Damage from fuel , or a broken timing chain / belt?



Okay, guys and gals,

Help me out here, please.

A rental '08 Caravan, after refueling, dies suddenly after 300 miles of highway and city driving over two days period. The dealer where the van was taken to claims there is a quarter tank (remaining fuel) of “old gas” which has caused as yet undetermined amount of damage to the inside of engine (it’s got less than 1,5000 miles).

After some testing, the dealer says there’s compression in only two of the six cylinders.

How likely is it that the fuel has nothing to do with this car not starting; rather, it’s got a broken timing belt / chain, and only two of the six cylinders are in the cycle where all the valves are closed allowing compression to be detected?

Any takers? Thanks in advance for your input.


None of this makes any sense. If there was “old fuel” it would have caused a some sort of problem before 300 miles had been driven. No way it would cause 4 cylinders to lose compression catastrophically.

So, where did the kerosene or diesel they previously “diagnosed” go?


If this is a rental, why don’t you turn it back to the rental agency where you got it? Tell them where they can get their turkey of a van. If they try to BS you, tell them that you’re not paying for the repair of their pos, and if they don’t like it, they can take you to court----where they’ll lose.


Is this not a duplicate of a message posted yesterday?


Hey, NYBo,
Thanks for the input.
The disappearance of kerosene occurred when my wife put the service manager on the phone with me. He now claims that it’s “old gas” which sometimes can “smell” like kerosene. He says, very graciously, that we can take as much of the quarter tank of fuel that’s still in the tank, for posterity, I suppose. In fact, he has given my wife a sample bottle to take. Not that she could possibly bring it home past the Homeland Security at the airport… In any case, I’m still wondering wether or not the dealer is chasing the wrong lead. Does anybody know about the engines used in '08 Caravans? I think they have at least three different engine options. I’d like to know if all of them are OHCs, and wether or not they use timing belt / chain / gear. Is my speculation about the timing system without any merit? Especially about the presence of compression only in two cylinders. If at any time during normal cycle of combustion two cylinders are simultaneous sealed both on the intake as well as exhaust valves, but the rest of four cylinders have partial openings, it could be a plausible culprit to investigate, no? Then anyone with intimate knowledge about these engines could determine if the two cylinders in question coincides with the theory. That would be… a big “IF”! But worth asking. Thanks, again, folks.


Yes, Joseph, sort of…
The replies I saw seemed to focus on “who is responsible for the bill?” So, I thought I’d word it differently since, although blame game is inevitable, I wanted to know the technical facts and truth. In that light, if you can shine some this way, I’d be grateful. Thanks.


You want a theory about what? Low compression on four cylinders? Ok. Burnt/warped/open valves.


Dealer service department says they think the cause of the problem (car won’t start) is catastrophic internal damage due to “old gas”. I’m theorizing that fuel might have nothing to do with it, but, rather, the vehicle has a broken timing belt / chain. They found only two cylinders responding to the compression check, and I’m wondering if that might actually dove tail with my theory… that’s all.


Let us know when the mechanics actually find something. Then, we can postulate theories as to cause.


There are 3 engines available in the 2008 Chrysler minivans., all V6s: 3.3L, 3.8L, and 4.0L. They share a common ancestry, but the first two are OHV (cam in block) with timing chains, while the 4.0L is OHC with a timing belt. None have a distributor, so the easy method of seeing if the chain or belt broke isn’t available (not foolproof anyway since not all distributors are driven by the camshaft), but diagnosing such a problem certainly isn’t rocket science. A broken chain or belt might account for the compression problems reported, but I wouldn’t trust ANYTHING these jokers told me.


Has the rental agency been involved yet? If not, then they need to be. Let them deal with the dealer, since they are the owners of the vehicle. A rental vehicle this new should be under warranty.

“Bad gas” after three hundred miles, with or without a fill up on the part of your wife is the car agency’s issue, not the renter’s. So it is time to get out ot the middle, demand the agency supply you with a proper rental working vehicle and let the agency talk to the dealer. Make anyone prove the bad gas, and then how it is your fault. It is the rental agency who needs to bad gas sample, not you. Keep all your working receipts related to this rental, including where you purchased gas. You may need that to identify the bad gas issue downstream.

The dealer also needs to better substantiate his claim and get a chemical analysis of the sample. “Smells Like” won’t hold up in court, and you are not responsible for anyone’s gas quality. Make sure that point is made clearly and often.


At this point, since they backed off on the “wrong fuel” idea and are now saying “old fuel”, I’d punt the discussion to the gas station where she bought the fuel. Let them and the rental agency sort it out among themselves. It’s not your problem either way.


Dealer service department says they think the cause of the problem (car won’t start) is catastrophic internal damage due to “old gas”

That’s crap. I suggest you get a independent mechanic to look at the engine if they are starting to play this game. What actually happened it’s IMPOSSIBLE to tell. Could be a timing chain/belt…could the a thrown rod…Broken cam shaft…and the list goes on.


Ranck is exactly on target.

Unless the OP refined that gasoline himself, he is not responsible for “old” gas, bad gas, or whatever might have been pumped into that tank. The OP should provide the rental agency with the receipt(s) for the gas that he purchased, and that will allow the rental company to pursue this questionable issue with the gas station(s) and/or the petroleum company in question.

Between the new vehicle warranty on the van and the issue of liability of the station/petroleum company that sold the gas that went into the tank, the OP has ZERO liability in this situation.


In regards to protecting yourself from liability due to damage/accident with a rental car. I dont ever want to be in "dongkwan’s position. When you rent the car you can buy insurance to protect yourself from accidents.No one put “bad gas” in the car on pourpose. If it happened at all it was a accident. Doesn’t the rental company offer insurance to protect you from situations like this? Were you offered a chance to buy insurance to protect yourself from such a situation? Is it even necessary to buy any insurance to protect yourself from liability in regards to damage caused to a vehicle caused by you doing something required to operate the vehicle?putting gas in it.


If this vehicle had the wrong fuel or allegedly bad gas it would have never run well for 300 miles. It would have been wheezing and jerking the entire time.

I have no idea what the problem actually is but if a timing belt or chain broke you should have heard a brief clatter or rattle as it quit.

Wrong fuel or bad gas would not cause a timing belt or chain to break. If the dealer claims the wrong fuel or bad gas is involved then what you should do as a preventative measure in case they try to hang this on you is show up unexpectedly with a quart Mason jar and demand a sample then and there.

If fuel is the alleged problem then they should have no problem providing a sample. As a matter of fact, any time a fuel quality problem is suspected and/or claimed a healthy sample (at least a quart) should be retained in a glass jar with no exceptions to the rule.
A reputable dealer or independent shop should be more than happy to do this.


The OP said the shop offered a sample of the gas, but the OP’s wife would have had to take it on a plane to get it home. The Department of Homeland Security was mentioned as a possible stumbling block to this plan.

This whole thing smells worse than bad gas.


To my knowledge, none of the standard damage waivers may cover this situation. I do remember that Arizona regulation of damage waivers and rental car companies was somewhat “loose” when I was spending time on business in Arizona several years ago. I also don’t know if any of my liability auto insurance that I carry with me would cover this situation. There are some multipurpose damage waivers that rental car companies want you to buy, but you have to read the fine print, because in most cases “all” doesn’t mean “all”. I hate to sound cynical, but the whole damage waiver business smells. I try to indemnify myself against these issues by using my Platinum or Gold charge card, and hope that the charge card company will act favorably on my behalf in considering a claim from the rental car company.

That said,no one I know has run into this exact situation, and we travel a lot in my office. We have experienced hit and run accidents, parking lot damage, etc, and the charge card damage waivers we have with our business charge cards have covered 100%.

To me, the real issue is a denial of a warranty claim by the dealer, and that issue is between the owner (rental car co) and the dealer. Dongkwan is merely a middle man, and the rental car co should extricate him from the situation by providing an alternative rental car to him.

We also don’t know what the rental agency has done about this, either, so we are not dealing with a full deck here. I would think it is up to the rental car agency to go obtain a second opinion from an independent mechanic, to protect their interests in this. It is not clear that the demand to pay is from the rental car co, but is from the dealer.


Hey, fellas,
One and all, thanks very much for your input.
Liability issues, along the line of legal responsibility, will probably be found in the fine-print section of the renter’s agreement. And I’m not too concerned about it. I’ll take their business elsewhere in the future by letting all of you fine Cartalk Community members know where NOT to go for rentals. It’s American Justice at its finest!
Meanwhile, my original question to you guys were much more academic.
If you were the repair shop owner, and a customer brought in a car with a similar problem, in which direction would you embark to define the cause and effect? With the circumstantial explanation she has given you, would you blame it on the bad gas and expect internal damages plausible to that cause? Or would you look elsewhere and maybe suspect something other than bad gas, such as broken timing chain? That, in essence, was the original posting. Again, thanks for all your excellent view points.


NYBo, you’re correct about the airplane part of this. I missed that while thinking about the problem itself. I realize this can’t be taken with them; only suggesting that a bad fuel sample should be held onto and presented to the customer as evidence.
Of course if the customer has no expertise in determining what is bad then it’s pointless other than the shop keeping a sample to fall back on.

From my vantage point it’s impossible to say exactly with so much info being unknown.
As to bad fuel, the car should have been running poorly long before it quit if the fuel is actually the problem.
As to a timing chain, there should have been some rattling and banging occurring. And should probably still be making noise when the engine is cranked over.
As to a timing belt breaking, there will usually be a few seconds of rattle, chatter, or a BRrrrrrrrrrr sound, no matter how you define the noise. If the belt breaks the engine will crank over very easily and turn over much faster than it would normally. It’s very noticeable.

As I said, there’s not enough detailed info to know for sure but I certainly don’t see a fuel problem as the cause of any engine destruction; assuming the fuel is bad and the engine does have damage.
NYBo says something smells a bit and I tend to agree until it’s proven otherwise.

I have several questions. How was this van running up to the moment it quit? Running fine, no noises, and bang? Sluggish running, rattling, until it wheezed its last?