Gas Oil in Crisis: Advice for Buyers

How can you tell if you have been sold poor quality product?

It’s not easy: while there can be differences in smell and appearance, testing product before it goes into the engine is something few operators have the facility to do.

But the cheaper cuts of gas oil burn less efficiently. In effect, you use more fuel to do the same amount of work.

With some product the engines will run but will be noticeably down on power, with a haze of blue exhaust smoke. Some distributors will pretreat the fuel with an additive to eliminate the power and smoke problem, but this still does not make it legal to use. The practice is so common that the tanker manufacturers are offering an automatic dosing system on trucks, allowing the driver to decide if the end user is going to use the fuel in a tractor or boiler.

Look for problems with sediment building up in bulk tanks, or for fuel waxing in cold weather. Winter grade diesel is tested to minus 15 degrees celsius: last winter, 2015/16, many users reported problems at minus 5 or warmer. Look for trouble with filters clogging with a slimy black or white deposit, and fuel leaks on tanks and equipment.

Be suspicious of prices if one quote is much cheaper than the rest. Be warned, however: some companies trade under many different names with different phone numbers all terminating in the same anonymous office, at the other end of the country.

Some distributors tell their customers that all gas oil has a bio content by law: this is not the case. The law only states that gas oil to BS2869 2010 A2 may, not must, have up to 7% Bio content.

But who would ever know? When did you last see a Customs Officer stop a tractor in a field?

Customs already have all commercial gas oil users’ names and addresses provided to them, every month, by all distributors. If the distributor is questioned he could claim that he cannot control how the fuel is used, and as they have by law to send a monthly report to HM Revenue and Customs, it’s an easy job for Customs Officers to knock on the end user’s door. Customs don’t have to prove anything: it’s the end user who would have to prove that the fuel has been used in ship or boiler, for example.

If they can’t, then they are liable to pay all the unpaid duty as decided by Customs. This happens all the time in the road fuels market. It’s only a matter of time before HM Revenue and Customs start policing the off-road market.

How can you minimize your risk?

Build a long term understanding with your supplier, and be sure you know who you are trading with. Have they got a local office or representative? Don’t just buy on price: ask for details of the product specification, and don’t be put off by telesales who don’t know but promise to get back to you. Ask for it in writing or on email, and keep it on file so if Customs come knocking, you can prove good faith.

Ask to see the original loading manifest, checking dates, times and where the fuel was loaded. All tankers have to carry them by law. Be suspicious of photocopies.

Question drivers and representatives about the source of the product. If they claim not to know or are evasive, be suspicious.

Finally, be cautious when relying on internet price comparison sites. Many are not independent, and are owned by the companies who post prices on them.

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