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Astro 76 mistakenly pumped gasoline into diesel vehicles

The underground diesel tank at Ashland’s Astro 76 gas station was mistakenly filled with gasoline the last week of January, forcing several diesel vehicle owners to replace their fuel systems at the station owner’s cost.

WSCO Petroleum, which owns 37 Astro stations in Oregon and Washington, paid for repairs of several late-model vehicles at area dealerships, but at least one car owner, Linette Sophie of Ashland, is not happy with the settlement and fears her engine will be at risk in the future.

Joe Tate, general manager of BMW in Medford, said the dealership replaced fuel systems on three fairly new vehicles, at a cost of $16,000 to $20,000 each, but it took awhile to figure out what was wrong with them.

“It just didn’t make sense,” he said. “They shouldn’t have engine problems, but they did. We traced it to that Ashland gas station. Someone had put gas in their in-ground diesel tank. We informed our other Lithia Motors stores to watch out for the situation.

“We didn’t have any problem getting payment, and our customers were happy they were not liable for it. It’s a bad situation. Gasoline will just ruin the fuel system, but our customers had no problem (after repairs).”

Jerod Hurnblad, service manager of Volkswagen in Medford, said his dealership repaired two vehicles at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000 each. This involved replacement of fuel pump, fuel lines and other parts, but the engines “were absolutely OK.”

He added WSCO “obviously had done this, and they were first-class, no questions asked, paid everything that needed to be paid, did a phenomenal job. It was good to see they know how to step up and make it right. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how you make it right that counts.”

Sophie said her 2013 Mercedes ML-350 got a $13,545 repair job on the fuel system. However, she said, the check engine light later came on, and she is not confident her engine will be problem-free in the future.

WSCO’s insurer offered to total the car for $27,000, but she said her car was “in beautiful condition” and she can’t replace it for that amount or get it insured. She said she feels “stressed and violated” and wants to be reimbursed for her suffering and time spent on the issue.

Tate of BMW said there is no telling how many other diesel vehicles quit running, and “I’m sure there’s someone out there with a broken-down diesel. If you have 190,000 miles on your pickup truck and it broke down, more than likely you’re not going to take it to a dealer. You’ll go to a private mechanic, and he’s not going to do the test (to see how much gas is in the tank with diesel fuel), because he is the person least able to afford the test. So, it’s a bad situation.”

The Ashland Peeps Facebook page was the main communications platform for the problem, with many people telling of damage to their cars and to diesel vehicles of friends with messages pointing to the same source.

Emily Ehrlich Inget of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival costume department asked whether anyone was having issues starting cars. “Both our cars stopped running this week and the batteries are fine,” she wrote. “All tests say everything is normal. The fuel fill up is the only common thing we can think of. We definitely were at the diesel pump, but wondering if there might be an issue with this batch of fuel.”

Sophie posted Feb. 6: “The tank was filled with gas. My vehicle was filled 1/31 and is at the dealer. The fuel was tested yesterday and is gas 100 percent. Another vehicle was filled Sunday night and too is at the dealer … Management of Astro has been very cooperative and says they’ll pay for repairs. Fingers crossed!”

Another posting mentioned a VW Passat that was repaired for $1,500 but still couldn’t be started.

Darrell Looney of WSCO did not return repeated calls over several days seeking details such as how many diesel vehicles received the gas, how the mistake was made and whether the company has done outreach to all possibly affected owners based on credit card and other information.

An attendant at the gas station said employees were told not to comment on the situation.

Kristina Edmundson of the state Consumer Protection Agency in the Oregon Department of Justice said it has received no complaints about the matter.

Reach Ashland freelancer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Customers use the Astro 76 gas station in downtown Ashland Friday afternoon. The station mistakenly pumped gas into diesel vehicles in January and has been paying for expensive repairs. - Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune