New Jersey Sues Gas Stations For Selling Aviation Fuel As Unleaded Gasoline

When most people fuel up at a gas station, especially one belonging to a national chain, they do so under the assumption that they are filling their car up with whatever gasoline they have selected from the pump. But authorities in New Jersey say that several stations were deceiving customers — and putting their cars at risk — by selling them leaded aviation gas (or avgas) under the guise of unleaded gasoline.

According to NJ Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the owner of six gas stations in the Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset, and Union Counties — including three Lukoil stations — sold 65,000 gallons of 100 octane avgas to customers who had no idea what they were buying.

This avgas, used to fuel piston-powered aircraft, contains tetraethyl lead (TEL), a toxic substance that can damage cars’ catalytic converters and oxygen sensors. TEL has long been phased-out of use in motor vehicle gasoline.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed last week in New Jersey Superior Court, alleges that a fuel distribution company (also named as a defendant in the suit) bought 73,000 gallons of avgas on Dec. 4, reselling it the same day to the stations’ owner at a price significantly lower than what he’d been paying for premium unleaded gasoline.

The state contends this is not simply a paperwork error, saying the bills of lading for this shipment clearly noted that the fuel was “AVGAS – Aviation.” Likewise, the loading forms signed by the fuel transporter — also being sued — identified the fuel as “AVGAS,” as did the weight tickets from the fuel terminal.

Three days after much of the avgas had been shipped to the stations, an employee at the fuel terminal discovered that the transport company had been delivering the avgas to gas stations. The terminal put a halt on the remaining shipments, meaning that 8,000 gallons of the avgas did not make its way to consumers’ cars.

Selling the avgas as unleaded gasoline violates the Federal Clean Air Act and numerous state laws like the Consumer Fraud Act, Motor Fuels Act, Weights and Measures Act, along with New Jersey Motor Fuels Regulations, and Advertising Regulations.

Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act may result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 for a first violation and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations. Violations of the Motor Fuels Act may result in civil penalties of up to $1,500 for a first violation and up to $3,000 for subsequent violations. A first violation of the Motor Fuels Act may result in a suspension of up to 30 days of the retail dealer’s license to sell motor fuels, and a subsequent offense can lead to a revocation of the license. Violations of the Weights and Measures Act may result in civil penalties of up to $1,000 for the first violation, and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations.

In short, what little money the gas station owner might have made by selling the avgas to consumers could be taken back several times over by these penalties.

“We allege that these gas stations clearly knew, or should have known, they were selling aviation fuel that contains toxic lead, while advertising it as unleaded gasoline for motorists,” Attorney General Chiesa said in a statement. “We will pursue restitution for any consumer, if it is demonstrated that this aviation fuel damaged their vehicles. Just as importantly, we are holding these gas stations and the distributors responsible for their alleged, unlawful deception and potential harm to the public.”