I drilled a hole in my neighbor's gas tank, but I MIGHT have fixed it. Do I have to tell them?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

A neighbor asked me -- as the neighborhood fix-it guy -- to repair the torn-up carpet in the back of her car. In the process of putting some screws with washers around and through the floor of the car, I began to smell gas. I realized I had put a screw into the gas tank. I removed the screw and squirted a sealant made for repairing leaks in gas cans. I pushed as much of the sealant through the tiny screw hole as I could, hopefully down into the hole in the gas tank. They don't smell any gas now. Well, I should admit that I didn't tell them about my little mishap. Anyway, they have been driving the car without any fumes or problems. Was that an adequate repair, purely from a safety point of view? Could there be any long-term problems? -- Dan

TOM: Do the words "Shriners burn ward" mean anything to you, Danny?

RAY: Actually, you might have fixed the hole, but it's impossible to know how well it will hold. And when it comes to the gas tank, you just don't want to mess around.

TOM: Yeah. If the repair fails -- which it certainly might -- they could get fumes in the car. Or even worse, when the tank is near full, liquid gasoline could leak out onto the ground. And then someone flicking a cigarette butt under the car could cause a disaster.

RAY: So you've got to fess up. To save as much face as possible, I'd stop by and ask them if they've noticed any gasoline fumes in the car. When they say, "No, why?" tell them what happened and that you fixed it, but now you're having second thoughts about how to best repair it.

TOM: Then you can look at it and "hmmm" and "gee-whiz," and say, "You know, you really ought to have someone take out the tank and repair it with epoxy, just to be safe."

RAY: And then you'll come off like a concerned hero, instead of a weaselly screw-up!

TOM: The tank needs to be emptied and removed, and then repaired with a two-part epoxy patch. It's the same stuff they use to fix boats, so you know it'll hold forever. And since it involves draining the gasoline, it's not something you want to do yourself.

RAY: The real question is, who pays for it? I'd say if they paid you for the carpet repair, then you're on the hook, Dan. But if you did it for free, as a favor, then they took a chance by having an amateur do it, and they'll have to bite the bullet and fix the tank.

TOM: But look on the bright side: If they end up paying, Dan, word will quickly get around the neighborhood that you tried to blow up their car, and you'll soon have your Saturday afternoons back!

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