Silicon found in rogue petrol

LORNA MARSH Rogue silicon has been found in fuel blamed for causing damage to thousands of cars, trading standards officers confirmed last night, as mechanics were accused of cashing in on the crisis.

LORNA MARSH

Rogue silicon has been found in fuel blamed for causing damage to thousands of cars, trading standards officers confirmed last night, as mechanics were accused of cashing in on the crisis.

And worried drivers were hit with another potential problem as experts warned catalytic convertors could fail as well as the Lamda oxygen sensors apparently damaged by contaminated fuel.

The sensors cost from £70 upwards and industry groups said a typical bill for parts and labour should be about £200.

But some drivers have reported being forced to fork out more than £1,000 by profiteering garages as well as being stranded as they have to wait for weeks for the part due to a national shortage sparked by the crisis that hit East Anglia over the past few days.

The AA said unscrupulous dealers may also be telling drivers to buy expensive electronic parts unlikely to be damaged by the fuel.

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A spokesman said vehicle owners should contact their local trading standards office for advice or get an expert second opinion before spending large sums on repairs.

Professor Malcolm Fox, of the University of Leeds, said silicon is used in some fuels as an anti-foaming agent and would not necessarily have been found in standard tests.

But retailers and fuel companies all insisted their unleaded petrol met British standards yesterday, following emergency tests.

Prof Fox said: "It is not gross contamination because of the analysis. It must have been some very low level of contamination."

He said some vehicle owners with mechanical knowledge may be able to get their car back on the road without visiting a garage by thoroughly cleaning the sensor of all traces of white powdery silica and replacing any suspect petrol left in the engine.

Conrad Murray, of roadsidelawyer.co.uk, said more than 1,200 potential claims were received since the crisis struck East Anglia.

Meanwhile Trading Standards officers in Norfolk have sent out leaflets to about 150 people who have contacted them about the issue. The leaflet advises people experiencing problems to contact the retailer suspected of selling rogue fuel before going ahead with costly repairs.

It also tells drivers to keep a proof of purchase for any fuel and ask an independent garage for a short written report confirming that fuel contamination was the cause of the problem, and to ask for a sample from the petrol tank

The source of the fuel is believed to be a storage terminal run by Royal Vopak on the Thames Estuary at West Thurrock, Essex, which supplies Tesco, Morrisons and Asda.

Norfolk Trading Standards is at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk. Call 08454 040506.