Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Topography of Fuel

Our 1997 Nissan Pathfinder – named Bertha for the tropical storm that passed the island two days after we bought her in July - is ailing. It's not, I believe (and fervently pray) a fatal illness, more like a bad flu.

Sunday I bought gas - not at one of the two stations I usually fill up at. I was on the road and noticed the needle was almost on E. The station I pulled into happened to have the best price I'd seen in a while, about 20 cents less than the other stations I'd noticed that day. So I was feeling pretty clever as I filled the tank. 15 and a half gallons into a 16 gallon tank. I figure I saved somewhere around $3.

And then the trouble started. The next morning the car died right after I'd dropped Tori and the kids off at school. It took almost two minutes to get it to start. Trouble getting started the next time and the next. Tuesday morning it started up fine, but that as the last good news - automotive-wise – since. Yesterday it actually stalled for Tori on the highway (the one actual four-lane road on the island.) It was rough getting back home.

Clearly I'd bought a bad tank of gas. Almost certainly there was water in it. What seemed odd about that is that every station on St. Croix gets its gas from the same place – the Hovensa oil refinery on the south side of the island. So it can't be the source. What had happened?

At our regular service station Tori put in a half tank of premium. While she then tried to restart it – another two or three minute ordeal - a guy on the corner drinking offered the observation that the place we had bought the bad gas is situated in a small depression.

You have to understand there are no storm drains on the island at least none I've seen. Rainwater runs down the street and guts, and pools in low spots - like that gas station - and sits there, seeping into the tank. He pointed out that our regular station – where Tori ran across the guy – is actually raised slightly above street level, not much but enough, so that the rain runs away instead of forming a lake.

So there you have it. On St. Croix you can't make your fuel-buying decision solely on price, and quality is a non-issue since it all comes from the same place. You have to consider the topography of the station. Is it nicely elevated? Or do you have to worry about what might be in the underground tank besides fuel?

Anyway, we've run about half the new tank out, and I added a water-treatment product (which cost slightly more than the $3 I saved on the cheap gas.) We drive over some fairly bumpy roads (of course we do, we live on St. Croix) so that should mix the dirty gas, the new gas and the additive. This morning Bertha started after less than a minute of cranking instead of two or three. All the way to school and back it ran pretty well, except for once or twice when I sort of goosed the accelerator and the engine hesitated and hiccupped. Backing off the gas smoothed it back out.

The problem will probably continue another week or so, but it should clear up eventually. Sort of like when you get over a flu. You're not better all at once. But eventually everything's all right again.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Sounds like Bertha is suffering from some severe gas pains.