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By Robert Rapier on Mar 20, 2007 with 1 response

Hot Gas Lawsuit in Utah

I wrote this up a couple of weeks ago, but never got around to posting it. I guess business is slow for the folks who sue people for a living:

Suit Seeks to Deflate Excess ‘Hot Gas’ Profit

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

Mar. 7–When the temperature of gasoline rises, the volume of the fuel expands.

And that means Utah drivers who fill up during the summer may get fewer miles out of a tank of gas than during the colder months, when the temperature of the fuel they pumped into their automobiles and pickups was lower.

The prospect that motorists may not always be getting all the energy from each gallon of gasoline that they paid for has ignited a growing controversy across the country.

“This is a serious problem, especially with truckers” whose livelihoods are tied to the cost of fuel, said C. Val Morley, an attorney in American Fork who filed the proposed class action lawsuit. “Similar lawsuits have been filed in other areas of the country.”

About 100 years ago, federal regulators determined that a gallon of gasoline would be 231 cubic inches of fuel measured when it was 60 degrees. And it is that 231 cubic inch per gallon standard that is used on gasoline pumps in Utah and across the country.

While it is true that fuel expands when the temperature rises, the impact on the volume of liquids is very low. I expect the attorneys in the class action lawsuit to learn the hard way, but here is what they will find out.

First, according to my chemical engineering handbook, the change in volume of gasoline in going from 60 to 90 degrees would be about 1%. So, if this sort of temperature rise actually happened, you would be getting about 1% less gas for the same money. BUT, gasoline tanks are buried underground. How often do you think those gas tanks reach 90 degrees? Probably never. In fact, those tanks are probably pretty close to 60 degrees year round, which means the class action lawsuit is just a waste of the court’s time.

I would also point out that this cuts both ways. The volume of gas shrinks at colder temperatures. So, if you fill up when it is less than 60 degrees, you are getting more gas for the same money. So, even if the tanks were above ground, unless the average annual temperature is above 60 degrees, there would be no net loss on the amount of gasoline you got for your money (unless you are just filling up in the summer). Furthermore, due to the many different components that go into gasoline, individual blends undoubtedly differ by more than 1% in their BTU content anyway (and this also varies with the seasons).

This is a good example of one of those nuisance lawsuits that makes everything more expensive for all of us. These are drummed up by lawyers who must find someone to sue in order to stay in business. The following is the true motive behind the lawsuit:

The Utah lawsuit contends that hot gasoline is costing American motorists a couple of billion dollars a year and drivers in this state millions annually. And it contends that money represents excess profits for the big oil companies.

And they want a piece. The truth is merely an inconvenience. All they need to do is find an ignorant jury and they have it made. I wonder if the O.J. Simpson jury is busy.

  1. By Andrew Jaremko on June 6, 2011 at 11:36 am

    On gas pumps in Canada there’s a label that says “volume corrected to 15 Celsius” IIRC. The change in volume with temperature has been included, and I’m paying for only the energy I receive. I suspect that gas pumps in the USA have similar corrections, since most likely our pumps are manufactured by the same businesses as yours. The pumps also have calibration stickers showing when they were inspected. I think the lawyers need to do some thinking before launching a crusade. I suppose including independent thought in a “news” story would move it from “reporting” to “editorializing”, but the editors might still have been able to allow a few facts to enter the story.

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