Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Gasoline may have caused sensor failures

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - State officials are testing gasoline purchased in the Louisville area, trying to pinpoint the cause of hundreds of fuel-sensor failures in vehicles.

AAA Kentucky began getting complaints from motorists last week who said their vehicles ran out of gas even though their fuel gauges indicated gas in the tank.

Terra Stribling, 24, of Louisville, said she was driving on the Gene Snyder Freeway when her Mercury Mountaineer suddenly began to lose power.

"When I went to accelerate, nothing happened," said Stribling. "I looked at all my gauges and everything looked great."

She said the gas gauge showed about an eighth of a tank full, but the sport utility vehicle was actually running on fumes. When Stribling slowed below 30 mph, the engine died, power steering disappeared and she was soon stranded on the side of the road, she said.

No one knows for sure what is causing the problem, but gasoline is the likely cause, said Roger Boyd, spokesman for AAA Kentucky.

While state officials test samples of gas, the Kentucky attorney general's office is also looking into the situation.

Garages confirm that something is fouling the sensors, which can cost up to $900 to replace, but typically total $400 to $500. By Saturday, the Ken Towery service center on Bardstown Road near the Watterson Expressway had five cars lined up for sensor repairs, said assistant service manager Shawn Helvey.

Boyd said the problem has not appeared elsewhere in Kentucky. But similar gas-gauge failures were reported in northwestern Pennsylvania last week, according to the Erie Times-News. The Pennsylvania attorney general's bureau of consumer protection is looking into the matter, the newspaper reported.

In Louisville, AAA received 174 out-of-gas calls from stranded drivers from May 7 through May 13, Boyd said. It typically gets about 60 calls in a week. Boyd said more than 200 motorists have called the club to tell them about their fuel-sensor problems.

Boyd said the problem appears to be confined almost exclusively to Jefferson County, but not to any one area or brand of gasoline. He said a variety of vehicle makes also appear to be affected, dating back to 1996 models.

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