It was yet another anonymous grey winter’s day at Dishonest Used Car Dealership, and I was sitting at my desk semi-consciously staring at my computer screen. There was a pile of paperwork on my desk that probably needed attending-to, but I hadn’t yet done anything productive all morning, and I wasn’t about to break my streak. I heard the back door open and an elderly gentleman in a grey suit strolled into my office. Around back, we had a small, questionably-legal biodiesel pump, where customers could come and fill their tanks. It ran on the honor system – you’d fill off the pump, then come see me and I’d run your card. I sort of vaguely recognized the man – he had been in a handful of times before to fill up his Mercedes. I took his card, ran it, and handed it back to him.
Him: ”Hey, do you folks ever have trouble with that stuff clogging up in the winter?”
Now, biodiesel is amazing stuff – I recommend it highly if your car can run it – but one of its disadvantages is that it turns to a waxy gel when it gets cold. Regular diesel (often called “pump diesel” or “#2 diesel”) does too, but at a considerably lower temperature. This isn’t ordinarily an issue with the mild winters we have in my part of the world, but occasionally it does get below freezing, and that’s when the trouble starts. To alleviate this, we recommended customers fill only half their tank with biodiesel and the rest with recycled dinosaurs in the winter, which neatly solves the gelling problem for all reasonable temperatures. This is a known issue with all pure biodiesel, and since the kind of people interested in bio back then tended to be fairly engaged and savvy, this was almost never an issue in reality.
Me: ”Yes sir, it’ll start to gel around freezing. It’s a known issue with bio. We recommend you mix 50/50 with pump diesel in the winter.”
The man’s pleasant demeanor instantly changed.
Him: ”Well, I had my car up in the mountains a while back, and the tank “gelled” or whatever you call it and I couldn’t get it to start. I had to pay to have it towed. You need to be warning customers about that.”
Me: ”I’m sorry to hear that, sir. We actually have a big sign on the pump and another just behind it warning of that very thing.”
Him: ”Well I didn’t see it.”
I tried to retain my retail face and tone of voice the best I could. The sign was big and red, and you had to lift it up even to read how much fuel you pumped.
Me: ”Really? Maybe it got moved, I’ll have a look.”
Him: ”No, there’s a sign there, I just didn’t read it. It could have been about anything, like your lunch breaks or something. You need to tell customers these things. You should have someone at the pump to tell people about this “gelling.” Why, I have half a mind to just forward my towing invoice on to you, and you can pay for it.”
At this point, I was done with this clown. This had transitioned from an honest concern into willful ignorance.
Me: “With respect, sir, do you think we’re likely to post notices about our lunch breaks on a fuel pump, or is it more likely that it is pertinent to people fueling up?”
Him: “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have time to read every sign in every building I go to. It’s your responsibility to tell customers if they’re going to ruin their cars with that stuff.”
Me: “Look, 1. bio didn’t ruin your car, and 2. we agree that it’s our duties to inform customers about the properties of alternative fuels, but it’s unreasonable to expect us to position an employee out there eight hours a day to read off the text of a sign to every customer that pulls up. I am very sorry you had trouble with biodiesel in your vehicle, but we have done our due diligence.”
Him: ”You can’t expect me to read a sign that could be about literally anything. This is the last time I buy this garbage from you.”
Me: ”Sorry to lose you as a customer. Good day.”
The man marched outside, turning around briefly to shout “Go to hell” and screeched off in his Mercedes. I followed out to the bay. The sign was still there, reading plain as day in bright red letters:
WARNING: Biodiesel gels when cold. Mix 50/50 with pump diesel if it will be cold out!
One of my regulars pulled up, a very nice lady with a beautiful and quite rare BMW 524TD. Having seen his little display, she asked what the fuss was all about.
Me: ”Oh, he had a tank of bio gel on him and he’s mad about it.”
Her: ”C’mon, everybody knows you’ve gotta mix in the winter. And isn’t there a big sign on the pump?”
Yes. Yes there was.