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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Stay Here. See Me Come Undone...

Today, gather around, children and I will tell you the pitfalls of choosing the cheapest gasoline available over  a more trusted and proven brand.  I will first put out the disclaimer that I am well aware of how refineries work and that all petroleum products are essentially blended and processed at the same place.  The transport of this fuel, the way it is dispensed, and the manner in which it is stored can and does have quite an effect on the quality factor, however.

Being an enthusiast of anything running on gasoline or diesel, I have my preferences on where I buy my fuel.  Any true car guy (or girl) has a specific brand of fuel they swear by and anyone who researches the topic will be able to come to their own conclusions as well;  my brands are Shell and Exxon.  These two brands are the only ones I allow in any car or motorcycle I have owned.  My own research and consumer experience have created this loyalty and I will stand by it.  Now, Kroger (the grocery store) has built small gas stations in their parking lots around here and you earn "points" when you buy things in the store that translate to "discounts" on the price of their gasoline.  This is all marketing, of course, and is just another way to get you to spend more money in the store than you will ever save on fuel.  Now you know.

In full disclosure, I have used Kroger's gasoline in the past in my lawn mower and weed trimmer.  I buy my protein bars there because they are cheaper than most other stores, but that is really it.  Kroger is not my ideal grocery store by any stretch of the imagination, so I go there for that one purpose.  The "fuel discount" points I would save up over time would be used for the yard equipment, but would not EVER go into the gas tank of any road-going vehicle I own.  I do not trust their "no name, no brand, no guarantee" gasoline in a car.  Until last night when I decided to put about $15 worth in my car just because it was running low and Kroger happened to be close by on my way home.

This morning, about half a mile from work, during rush hour traffic, the car sputtered, stalled, knocked, and died.  It lived just long enough for me to coast off the side of the road.

I tried to start it a few times, reset the computer, I even swapped the Idle Air Controller I ended up replacing yesterday with the old one to see if that was the problem.  Nope.  Ping, knock, 200rpms, dead.  
Then this happened:


The guys at United Towing are very nice, even if you only need a half-mile tow. Ugh...

I did some thinking while I was waiting for the tow truck and stared at the nice grass I was standing on:

While the driver was winching the car up onto the truck and I was doing some random iPhone googling, I thought about the sub-par fuel I pumped into it last night.  For those of you who do not know, if your car is fuel-injected, there is a schrader valve on the fuel rail (think of the valve you put the air hose on when you fill a tire) that can be used to relieve the pressure on the fuel system.  After thinking about how the car acted when it stalled out and died, I began to think I had figured out the problem.  I wanted to show the "fuel" pressure coming out of the release valve, so I took a quick video:
video
 The fuel pump moves whatever liquid is in your gas tank under a very high pressure and sends it to your fuel rail so it can be burned in the engine.  Notice I did not say it moves "gasoline" or "fuel" to the engine because it will move whatever liquid has ended up in your gas tank and attempt to make it burn. When you release the pressure on the fuel system, it takes about a minute for everything to spray out while you hold the valve open.  My video is only a few seconds because I wanted to show you what it looks like when you do it, but after I stopped recording that clip I did a complete depressurizing.

What came out of my fuel rail?  It was not gasoline...It was water.  A car cannot run on water and if you try to do so, the results can actually cause "hydrolock" which can completely trash your engine.  Luckily, this was not the case for me and after blowing the water out during a few pressure cycles, I began to smell gasoline coming out of the valve.  Gasoline floats on water and my fuel pump pulls from the bottom of the tank, so once I bled out all of the water, only gasoline was left to come through the fuel line.  

The car runs fine now.  I immediately drove it down the road and put proper fuel in it.  The lesson I learned is that I will never put Kroger-branded fuel in anything I own anymore;  not even my lawn mower.  It is not worth the risk, and depending on the compression ratio of your engine, a little water in the system can cause a catastrophic engine failure via hydrolock.  I am lucky this did not happen to me.

If you want to continue using cheap, knock-off gas because nothing like this has ever happened to you, go right ahead and do so.  The one time I put it in my car, bad things happened which could have been much worse.  I simply wanted to put this out there as a warning to those who take that risk.  I also know it has the potential of happening to any brand or any station, but going with a national brand who guarantees their product is always a safer bet for a measly five cent savings on the gallon.

Grace and Peace,
    -Drew


Today's blog title came from the lyrics in this song:


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