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Family Shocked To Find Water In Gas Tank - And More Shocked By How It Got There

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- For John and Destiny Beatty, a retro burnt-orange Volkswagen camper van was a new adventure, and a way to expose their 10-month-old son to the great outdoors.

"We've been dreaming about the van life for years," John Beatty said.

After a January day trip to Duluth, the couple stopped to get gas on the way home in North Branch.

"I started the car back up, it started up for a second and then it died right out at the pump," Beatty said. "I was scared for my son because it was getting pretty cold out and it was night, and I wasn't sure how we were going to get home."

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The family didn't know what was wrong with their van until they brought it into the Further Performance auto shop in Minneapolis, where owner Tristan Henderson says technicians found the suspected culprit inside the gas tank.

"What came out of the van was crystal clear, and just looked like tap water," Henderson said. "As he pumped it out he was watching the stream and it was all water."

Beatty notified the station where he got the fuel and the state's weights and measures branch. Weights and Measures sent an inspector the day after he filed a complaint, but found no evidence of water in the station's tanks -- leaving Beatty stuck with a $2,000 bill.

Volkswagen Camper Van With Water In Gas Tank
(credit: CBS)

"It's an expensive process. A little more expensive on a vehicle like this than your common modern car," Henderson said.

He estimated that similar repairs on a more basic and modern car to be roughly $600 to $800.

While situations like this are rare, condensation buildup in your gas tank from temperature swings is common. The Minnesota Department of Commerce said during severe cold weather, vehicles can get water condensation build-up in their gas tanks when moving from a warm area, such as an enclosed garage, to much colder temperatures outside. Over time, that condensation can build up in the fuel tank. But there are things you can do to help prevent it

"It's a good idea to leave your gas tank full," Henderson said. "I also think it's a good idea to drive your car once a week even if you don't need to go anywhere."

And not just a drive around the block. Henderson suggests taking a longer trip.

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"That will help burn off any moisture in the engine and just make the engine last longer," he said.

Insurance will help cover some of the Beatty's repair bill. But next time they hit the road, they say they'll be more prepared -- and hope you'll do the same.

"Whether it's bringing warmer clothes, or a heater, or just some sort of survival materials, essentially," Beatty said.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce says when vehicles burn ethanol-blend gas, it helps get condensation out of the engine and tank. Non-oxygenated premium gasoline does not contain ethanol.

It also says complaints like the Beattys' are typically investigated within a day of being filed.

For consumers who have complaints about fuel, contact Weights and Measures here.

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