How Indian Oil Petrol Pumps Scam Customers: The Engine Oil, Coolant Scam
I have been a customer of the Indian Oil-owned petrol pump, opposite the famous Siddhivinayak Temple (Mumbai), for decades. When I drove in on Sunday, 17th November at 11am, there was the usual query to check for engine oil and coolant. Since I had noticed that the coolant level looked rather low, I asked them to check it. Incidentally, I almost never allow attendants to check the oil and coolant, because my car is on an annual maintenance contract and I have once been a victim of another trick where a petrol pump started fuelling the car without waiting for me to check the meter reading and I was short-changed on fuel.  
 
Instead of the quick top-up that I expected, we (Debashis Basu was with me) were told that the coolant in the car was almost over and what remained in the coolant section looked like it was diluted with water. This got us worried. Probably seeing the surprise on our face, the attendant spotted a sucker and was quickly joined by another to help him pull off the scam. 
 
They opened the radiator section. Inserted a stick to check the coolant and with much head-shaking told us that even that too contained diluted coolant that needed replacement. We were told that we would need at least four litres of coolant and it was best to drain out the existing diluted coolant. 
 
Since all this was happening in the open, we didn’t suspect anything wrong and agreed to change the coolant. They then drained the existing coolant into a plastic tray placed under the car and pointed out how it looked badly diluted! 
 
When we asked for options to buy coolant, we were haughtily told: ‘This is an Indian Oil petrol pump; we stock only one coolant that is provided by the company, the famous brand ‘Servo’.’ This seemed good enough. More importantly, the coolant was, indeed, a much darker blue colour and more viscous, making the dilution story look real. 
 
So, the attendants began to load up the coolant and had soon emptied as many as five bottles into the car. On hindsight, this should have raised some red flags. After all, we maintain our cars well and this had never happened in over 25 years of owning Japanese cars – Suzuki and Honda, which were always on annual maintenance contracts (AMCs). But when one has read blogs and news reports about service centres sending cars back with a quick clean-up instead of service, one ends up being distrustful. 
 
So here we were, fuming and thinking that the petrol pump had caught a big service lapse. I sent off a written complaint to my service centre. That is when things began to unravel. The service centre promptly sent a mechanic on a bike and I learnt a few things with a live demonstration. 
 
1. Honda cars use a particular brand of coolant that is non-viscous and of a lighter shade of blue. Hence, it looked diluted compared to the Indian Oil version. The mechanic had brought along Honda cars’ guarantee that the coolant would last for 100,000 kilometres. This was an eye-opener and important for people like me to know. So, there was no likelihood of depletion, unless there was a leak. On checking, it was clear that there was no leak. About the low coolant level, again Honda requires a certain low level and the plastic jar is supposed to be less than half full.
 
2. I was also informed that the engine oil levels are another area where petrol pump attendants cheat people by claiming the level is low, when it is, in fact, what it should be. 
 
Since the explanation by Mr More, the mechanic, seemed plausible, I asked him to accompany me to the pump to confront the franchise-owner and attendants. The owner, Mr Shukla, had left. Now, here’s something interesting.
 
The persons who conned us were off duty. However, those present hardly seemed shocked at my story. When I asked Mr More to explain to them what he told me and fished out my bill as well as the photo of the coolant cans, they merely shook their heads and said that it was wrong to cheat me. One of them even agreed that he recognised me as a regular customer. 
 
They mildly tried to tell me that I should come back the next day and speak to the owner; but when I said, I had every intention to file complaints and put it out on social media, they called the manager/franchise-owner, who quickly offered to refund the entire money for the coolant! I was also allowed to speak to Mr Shukla who also sounded apologetic and said he had asked my money to be refunded. Yes, for all five bottles. 
 
This is probably the fastest refund I have ever received (of Rs1,478 ) that too when the coolant remains in my car(although I am not sure whether that is good or bad). 
 
Clearly, the pump runs such a racket that they hoped I would take the money, be happy to retain the coolant and not bother to follow up with a formal complaint. That is what a vast majority of customers would, probably, have done. 
 
Instead, I went to the Indian Oil website and sent a detailed complaint to the entire team listed there in charge of service stations as well as to the chairman. 
 
Obviously, our public sector giant, Indian Oil, pays such hefty commissions on its lubricants, additives and coolants that it is very lucrative for petrol stations to incentivise their attendants to con customers. 
 
To Indian Oil’s credit, I received a call as a follow-up to my written complaint. I was told that the Corporation does not encourage such practices and they would get back to me after a detailed investigation.
 
Well, we can wait for an answer; but I find it difficult to believe that this fraud is not known to the organisation. Such brazen cheating has a way of getting back, at least through company executives and others. 
 
Those who understand technology or how financial scams work are usually surprised at how people are conned into losing money by asking them to part with a PIN number for click on some QR code. 
 
Similarly, automobile buffs, who read the fine print in instruction manuals and take pleasure in poking under the hood of their cars, would find it amusing that people can be scammed at petrol pumps to load up on coolant and engine oil that is not necessary. 
 
As they would point out, the high-level technology of modern cars has an in-built system of beeps and alerts for anything that goes wrong and, probably, protects a majority of car-owners, especially when their vehicles are under annual service contracts that actually work (a quick Google search would show you that is not a guarantee too). I am told that if the coolant in my car had really dipped below what it should have been, the car would have sent me a signal—another lesson learnt!
 
For somebody who is involved in spreading financial literacy, this was a hard lesson in some basics about cars and the importance of reading the manual! And that sarkari organisations are just as likely to con you as private ones.
 
On Wednesday morning, I received a call from the same representative of Indian Oil, who claimed to have investigated the matter and said they could not find any concrete proof of what happened. On why the money was paid back in such a hurry, his answer was that it was a “service gesture” by the petrol pump dealer. On asking why they need to replace five litres of coolant – he began to make excuses for the attendants. I have asked for a written response.
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    COMMENTS

    Madhu Blowme

    1 year ago

    I am a victim of their scam they cheat you by distraction while filling your tank, I think they teach thier staff, I have experienced this more than thrice, it is almost 10yr quitting Indian oil

    Vasudevan

    1 year ago

    Indian oil outlets do cheating more than others , I have allways make sure i dont go to an indian oil pump for last 20 years

    Goutham Somayaji

    1 year ago

    I fill petrol in Shell always they ask for oil check but i never allow them to check as i know they tell wrong thing to do their sale. Even the service centre are the same .

    Pranav Mankermi

    1 year ago

    That's right! Has happened with me at the same pump many, many years ago! BTW, the pump was even shut for quite a long time a few years back, on some other alleged fraud. Shutters were down for many years, I guess. Finally reopened. But old habits die hard. I switched to tanking-up from company-owned Bharat Petroleum (Ravi Auto Services) opposite Mayfair Banquet since quite a few years. Cars' average improved drastically! Clearly indicating quality and quantity.

    REPLY

    Sucheta Dalal

    In Reply to Pranav Mankermi 1 year ago

    good to hear. That is the other pump I fill from, so I will ensure I stick to it! And indeed, I have never been hounded to check oil, water and coolant at that pump!!

    Aditya G

    In Reply to Sucheta Dalal 1 year ago

    I've never checked for my coolant level for my Honda in almost a decade now! And it runs fine. I have a trusted mechanic who tells me all this stuff. Just like a trusted doctor or financial advisor, it helps to have a trusted mechanic (or a friend who is a petrolhead) to guide you.

    Neelesh Goyal

    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing this Ms. Dalal and your service in unearthing all sort of scams is deeply appreciated.

    DILIP CHIMANLAL MODI

    1 year ago

    I too have stopped oil /coolant top up at pumps and got an AMC.

    sundararaman gopalakrishnan

    1 year ago

    Thanks for this..Many car owners are blissfully unaware of these kind of things and will really appreciate this

    R V RAU

    1 year ago

    Can someone please do an RTI query on Indian Oil, HP and BP.

    How many cases of petrol pump adulteration have been reported. How many have been investigated. Classify them by the quantum of penalty applied.

    How many cases of tampered pump meters (under filling) have been reported. How many have been investigated. Classify them by the quantum of penalty applied.

    sanjay nagaraj

    1 year ago

    Really eye opening, Thanks for sharing....

    saurabh bhoot

    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing this.
    I am also one of the victim in the past though at another petrol pump of Indian Oil

    S K Nataraj

    1 year ago

    This shows that cheating has become a way of life, even in Government owned Corporations. it\'s a big shame.
    The BSNL has not refunded me my deposit for the surrender of my Landline, a year and 11 days ago, on 9-11-2018.The DGM(Grievances) informed me that she had no power to order refund of my deposit, but said she spoke to the K. K. Nagar (Chennai) Exchange, but was told by them, that the refund would take time, as the Corporation had paucity of funds. It is over a year and how much longer do I have to wait? Or do I have to write-off the deposit due (about 5000 Rs) to me, and curse my fate!

    1 year ago

    I am shocked and not surprised. I used to regularly fill diesel from the Indian Oil Petrol Pump in Bandra West (Kini's causeway). I used to praise their additional 'services' of checking coolant, water, etc. And I have been adviced to change the coolant many times. All along I cursed the make of my car (I have been driving Tata Cars and have been plagued by many issues and I reconciled that coolant was one more issue). Now, my eyes have been opened to the fact that Indian Oil Petrol Pumps use this particular practice to con the customers. It also dawns on me now, that for the last 18 months, I have started filling diesel from a HP Petrol Pump about half a km from Kini's Causeway and I have not had to change the coolant even once. Thanks Moneylife, for the eye opener/

    Newme

    1 year ago

    I drive car and minivan in USA here in India I use autos and ola.
    My comment may not be popular here.
    Oil change is required after 5000 miles and coolant change after 50000 miles or 5 years.
    In between if needed check lights would come and mechanic would give the recommendations.
    Scam artist merely noticed a car novice and took you for a ride.
    We all have faced such incidents while dealing with cunning professionals - Building contractor who inflates the bill, plumber who uses spurious parts, Electrician who simply replaces the fuse but over charges, Doctors who suggest unwanted surgery, Stock broker who ill advises. We are living in a scam society. What to do?

    navdeep uppal

    1 year ago

    Ms. Dalal, I would tell you another scam which is going on unchecked at all franchisee run pumps which is under filling by about 10 %. Whenever I used to get fuel filled at franchisee run pumps, my car would in variably give lower average. I then switched over to company owned company run fuel pumps, my average fuel consumption was always higher by about 10 %. Fortunately we have three HP company owned fuel pumps between Bandra and Ville Parle on main SV road. It may not be possible for others to always go for company owned company operated pumps. May be you can check it for your self by switching over to company owned company run pumps for a few weeks and see the difference in consumption.

    Meenal Mamdani

    1 year ago

    Ms. Dalal, you have done enormous service to all Indian citizens by exposing the frauds that have been perpetrated in the financial system.
    MLFoundation cannot be a crusading organization for the scams in various services/industries that an average citizen interacts with daily in India.
    PLEASE, I entreat you to encourage, support and facilitate organizations similar to yours, that are supported by paying members and have a paid staff (paid adequately at market rates) to investigate and publicize the scams that are taking place in various areas in the Indian economy.
    These are truly Augean stables and need a lot of crusaders like yourself but focused on different industries/services.

    We are listening!

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