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VW Polo GT TSI: My pleasant experience dealing with contaminated fuel

Always take a bill/receipt of fuel with vehicle #, quantity of fuel and date.

BHPian srinivasnvsn recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

It's been long since I posted on this forum owing to the pandemic, work and family committments. I also relocated from Bangalore to Hyderabad last year and that has added to errands quite a bit. I have a couple of to-start threads, but my recent experience with contaminated fuel and its aftermath pushed this thread priority to top. I thought I should share this with the forum as soon as possible.

As some of you might be knowing I own a VW Polo 2011 1.2 MPI and a GT 1.2 TSI. I moved the GT to Hyderabad and got it re-registered locally - that is topic for another thread. For both the cars, I always used to frequent a fuel outlet near my parent's place and get the tanks filled to the brim - alternating between normal and performance petrol.

During the relocation, I switched to an apartment a bit closer to office, but still went to the same outlet for fuel refill. However last week, because of less time in hand - I had to go to the airport to drop some relatives - I thought why not give a couple of new outlets a try. The following series of events describe my plight post the thought.

Note: I have intentionally withheld a names/details in this thread. They have no bearing on my experience I otherwise had.

May 21, 2023

At around 7 PM, I drove to the outlet #1 opposite my aparment complex, on the service road. On reaching there, I was told that there was no performance variant stock. So I switched gears, drove a further two kms to an outlet #2 that had it in stock and I filled the tank to full - that's about 80% of tank capacity pumped in and around Rs. 4000.

I drove back the same two kms without any hassle and parked the car in the basement.

May 22, 2023

I was to leave at 6 PM to reach my relative's place, help them with packing and then next day, drop them at the airport. On cranking the car engine, it would not start. On multiple attempts, only once did it try to start, and it did not even reach idle speed. The engine would stall within a few seconds. All this while, I noticed that the lights inside the cabin were very dim. I called up the VW SA - incidentally, the service center is also opposite my apartment complex - this is where all the services were done for both the cars when in Hyderabad. Since my RSA with VW expired and my insurance company was not responding, SA suggested to call VW toll free and arrange for paid jump start.

Looking at the situation, we paused our travel and rescheduled it for next day.

The technician arrived a couple of hours later carrying a jump start machine. Before he arrived, we tried using a running Jazz to charge the battery using cables but it did not work. With the machine in hand, we tried to start the engine but it would not. The techinician would remove the machine once he would hear cranking sound. That would immediately shut down the engine. I remember clearly telling the RSA rep to carry a battery for jump start. I gave the technician an earful and sent him his way.

Immediately, I called my friend and colleague graaja who recommended that I test the battery and check if the voltages match specs as noted in the image.

I measured the following:

  • Engine off - 12.6 V
  • Cranking - < 9 V
  • Running - could not measure

Convinced that the battery conked (which it did), I called up a local battery store to arrange a replacement the next morning.

I could not sleep well that night and around 10 PM, went down to the basement again to check. The car started and retained engine idle with good throttle response for about 10 min after I switched each electrical equipment ON and OFF including the wiper motors prior to start. I decided that I will take the car to service once I got the battery replaced.

May 23, 2023

The battery guy comes in at 11 AM, replaced the battery. All voltages look good - but the car would not start. Immediately, I went to the service center and asked for a technician to be sent for a quick check. The technician came in at 3 PM and tried starting the car, but it would not budge. From my experience the previous night, I turned ON and OFF all electrical equipment, and viola it started but with a difference. There was no throttle response - only a full press on the throttle would the rpm rev up to 2000 rpm. Immediately the technician said something was wrong and recommended that it to be driven to the service center. On engaging the gear and moving a few meters, the EPC light came up with and traction control OFF light illuminated. The car could not climb the entry ramp of the parking, but somehow the technician managed to drive over the exit ramp that had a lower gradient. In about 5 min, we were at the service center.

On doing some research, I realized that the ECU put the car in limp mode and intentionally turned OFF the traction control. It is inbuilt feature of car to prevent any further damage to the engine.

The chief technician took a look a the starting dynamics of the car and said something is wrong with fuel system, and that he will be able to comment only next day.

May 24, 2023

At about 1030 AM, the SA calls me and says that they found water in fuel lines and they wanted my approval to start draining the tank - note that the tank was full with 45 L of fuel. I authorized it immediately. At about 4 PM, the SA and the technician working on my car call me in conference and mention that there is lot of water in the tank and asked me when I refuelled recently. I mentioned about the experience on May 21 and they asked me to take it up with the outlet immediately.

One more point I came to note was that outlet #2 was the official fuel provider for all new cars at the service center and only recently did they switch to outlet #1. This point has some significance for later.

Towards the end of the day, I got another update that all of fuel system was opened up, left to dry over night.

May 25, 2023

I got a call from SA at 930 AM asking for authorization to purchase fuel to clean all parts of the fuel system. I paid outlet #1 for some fuel and asked the technician to give an update later. The SA also sent me videos of water in the tank while the techinican was uninstalling it for repair.

At around 4 PM, I get a call saying that the car was repaired, test drive was completed and ready for delivery. I asked the fuel drained to be stored safely. The bill came out to about Rs. 10,000.

All this while, I was in constant touch with graaja and also was reading the forum for advice. graaja recommended that I take the car first and go next day to the outlet #2 with an official complaint.

I took the car at 630 PM, drove it an additional 10 kms for test, convinced it was road-worthy and took it home. The chief technician also advised to take it easy for a couple of weeks, not revving the engine too hard and not to head out long highway drives.

May 26, 2023

I was thinking on how to handle the situation the whole day - whether or not to raise an official complaint with fuel refinery or with consumer court. I heeded to graaja's advice and at around 5 PM, I went out to the outlet #2 armed with fuel bill paid receipt, service advisory and bill/receipt.

I met the manager of the outlet, explained him of the situation, and also showed him the videos. VW now uses a service cam website where they show issues with car while the service is happening. He was shocked to hear there was water and showed me logs of the particular fuel station where only 57 L of fuel was sold that day - this being performance variant - and of that 38 L was for my car. He patiently heard to my grievance, acknowledged that there was a problem and within 30 minutes asked me how much compensation I was looking for. I explained to him of all the expenses I had, and asked him to only compensate for fuel and the damages amounting to Rs. 14,000. To my disbelief, he immediately obliged and asked me to take him to service center to collect the stored fuel. He came with me, collected the fuel, paid the amount and left. He later requested that the video not be shared because the outlet had good reputation in the locality and that his business might be affected. He also recommended me to test the fuel next time I take from a new outlet before taking a full tank.

I later checked the localites and the service center on the credentials of the outlet - it appears that the owner of the outlet is a very well respected person in the area and for him, customers come first.

All well that ends well. However, I do have some learnings from this experience:

  • Always take a bill/receipt of fuel with vehicle #, quantity of fuel and date. I only had the payment receipt from outlet #2.
  • If a car does not start on a couple of attempts, do not proceed further. Better to start diagnosis starting from battery and if it looks okay, call up the SA or a trusted technician.
  • Talk to peers, friends and colleagues about potential issues that can be debugged - but do not proceed on your own. Nudge the SA or technician to look in that direction.
  • It is always a good thought to bring up issues with some one in a calm manner. Had I not heeded advice from graaja, things might have taken a different turn. This has been a big learning from me since I do not entertain low quality of work and I easily get into arguments.
  • Maintain good relationships with the service center - I have been going to the same service center for about 11 years - people have changed - but they do recognize me whenever I go and advice me of best possible options.
  • Give benefit of doubt - I did feel that the manager was genuinely interested in compensating my monetary loss, and that even he had not expected such an issue would crop up. He did promise me that he would look into the root cause of the issue and solve it before it affects others.

Thank you for reading this lengthy post. Any thoughts/comments would be greatly appreciated.

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