems,” he insisted.

“Now, I have to get a new engine which will probably cost around €850, get it fitted and whatever other parts and costs come with it I’m looking at something like around €1,400 or €1,500.”

Fortunately for Mr Flaherty, the Athlone Road dealer where he originally bought his Toyota hatchback offered him the loan of a car in order to get about.

Without that kind hearted intervention, the Longford town resident admitted his problems would have been a whole lot worse.

“I’m a pensioner and I’m not working but there are people out there supplying cheap petrol who don’t care about me or anyone else. They are a shower of thugs, it’s as simple as that,” he maintained.

Like Mr Flaherty, garage owners and car sales specialists have been equally vocal this week.

Glenn McGrath from Michael Shaws Car Sales, said he has witnessed similar episodes like the one experienced by Mr Flaherty happen to several other disgruntled motorists in recent weeks.

“We would have dealt with five to six cars over the past couple of months,” he said.

“It seems to be having more of an effect on the smaller, three cylinder cars.

“The bigger engines tend to be able to cope with it even though it will still cause damage in the long run.”

Besides Skoda and Volkswagen engines, Mr McGrath said the scam has hit Toyota manufactured cars especially hard.

“In the worst cases, you could be talking of anything up to €4,500 in repairs,” he said.

A few miles down the road in Newtownforbes, Niall Nolan from Nolan Motors said its mechanics have carried out repairs on up to 10 vehicles in recent weeks due to petrol stretching.

For the likes of Mr Flaherty the experience of the past few weeks has left a bitter taste behind.

“Who can you trust at this stage? If you see petrol a couple of cents cheaper you would nearly be afraid to go anywhere near it.”