GNA Feature by Maxwell Awumah
Growing up with the knowledge of not pointing one’s finger towards the cemetery and its remedial action of having to bite the tip of that pointing finger to exonerate oneself from dying among others, is exactly the situation when the writer set out to investigate the history, science or what is compelling drivers to continue to angle their vehicles on car ramps or wedges to draw fuel.
Most drivers have resorted to the use of car ramps at various fuelling stations across the country to fill their tanks, despite the negative effects of the practice on their vehicles.
The phenomenon seemed to be practiced mostly by commercial drivers or passenger vehicles, taxi cabs and ‘trotros’ by tilting the vehicle at an angle as a means to derive optimum value for fuel quantity.
The worst culprits cannot validate the science or industry practice, but could only confine themselves to tales.
Most drivers say “we see it being done by colleagues and justify it is a good practice to replicate,” and we believe since senior drivers were neck-deep in this practice, there should be a compelling reason that inures to the performance of their vehicular engines.
Several drivers sampled failed to demonstrate the source of the ramps but have attempted to justify their unsolicited claims until the reality check donned on them at the lorry parks with questions.
A rhetorical question that was posed to a group of such drivers at the Ho main Park was, “Can someone over-feed himself by eating six instead of four balls of kenkey at a seating and still have space to drink water to push the heavy load of food down the stomach?” The answers were a loud no. The second question was if a driver could over-fuel his vehicle tank, to derive full utility of the engine in similar fashion? There was giggling and finally they succumbed to answering no.
Could someone continue to breathe underwater and survive? An obvious no too. So I told them if all their answers were a big no, it meant that exploiting the space to allow the engine of vehicles to breathe was at the detriment of performance. This then activated their minds towards the subject matter.
Adongo (not actual name) said he adopted the habit at a Tamale fuel station back in the 1990s and has since continued to use wedges religiously to the extent that he had moulded one that he carries to fuel station.
He acknowledges that some of his colleague drivers are inseparable with the use of wedges.
In his uninformed situation, alluded to the various theories that is unscientific and unjustifiable that could only pass as ‘toli’ in local parlance.
Mr Adu Nuru, a Hohoe driver, said he used wedges because it gave his tube the chance to access his vehicle tank easily.
“My tank is a slow one so when I do not place my car on a wedge, it takes a longer period to get filled. The ramp gives my car a balance and it helps my fuel to last as well.”
Mr Reuben Biedo, a commercial driver plying Aflao-Akatsi-Accra routes disclosed that “climbing a ramp to refuel gives slow consumption.”
Fuel Station owners and leaders of transport unions across the Volta Region have attested that the wedge phenomenon was unlawful but a determinant for making sales, which is an albatross around fuel business.
They intimate that clients who were not provided with ramps moved to other places, where they could find one, the reason for its availability for drivers’ comfort.
Mr Mudah Michael Agbonyitor, Main Goil Manager, Ho, said the assumption that the tank would take more fuel on ramps and having to travel long distances before seeing a dip in the fuel gauge, though unscientifically proven, is informing wedge usage.
“We display the ramp to satisfy client’s appetite and to crystallise the customer relation and retention,” since the customer was always right.
Mr Seshie Emmanuel, Manager of Kings Energy in Hohoe, said “at a point, I packed all ramp from our premises but I realised we were losing dedicated clients”.
He said the practice was against regulations guiding operations of fuel stations and use by vehicles.
Mr Conscious Sorkpor, Manager at the Agapet Filling Station at Akatsi, stated “Most drivers believe the act was helping them, so they decided to go by it and we have no option than to make it available for them”.
Dr Richard Fiifi Turkson, Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Ho Technical University, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said the potential damage to emission control devices on cars and the environment were significant, when one over-fuels.
“All cars sold since 1996 have a closed-circuit system to trap and later burn the fumes from their petrol tanks. A complex array of charcoal canisters, tubes, valves and sensors comprise a system designed to handle gasoline vapours only, not liquid fuel.
Jamming too much fuel into it repeatedly can result in a ‘Check Engine’ light being illuminated on the dashboard to keep your car from passing an emissions test and could cost a lot of money to repair.”
Dr Turkson explained that when drivers force-fill, excess fuel either flows out into the environment via the air vent of the charcoal canister or it flows back into the gas pump in which case you’re paying the gas station to take some of its own gas back.
He indicated overfilling could compromise the vapour recovery nozzles found on many pumps saying “It’s not a huge release of fumes, but why do it? After all, you’ll breathe it first: You’re the one standing right there.”
“It seems tempting to ram more fuel into one’s tank to delay the next fill but this would only take another fraction of a gallon, rounding off to about 15 more miles in real world driving.
“In the developed world, vehicle owners must replace the charcoal canister unit if the malfunction indicator lamp must go off as a requirement for passing the roadworthy test. Replacing the charcoal canister unit will come at a cost to the owner.”
Mr Rasheed Dauda, Volta Regional Director of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), said currently specific guidelines or regulations for operating fuel filling stations were against the phenomenon of ramps, but the Authority has noted the bad behaviour had become widespread because no punitive sanctions had been applied.
“Since no punishment regime can be exacted, we have physically seized many of these ramps, wooden planks or ramps, which in some cases were manufactured by the drivers themselves.
“What has come to us is the Consumer Service Department of the Authority aiming to embark on a sensitisation and awareness creation intervention strategy to educate drivers especially at the lorry parks and stations to discontinue the practice.”
To succeed on this, Mr Dauda indicated “we need to tackle the educational aspect together with enforcing compliance.
“We can only receive strict compliance from educated consumers, who will run away from such obnoxious practices,” as some punitive actions taken in the past failed to address the exigencies of the matter.
He said there was a direct relationship between the use of wedges and fuel sales as some drivers would only patronise a fuel station that display wedges and for fear of losing those customers, the practice had been difficult to control.
“NPA will deploy a multiple-pronged approach to demolish the pillars holding this negative practice”.
The writer hopes this expose’ would enable policymakers, industry players, related agencies to wage a relentless crusade to educate and enforce regulations to prevent the practice from reaching a certain frequency beyond, which it would be difficult to reverse, as habits they say die hard.