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Fact or Myth: Do Highway Gas Stations Sell Diluted Gasoline?

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Highway Gas Stations Sell Diluted Gas watered down petrol gas station sign

Has anyone warned you against filling your car at a highway gas station, proclaiming that filling pumps adjacent to major freeways dilute their gas? That’s a surprisingly common belief among U.S. drivers, as many are wary of the quality of gas offered at the most easily accessible stations in remote areas — especially if it’s a cash-preferred station where there aren’t many other options around.

Is that assumption true, or is it merely an urban legend?

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Go some gas stations water down and sell diluted gasoline?

According to a 2017 report by, 20 percent of the thousands of pump violations involved water being present in and mixing with gasoline. So yes, a notable number of gas stations across the U.S. are likely to have diluted or contaminated gas in the underground storage tanks. But, that doesn’t happen on purpose. Gas station managers interviewed by NBC News say that this happens because there are leaks in the tank or that the cover latch isn’t sealed completely. Modern tanks often possess alerts that monitor for water contamination to prevent buyers from pumping watered-down gas.

It’s also common to find gas stations that dilute higher-grade gasoline with lower-grade gasoline, labeling and charging premium levels for regular fuel — especially since the amount of ethanol in gasoline can vary. Whether the composition has changed by contamination and stagnation in the tanks, or on purpose to get more money for lower-quality goods, sub-par premium gas can also cost customers.

That doesn’t mean that every violation is intentional — or, on the other hand, unknown. Watered-down gasoline will result in uncharacteristically labored, rough vehicle performance, so if you’ve experienced that after a fill-up, report the gas station to have its equipment and gasoline evaluated. Unfortunately, gas stations don’t have an incentive to evaluate and fix their own equipment/gasoline, especially if the violations are profiting them.

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Sources: NBC News, Consumer Reports