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ALBERTA, Calgary -- Shell Canada was forced to apologize to its customers after an additive in the company's gasoline was found to damage car engines. "We extend our sincere apology for any inconvenience this problem may have caused," said Terry Blaney, Shell Canada's vice president of marketing.
The additive, which has already sparked one class-action lawsuit in British Columbia, fouled fuel pumps and gauges in thousands of vehicles across the country. It has also sparked criticism that Shell didn't do enough to inform consumers of the problem. Since last fall, Shell Canada has been compensating customers over complaints that one of its additives seemed to be gumming up fuel pumps and fuel sensors, the Associated Press reported.
Fuel lights in affected cars begin to blink empty even though the tank is full. The needles on gas gauges swing back and forth seemingly randomly. In some cases, fuel pumps clog. Thousands of vehicles from Vancouver to Montreal have developed the problem, which first started coming to light last summer, the report said. Complaints started to filter back to Shell by the fall. Some customers who complained had their repair bills covered.
Shell looked at factors such as climate, the composition of its base gasoline and its total additive package before deciding in February to remove one of its additives from the mix. "All of those considerations were at play," said Shell public affairs manager Jan Rowley.
The additive was removed in March. All the old stock should be gone from the system, the report said.
On March 22, Shell issued a letter to 508 retailers directing them to refer their customers whose vehicles were clogged to a phone line to handle the claims individually. The problem wasn't widespread enough to justify contacting consumers directly, Rowley said. "This was not a broad-based problem," she said, pointing out that Shell conducts about 600,000 gasoline transactions a day.
Shell has settled about 2,500 claims since opening the phone line, the report said. Hundreds of drivers, thinking the problem was with their vehicles, replaced their clogged fuel pumps at a cost of hundreds of dollars. But mechanics familiar with the problem now recommend a $7 can of fuel system cleaner.
In a release, Blaney said Shell stands behind its products. "All of our fuels meet or exceed Canadian standards as well as our own stringent internal specifications. We want to reassure our customers that our gasolines are appropriate for use in all automobiles and driving conditions."