FAQ on fuel supplied potentially causing fuel gauge accuracy issue

A Q&A for customers about the batch of fuel that has impacted on a small number of fuel gauges in the Auckland region.

What has happened here?

One batch of 91 octane petrol and three batches of 95 octane petrol were released between the end of November and the middle of December with levels of active sulphur above industry-implemented standards. Diesel is not affected.

Elevated active sulphur (or elemental sulphur) levels may be linked to a small number of complaints from motorists regarding the accuracy of their fuel gauges. A small number of vehicles have experienced fuel gauges showing they have a quarter of a tank remaining when they are in fact out of fuel.

Why is there active sulphur in the fuel in the first place?

Crude oil and the resulting fuels (i.e. petrol, diesel, jet fuel) naturally contain sulphur, which is reduced during the manufacturing process to meet legislated as well as voluntary industry requirements. Every batch of petrol manufactured or imported into NZ is extensively tested to ensure it’s of the standard required in NZ.  Industry is investigating how this elevated active sulphur level has occurred.

What is the required fuel specification for active sulphur?

There is no legislated fuel specification for active sulphur but in New Zealand the fuel industry has a limit which has been exceeded in these three batches.

Why are you telling us this?

Independent test result data confirming elevated levels of active sulphur in the fuel was received just before the New Year. This was made public as quickly as possible. While the number of complaints has been very small, and so far limited to a few vehicle brands, we want to ensure our customers are aware of this issue and know who to contact if they have experienced problems with their fuel gauge as a result of filling up during this period.

Is this fuel still in the market?

This fuel will have been used up at service stations by now, and motorists should not be concerned with the fuel they are buying now. Additional testing has been conducted to give assurance of this.

What companies have been selling this fuel?

Almost every brand in the market could potentially have sold this fuel, except Gull which imports its own fuel.

Will there be any other impact on a vehicle?

No. And we stress the point: we don’t think this has or will have had any impact on the overwhelming majority of vehicles. There are approximately four million vehicles in New Zealand, this fuel was sold widely across almost all fuel retailing brands. As an indication of the scale of this issue, Caltex has so far received only a handful of complaints.

Are fuel gauge problems commonly caused by an issue with the fuel?

No. To our knowledge, this has not happened in New Zealand in recent history. Fuel gauge issues in New Zealand are normally caused by mechanical or auto-electric issues. It is unusual for it to be caused by an issue with the fuel.

How many complaints are you aware of and where / what vehicles?

Caltex has so far received only a handful of complaints of this fuel potentially leading to inaccurate readings. All complaints so far have been from people who have filled up in the wider Auckland region. We are continuing to investigate the issue, and if the current issues being experienced in these vehicles is shown to be connected to the fuel. We would not expect these levels of active sulphur to present a problem for the vast majority of vehicles. Most motor vehicles have fuel sender units with a level of additional protection against such an occurrence.

What are you doing about it?

People with any concerns around the accuracy of their fuel gauge should ensure their gauges read above half full before having their vehicle checked by the local vehicle dealer.

Customers should contact the fuel company they purchased their fuel from with any queries or concerns. The relevant fuel company will assess any claims for the costs of repairs that are found to be a result of this issue.

What should I do?

We encourage vehicle owners – particularly owners of Holden, Mazda and Toyota – with concerns around their fuel gauge performance who have refuelled between approximately late November and the middle of December to ensure their gauge reads more than half full and immediately check with their vehicle manufacturer or mechanic.  Customers should contact the fuel company they purchased their fuel from with any queries or concerns. The relevant fuel company will assess any claims for the costs of repairs that are found to be a result of this issue.

Fuel company helpdesk numbers:

BP 0800 805 111

Caltex 0800 567 723

Mobil 0800 880 361

Z Energy 0800 567 723