A petrol attendant fills up a car. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - A court case involving alleged collusion by petrol station owners has opened a can of worms on how some motorists might have been duped at the fuel pumps.

Sandile Sikhosana, owner of the Tembisa Convenience Centre - an Engen petrol station franchise - is accused with his daughter Nompulelelo, who was the manager at the store, of colluding with petrol truck drivers and contaminating the petrol. Their matter was heard yesterday in the North Gauteng High Court sitting at Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.

Drivers Lucky Sikhosana, Jackson Motlhowa, Tomson Sibeko, Samson Mahuwa, Jethro Mdlalose, Isaac Ntaman, Nimrod Kalase, Raymond Mthethwa and Kenny Lephole are accused of stealing from unsuspecting motorists by giving the petrol station the wrong fuel grade. They all pleaded not guilty and are out on bail.

They were charged with 10 counts of theft and nine of fraud for allegedly loading grade 93 fuel into the underground tanks of the grade 95 fuel. This was sold to the public as grade 95 fuel and charged as such, between 2014 and 2015. Grade 95 fuel is more expensive than grade 93 by over 20cents currently.

On Tuesday, Sikhosana’s legal representative, advocate Christo Meiring, cross-examined forensic auditor Werner Ungerer, who works as a consultant for Engen. He audits petrol stations and trains workers on the delivery claims system.

Ungerer was called to the Tembisa petrol station when Sikhosana noticed losses he couldn't account for. After his investigation, Ungerer concluded that the petrol station was stealing thousands of litres of fuel from Engen.

Meiring asked why, if guilty, Sikho- sana would bring attention to his business. He also accused Ungerer of comparing fuel data at the Tembisa site with one that he owned, Founders View Motors in Kempton Park.

Ungerer said he had no business with the other petrol stations that he collected data from, but later admitted he was a partner in Founders View Motors.

Meiring said Sikhosana would testify that Ungerer wanted to manage his petrol station and pay him a “minimal allowance”. Ungerer denied that he ever made the offer and said: “Why would I take on the site while there are thousands and thousands of litres of fraud?”

But he admitted selling his delivery claim system to the Tembisa fuel station at R500 a month to track where the losses might be occurring.

Ungerer was also accused of not interviewing workers or visiting the petrol station for inspection. The Tembisa petrol station still operates and Sikhosana owns two Engen petrol stations in Kempton Park and eMalahleni.

While consumers pay more for grade 95 fuel, it seems there might be no difference in their power or effect unless you drive a turbocharged vehicle.

Adrian Velaers, senior technical adviser of retail and commercial fuels at Sasol Energy, said 95 has a higher-octane value than 93. “Octane is a measure of the fuel’s resistance to ‘knock’, a phenomenon in a petrol engine where the fuel ignites in an uncontrolled manner.

“Whether knock happens or not is dependent on the engine design, and most road cars are conservatively designed and comfortably operate on 95 at the coast, and 93 in the inland without knock taking place,” said Velaers.

The Star