Two Gas Tank Questions

Question One:

I recently rented a 2009 Volkswagen GTI. Upon receipt, it had about 3/4ths of a tank of gas. I had to return it with no less gas. Being cheapskate, I didn’t want to put an ounce more gas in it than necessary. So, in the middle of filling up, I turned the key on and the gas gauge indicated about half full. The idea was to shut off the pump when the gauge indicated 3/4ths. It never moved, but the auto shut off at the pump kicked in once the tank was full. Even after starting the car and driving the short distance to the rental place - less than 1/4 mile - the gauge never moved. We argued that the tank was full and went as far to go together to the gas station and put about five cents worth of gas in the tank. Friday, I received a bill for almost $600 from the rental place for breaking their gas gauge. How do you break a gas gauge? This ever happen to anyone else? Did I fry it by flicking the key in the middle of a fill-up?

Question Two:

This brought to mind gas tank woes involving the 1998 Jeep Wrangler. Back in November, I ran it to nearly empty, now whenever I fill up, I have to either let the fuel trickle ridiculously slowly or the auto-shutoff kicks in at the pump every one or two seconds. What gives?

Question one. You did nothing wrong. VWs are known for electrical gremlins. I would write a sternly worded letter explaining that this should be a warranty issue and they need to get it corrected through VW. Again, you did nothing wrong, and they cannot show any damage that would have caused this condition. Alternately, if you have insurance, check to see if rental car coverage is included, and let them know about the issue. They may be able to help further. This includes your credit card company if you used one. Many credit card companies have a rental car rider automatically on them.

Question 2. All 1996 and newer cars and trucks needed to have a vapor recovery system on board to absorb the fumes from filling the tank. Sometimes these interfere with the filling of the tank, and force the pump to keep shutting off. Also, some manufacturers put a spill-prevention flap or ball in the bottom of the tank to keep fuel from spilling out in the case of a roll-over. Sometimes these get stuck. Running a wire or flexible rod through the filler neck can pop this back out.

Oh yeah. I laid the Jeep over on its side back in November. Tried to cross a ditch that was overgrown with weeds making impossible to judge the depth. It ended up on the left side, the same side as the filler neck. Thanks. I’ll try the wire trick and see if it works.

Bend the wire to make a loop at the end, so you don’t accidentally poke through any of the filler tube rubber or weakened metal. Should work like a charm.

Check, got it. Thanks.

With reference to the VW, those jerks are using the argument, “You indicated on the vehicle inspection that all the gauges were working when you received the vehicle. Now the gas gauge is broken, so you MUST have broken it.” Worse, the Germans are still bitter about losing the war and take advantage of stickin’ it to Joe every chance they get. I’ll probably end up in German small claims court. This is only starting, my first notice being only two days ago. At the moment I’m debating the cost/benefit of hiring an attorney, paying court fees, being an American in German court and standing the chance of losing versus just ponying up the $600. Here, it’s loser pays. If I don’t emerge victorious, then I pay the rental place’s ancillary fees in addition to the cost of the gas gauge.

First the gas guage repair should be covered under VW warranty. Second, just because the guage read 3/4 when you picked up the car doesn’t mean it was working. Broken gas guages read something between E and F so getting a reading is not proof it was working.

There is virtually nothing a driver can do to damage a fuel guage. One day they work and the next they don’t. It is only a coincidence that you happened to be driving the car when it became evident the fuel guage had conked out.

Well, over the course of a four-day weekend that saw us crossing the full breadth of both Germany and Denmark, we drained and filled the tank a number of times. We watched the gas gauge go through its full range of motion. I suspect you’re right, it just happened to conk out at that particular moment and the rental place is looking for a chance to bilk me out of a few bucks. I’ll have a German lawyer take a look at their nasty-gram next week.

As someone who occasionally rents a car in Germany, would appreciate knowing which company this is.

It was Sixt. It’s worth mentioning that this the first problem I’ve had with them, though I suspect that it’s this particular branch located in Vilseck, Germany and not the parent organization.

Uncle Turbo is correct.
A 2009 vehicle is covered under multiple warranties, and no matter how the gas gauge came to be non-functioning, the bottom line is that the car rental company will not have to pay for repair of the gas gauge if they take it to a VW dealership.

And, as UT also stated, there is nothing that you could have done to damage the fuel gauge, unless you chose to put a wrench through the instrument panel in a fit of rage. I will assume that you did not do anything like that!

The gauge simply stopped working, most likely because of the weird electronic problems that VWs are reknowned for. They don’t usually show up in the first year, but this is an electronic problem, not one caused by the driver.

Question #2:

That could be your fault. It is possible on some (maybe all) cars to damage the vapor recovery system by topping off the tank. Chances are there is a warning, in the owner’s manual or on a sticker somewhere on the car, not to top off the tank.

Could be, but I tend to not top off the tank. It’s a personal peeve when I’m in line behind someone who keeps squeezing the trigger at the gas pump over and over to eek out that last billionth of a gallon of gas, I guess to save a trip later. I let the shut off valve trip once. Gas isn’t so hard to obtain that it’s necessary to fill it to the tippy top. I tried the wire hanger thing suggested by bustedknuckles and I seemed to feel something pop out at the bottom of the filler neck. We’ll know for sure tomorrow when I fill up again.

Sometimes, it’s better to not say anything when one rents a vehicle which develops a problem. If you do, you draw excessive attention to the fault. This doesn’t sound quite honest; but, that’s the way people are.
What would have been the fee if you had said nothing about the gasoline level, and let them discover it was less than 3/4 [indicated]? I’ll bet that if you had said nothing, and paid the fee, and later they attempted to fill the tank, and couldn’t, that THEY would scratch their heads in consternation, and you would, likely, would never hear from them. Car rental agents aren’t hired for their car knowledge.

Looking at the original contract, a copy of which was thoughtfully included with the nasty-gram from Sixt, it describes a 39.99 euro fill up fee plus 6.99 per gallon. My small-town, good ol’ boy dumb upbringing prompted me to announce upon return, “Duh-huh, shucks golly gee, the gas gauge isn’t workin’ y’all.” Then they really had my number. Lesson learned, in an attempt to save myself about $12 worth of gas, I may be on the hook for whatever is wrong with the vehicle plus the filing and processing fees in the event we find ourselves in court.

My opinion is that the fill up fee and the gasoline cost should be removed, because you had an agency employee verify that the tank was full. “We argued that the tank was full and went as far to go together to the gas station and put about five cents worth of gas in the tank.”

I would also point out that this issue should be covered as a warranty repair and demand a statement from the VW dealer as to why warranty does not cover it. Perhaps your German attorney can write such a reply inexpensively.

Roger, got it. They’re not hitting me with the fill-up fee. They received the car with more gas than when they rented it to me.

Thanks. I’ll mention that to der Anwahlt. I work in the Army’s JAG office and see a fair amount of Soldiers exploited and extorted by German companies. They don’t want to cross the hurdles of the language and culture barriers and square off in a foreign court and simply take the past of least resistance and pony up for fees and fines. I wanted to be armed with some knowledge and didn’t want to pound on desks if it was likely that I am actually responsible for the damage.

“How do you break a gas gauge?”

Damn straight. You can hire a lawyer if you want, but I would call them, or email, and ask them to explain what you could have done to harm the gauge. Tell them you’ll go to court against them if you have to, and I bet they’ll back down. I would like to see them convince a judge that you broke the gauge. God, this is nuts.

SUCCESS!!! Well, for me. I called the rental place in Vilseck again and asked for proof that I was actually responsible for breaking the gas gauge. They again referred to the vehicle inspection where I indicated that all the gauges and dials were operational upon receipt and that the gauge was broken upon return. So, I called the district manager, then the regional manager and finally was absolved from responsibility. It seems that particular branch didn’t want to turn in the car for warranty work because then the car falls off their books. So they just had a local shop replace the fuel level sensor and sent me the bill. Naughty, naughty. So, I’m off the hook. Thanks for all the input. Happy ending.

Also, I tried the wire trick with the Jeep and it worked perfectly. This morning it filled up with no problem. Thanks for the good advice.

I love this thread, namely because I was given a 2000 Jeep Wrangler as a bonus by my former employer and for the last two years, every time I go to the gas tank, I say “F**king jeep!” and keep moving the gas pump around until I find a position in which I can pump gas without it shutting off. Seriously, it never occured to me that it might be a fixable problem.

Glad to hear everything worked out. I wish everyone would post follow-up results, good or bad.