Score one for the all-gas-is-the-same crowd.
One of South Florida’s largest gasoline distributors is accused in a lawsuit of delivering cheaper, off-brand gasoline to two Miami-Dade Shell stations without the knowledge of the stations’ owners — or their customers — while charging the station higher Shell prices.
The distributor says misdeliveries happened “a handful” of times by a “third-party distributor” and were “immediately addressed and corrected.” Yet the lawsuit says the distributor never repaid the difference in prices between the two fuel brands, and the gas stations’ attorney said customers bought the cheaper gas thinking they were buying Shell.
Skeptics have long claimed that there’s no difference between gasoline brands. It all comes from the same tankers and storage facilities, they say.
That’s not quite true. While gas is delivered in generic form to distribution terminals like Port Everglades, proprietary formulas of fuel additives are mixed in during the transfer to tanker trucks that supply gas stations.
The special formulas enable Shell to hype the “deposit eradicating” technology of its V-Power NITRO+ Premium gas, and ExxonMobil to claim its “Synergy Supreme+” premium gas “keeps your engine 2X cleaner for better gas mileage.”
Texaco promises its Techron will “start removing up to 50% if harmful engine deposits” within 4,500 miles. Sunoco promises to clean your fuel system with its “Ultratech” detergent package.
But gasoline sellers have been making such claims for so long, they often fall on deaf ears.
And if distributors are caught delivering the wrong brands, consumers understandably wonder which claims about brand differences are true.
Discoveries of the wrongly delivered gas occurred as owners of two North Miami Beach Shell stations, owned by entities identified as Hebry 1 and Hebry 2, gathered evidence to back up their claim that they were overcharged by their supplier, Sunshine Dade Investments.
Sunshine Dade Investments is owned by Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, owner of 415 South Florida gas stations and suppliers of 175 independently owned sites.
The two companies are suing each other in Miami-Dade County.
The Hebry companies claim that Sunshine added unauthorized surcharges to wholesale prices agreed to in 10-year contracts signed in 2021. Sunshine says it fixed “minor” pricing errors and accuses Hebry of breaching its contract without cause when it severed ties with the distributor in March.
Sunshine’s suit says Hebry failed to pay more than $49,000 for deliveries in the two months prior to the breakup. Hebry’s attorney, Marko Cerenko the Miami-based law firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine P.L., says those claims are not true.
Cerenko says the misdeliveries came to light while Hebry was investigating Sunshine’s pricing history.
In an interview, Cerenko said that invoices between Sunshine and its hauler, which gas station operators would normally not see, showed the hauler filled Hebry’s underground storage tanks with cheaper product made for a different brand “two to three times” during each of the two months for which they obtained the invoices.
Cerenko did not identify the months the invoices covered, but a loading ticket he provided to the South Florida Sun Sentinel showed that 2,600 gallons of Marathon-branded fuel was delivered to one of the stations in December 2001.
Gas is sold to distributors at wholesale prices that vary by brand according to numerous factors, including grade, types and blends. Shell is among the higher-priced of the gas brands. Charging Hebry Shell prices while delivering lower-priced fuel was akin to Sunshine adding another surcharge, the lawsuit states.
The price differences “are only a few pennies, but they can add up to a lot,” Cerenko said.
Hebry’s lawsuit seeks invoices from additional months so it can determine whether it was overcharged or sold the wrong gas on other occasions.
Asked about the Hebry properties’ claims that Sunshine delivered cheaper non-Shell-branded gas to the Hebry stations while charging higher Shell prices, Sunshine attorney Benjamin Brodsky wrote, “Sunshine is aware of a handful of instances in which a third-party fuel hauler misdelivered a different brand of gasoline to Hebry, and this was immediately addressed and corrected.
“Sunshine delivers the fuel that its dealers order both on time and on brand.”
Customers of the Hebry Shell stations can at least take solace in the fact that the cheaper replacement gas was among a higher level of brands certified as TOP TIER — an upgraded formula of additives established in 2004 by car makers concerned that cheap gas was insufficient to prevent carbon buildup in high-compression modern engines.
Among the fuel brands featured on Sunshine Gasoline’s website, all are TOP TIER brands.
Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.