Man Battles for $9 Car Wash Refund in Union City

At a gas station car wash, your route to the rotating bristles is a routine.

You pump fuel.

You pay for a code.

You punch it into the keypad.

You let the suds restore a showroom shine.

But, when David Lin followed that routine at a Union City Shell gas station, he couldn’t get past the keypad.

“The code didn’t work,” he said.

Oddly, the clock was Lin’s enemy.

He pre-paid for a “works” car wash the afternoon of May 6th. The pump printed this receipt that says “expires May 20th.” So, the car wash was good for 14 days.

But, when Lin tried to use the code the night of the 20th, the attendant told him he was too late. Why? The expiration date included the time.

“The 14-day period starts running the moment when you purchase your gas,” he said. “Down to the second.”

David bought his car wash at 2 p.m.

To be exact: 2:47 and 25 seconds.

So, according to the gas station, his code had to be redeemed by two 2:47 and 25 seconds – 14 days later.

“I didn’t know that,” Lin said. “And the receipt only lists the day.”

The receipt only says: “Expires May 20th.”

There’s no mention of enforcing the expiration time, down to the second. David argued that point locally. Unsuccessfully.

David then filed his $9 complaint with Shell corporate, which re-directed him back to the local franchisee.

“Nothing happened,” Lin said. “That’s when I contacted NBC Bay Area.”

We contacted the shell station and within 24 hours it agreed to give David another nine dollar car wash.

 “I was more than happy to help him,” said Manager Romi Deol. “I immediately called him... right away.”

Deol declined to say whether he’ll be making any changes to his car wash.

David, who’s a lawyer, thinks the station should put a disclaimer about the time restriction on its receipts.

Or, just stop doing it.

“That’s what I would do,” he said. “That’s what I would tell my clients to do.”

We wondered whether a business can legally take an expiration date down to the second.

It seems the answer is yes. The Department of Consumer Affairs didn’t find anything in the law prohibiting it.

So, if you’re making a prepaid purchase and the expiration time worries you: ask about it upfront.

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