Car fires ignite new fuel fears in Trinidad

A White Axio sedan on fire in Gasparillo in early March.

(Trinidad Guardian) Wide­ly shared so­cial me­dia posts blam­ing im­port­ed fu­el for at least six in­ci­dents in re­cent months in which cars caught fire have been dis­pelled by me­chan­ics who be­lieve poor main­te­nance and shod­dy mod­i­fi­ca­tions were done to the ve­hi­cles were like­ly the cause of the fires.

Ever since the first ship­ments of im­port­ed fu­el ar­rived in the coun­try on Oc­to­ber 27 last year, a de­bate has raged over the qual­i­ty. With the clo­sure of Petrotrin, the Pointe-a-Pierre re­fin­ery which sup­plied the na­tion’s fu­el has been moth­balled. In the months since then, sev­er­al videos have popped up on Face­book show­ing cars on fire and blam­ing those ac­ci­dents on the im­port­ed fu­el.

Last De­cem­ber 26, a short video of a burn­ing car on the north­bound lane of the Sir Solomon Ho­choy High­way was post­ed on Face­book. One day lat­er, a video show­ing a Nis­san X-Trail on fire on South Quay, Port of Spain, was post­ed and since then there have been four oth­er videos of burn­ing ve­hi­cles.

The most re­cent was on March 20, when a car caught fire along the Rivulet Road in Cou­va.

The videos have at­tract­ed thou­sands of views and com­ments, with so­cial me­dia users spec­u­lat­ing about the cause of this ap­par­ent in­crease in ve­hi­cle fires.

On a video of a burn­ing Toy­ota Axio, one man wrote: “Next car on fire again this is about 17 ve­hi­cles I saw post­ed on fb on fire…this nev­er use to hap­pen un­der Petrotrin watch… now this new gas the gov­ern­ment is im­port­ing is a night­mare to these dri­vers…”

On the March 20 fire, an­oth­er user com­ment­ed: “It’s d fu­el peo­ple. Look at cars just burn­ing down as we start­ed im­port­ing fu­el.”

An­oth­er plead­ed for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the qual­i­ty of the fu­el, writ­ing: “Some­one needs to in­ves­ti­gate the type of fu­el we are re­ceiv­ing and if these cars were CNG al­so. Some­thing not adding up too many ve­hi­cles on fire.”

How­ev­er, An­dre Toolsie, a me­chan­ic and the own­er of Striv­er’s Au­to Garage in Princes Town be­lieves the re­al cause of the car fires are me­chan­ics us­ing out­dat­ed tools and ser­vic­ing meth­ods on mod­ern cars.

“Any­time I see a ve­hi­cle on fire, it is most like­ly be­cause of work re­cent­ly done on a ve­hi­cle. For in­stance, there are me­chan­ics who do en­gine changes but they don’t have the cor­rect tools to work on the ve­hi­cle so when they cut the fu­el lines, they are just join­ing it and that can lead to fu­el leak­age which can start a fire,” Toolsie said.

“I have come across sev­er­al cars where wires are left ex­posed when mu­sic sys­tems are set up, where bat­tery ter­mi­nals are not ground­ed prop­er­ly and these cause mi­nor fires to start.”

He al­so dis­missed claims that the im­port­ed fu­el is in­fe­ri­or to the fu­el that Petrotrin used to pro­duce.

“Cus­tomers are com­plain­ing that fu­el is burn­ing out faster than be­fore but that de­pends on the main­te­nance of the ve­hi­cle. I be­lieve the fu­el qual­i­ty now is of bet­ter qual­i­ty than what we were pro­duc­ing, I have per­son­al­ly seen it in the im­prove­ment of the mileage of my per­son­al ve­hi­cle,” he said.

Own­er of Chunks Au­to Ser­vice, Kr­ish­na Sub­ratie, said af­ter hear­ing sim­i­lar com­plaints, he of­fered three of his clients free ser­vice for their ve­hi­cles as part of a project to mon­i­tor fu­el ef­fi­cien­cy. Af­ter post­ing the of­fer on his Face­book page, Sub­ratie se­lect­ed one cus­tomer for the ser­vice. He al­so test­ed his the­o­ry that the ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance of the ve­hi­cle are di­rect­ly re­lat­ed to its fu­el con­sump­tion on his own car.

“I did see a dif­fer­ence in the num­ber of miles per tank of gas af­ter the ser­vice. I used to get 270 km’s per tank and af­ter the ser­vice the first time I filled up my tank, I got 305 km from that tank,” Sub­ratie said. “Since then, I have been get­ting even more miles per tank.”

He ex­plained that when ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers test a ve­hi­cle’s fu­el ef­fi­cien­cy, that ve­hi­cle is usu­al­ly brand new.

“The ve­hi­cle needs to be main­tained in a cer­tain way in or­der for it to work the way it’s sup­posed to. When man­u­fac­tur­ers are do­ing their tests those ve­hi­cles are 100 per cent clean for them to be able to get those type of num­bers and when you have a ve­hi­cle and you don’t keep up on main­te­nance—keep­ing the in­take man­i­fold clean, free of dust or what­ev­er residue—all that con­tributes to poor fu­el econ­o­my.”

Sub­ratie be­lieves the qual­i­ty of im­port­ed fu­el is the same as the fu­el Petrotrin used to pro­duce.

“From us­ing the lo­cal fu­el to the one they are bring­ing in now, my mileage has re­mained about the same, I’m 100 per cent sure of that. I have been try­ing to ad­vise cus­tomers that cer­tain con­di­tions, along with the main­te­nance, will cause them to burn more fu­el.

“For ex­am­ple, you have two same types of ve­hi­cles, they take the same amount of fu­el, one per­son goes from San Fer­nan­do to Port of Spain and the oth­er goes from Mara­cas to Port of Spain every day. Let’s say they are both do­ing the same mileage but one per­son’s gas is fin­ish­ing faster and that per­son would be the one from Mara­cas, sim­ply be­cause there are more hills on that side and the ve­hi­cle would use more gas to get more pow­er to climb those hills.”

Sub­ratie, a me­chan­ic for about 13 years, does not be­lieve that the im­port­ed fu­el is caus­ing fires.

“Un­less it is a man­u­fac­tur­ing de­fect, a lot of it is hu­man er­ror. Peo­ple are do­ing work on ve­hi­cles that they are not qual­i­fied to do. Sim­ple things like the bat­tery clamp, if it is not prop­er­ly se­cured and it moves and the pos­i­tive touch­es any part of your ve­hi­cle, that can cause a fire,” he said.

He said a ve­hi­cle can catch fire be­cause of fu­el but on­ly in spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances.

“If you get in­to an ac­ci­dent and the fu­el tank bursts and at that time some­thing sparks and ig­nites it, then you will have a fire. To my knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence cars don’t just catch fire be­cause of fu­el. It could be a faulty fu­el line or the bat­tery or wire not ground­ed prop­er­ly but once every­thing is work­ing how it’s sup­posed too in the ve­hi­cle, the fu­el will not cause a fire.”

In a state­ment yes­ter­day, Paria Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed said all the re­fined fu­els it im­ports meets or ex­ceeds mar­ket spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

The com­pa­ny en­sures all car­goes/prod­ucts are ful­ly test­ed at the load port and the tests are wit­nessed by an in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tor. The re­sults are pro­vid­ed to Paria for re­view and pri­or to dis­charge, the prod­ucts are again test­ed at the Guaracara lab­o­ra­to­ry, with tests again be­ing wit­nessed by an in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tor.

“To date, all the prod­ucts im­port­ed have met and, in many cas­es, ex­ceed­ed the con­trac­tu­al spec­i­fi­ca­tions par­tic­u­lar­ly in re­la­tion to sul­phur con­tent. These spec­i­fi­ca­tions are in keep­ing with the Trinidad and To­ba­go Bu­reau of Stan­dards (TTBS) spec­i­fi­ca­tion for mo­tor ve­hi­cles.

“We are bring­ing in a much bet­ter qual­i­ty prod­uct than was pro­duced at the Pointe-a-Pierre re­fin­ery in re­cent times.”

Al­so weigh­ing in on the qual­i­ty of the fu­el was Unipet chair­man, Dr Afraz Ali, who de­scribed the so­cial me­dia claims about im­port­ed fu­el caus­ing fires as noth­ing more than anec­dotes.

Ali said to date, no one has been able to pro­vide any ev­i­dence that there is some­thing wrong with the qual­i­ty of the im­port­ed fu­el.

“We at Unipet have not had that ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m not sure where that is com­ing from. As far as the com­ments are con­cerned, those are anec­do­tal, I don’t think any­one has come out and proven those al­le­ga­tions that are be­ing made on so­cial me­dia,” he said.

Ali said Unipet has been us­ing a dou­ble fil­tra­tion sys­tem for the past eight years which has been proven to im­prove the qual­i­ty of fu­el de­liv­ered to cus­tomers.

“That is some­thing that we have in­de­pen­dent­ly test­ed and we have cer­tifi­cates that can sub­stan­ti­ate the fact that our dou­ble fil­tra­tion ac­tu­al­ly im­proves the qual­i­ty of fu­el to the cus­tomer,” he said.

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