The combined cost to victims of illegal petrol-stretching operations could be more than €3m this year alone, according to figures obtained by the Irish Examiner.
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry said it received more than 800 reports of petrol stretching this year, the majority of these reported in the second half of 2014.
Average repair costs are between €2,500 and €4,000 per car, indicating national figures of between €2m and €3m so far this year.
The cost of repairs ranges from around €1,000 to as much as €7,000, depending on factors such as the percentage of kerosene in the petrol and the age of the car.
Figures from individual insurance companies reveal almost 400 people have made claims on their car insurance in relation to contaminated fuel in the last few months.
Tom Cullen, director of SIMI, said the discrepancy between their figures and those received from the insurance companies is because half of people would not be eligible to make a claim.
“Some insurance policies will specifically exclude cover for repair work carried out as a result of damage caused by contaminated fuel,” said Mr Cullen.
“The customer will have little chance of recovering the costs unless they can prove the fuel that damaged the vehicle was purchased in a particular filling station.”
Only motorists with comprehensive insurance are covered.
Last month, Revenue announced they had received 90 complaints in relation to petrol stretching this year.
The recent figures obtained from both the SIMI and insurance companies reveal the extent of the problem is much bigger than Revenue is aware of.
It also suggests victims are not taking the extra step of reporting cases to Revenue, who are currently working a joint operation with gardaí to investigate the illegal practice.
Gardaí, however, remain unable to provide figures for individual petrol-stretching cases because of how such cases are recorded.
A spokesman for the Garda Press Office said cases of contaminated fuel are put down in the Pulse system as ‘fraud’ and, as such, an overall figure for the amount of motorists affected by contaminated fuel cannot be determined.
Petrol stretching is where kerosene, a diesel-based substance, is mixed with petrol before it is sold to drivers. After a couple of weeks, the engines begin to fail.
Kerosene, used as a fuel for heating, is available for as little as 80c per litre, as opposed to petrol, which is close to double that at €1.55.
Contaminated petrol can be up to 20% kerosene, sometimes with a further 5% of methanol.
The practice does serious damage to cars to the extent that engine pistons melt and end up coated in carbon.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan described it as a “matter of serious concern” and urged people to report suspicions concerning adulterated petrol to Revenue.
He said the practice poses risks to the exchequer, threatens legitimate businesses and damages the vehicles of unsuspecting purchasers of adulterated fuel.
Petrol stretching is an offence under the Finance Act and carries a penalty on summary conviction of €5,000 and/or up to 12 months in jail. If convicted on indictment, the fine is a maximum of €126,970 and/or up to five years’ jail.
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