Santa Monica Lookout
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Former City of Santa Monica Vehicle Sold with Expired CNG tank in Arizona

Downtown Meeting June 9 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
2802 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310)828-7525 -

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jorge Casuso

June 6, 2016 -- When Vanessa Spahn and her husband purchased a used van in Arizona that had belonged to the City of Santa Monica, little did she know that the vehicle was unlawful to drive.

The compressed natural gas (CNG) passenger van Spahn had bought for $6,100 for at CG Autoplex in Casa Grande, Arizona had a gas tank that had expired a year before.

The vehicle, Spahn learned, would not pass a smog test and could pose a fire danger. It also cannot be fueled at the nine CNG stations in the city of 50,000 half way between Phoenix and Tucson, where driving the vehicle would be deemed illegal.

These vehicles "are ending up on used car lots and being sold with INTACT, EXPIRED CNG Tanks," Spahn wrote in an email to the Lookout last month.

It is a story, she added, "that the City of Santa Monica probably isn't going to be too happy about hearing."

Proud of its sustainable practices, Santa Monica has long been replacing its out-dated fleets with alternative fuel vehicles. Most recently, it paid $1,350,229 to add 31 new CNG pickup trucks to its fleet to replace aging vehicles.("Santa Monica to Upgrade Pickup Truck Fleet", May 19,2016.)

The 2001 Dodge 12-passenger van Spahn purchased had been bought from the City by Ken Porter Auction in California and sold to the Arizona dealer for $1,500. In the sales documents, the auction company disclosed that the CNG tank had expired.

That information was not disclosed when the car was listed for sale by CG Autoplex, Spahn said. With just 29,000 miles and room enough to accommodate her growing family, $6,100 seemed to Spahn like a good deal.

"A couple of days later, the mileage wasn't what we were told it would be," Spahn said.

That's when she noticed the expiration date on the tank was May 2015.

City officials told the Lookout that the City followed proper procedure and that the dealer was at fault for having sold the vehicle to the public without changing the tank.

"It’s really unfortunate that the dealer did not follow the protocol they are beholden to when buying a CNG vehicle from the auction company," said Constance Farrell, the City's public information coordinator. "Ken Porter assumes all liability once they pick up City of Santa Monica vehicles."

The auction house, she said, "sells vehicles with expired tanks as Dealer Only. They are not sold to the public. The dealer is then responsible for changing the CNG tanks if they are to sell the vehicle again in running condition."

Asked why the City did not explore such options as drilling the tank to ensure it could not be used, Farrell said that would prove "inefficient."

"The City has looked into practices you mentioned such as destroying the tank," she said, "but that ends up being inefficient because the vehicles then require costly transportation service."

When Spahn complained to CG Autoplex, the dealer refused to change the gas tank or exchange the vehicle.

"The dealer is hiding in the office and won't come out," she said.

Spahn said she looked into replacing the tank but that cost estimates ranged from $3,500 to $6,500, excluding installation.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, there is no way to safely "requalify" CNG tanks for extended use, and they must be replaced once they reach their expiration date.

A qualified safety facility "will have the proper know how and equipment to safely vent the CNG from the fuel tank and purge the tank with nitrogen to eliminate any pressure or fire danger associated with the tank," according to the center's web site.

"Once safely purged of any natural gas, the expired CNG tank must be destroyed and discarded. Labels should be removed or drilled through to invalidate them, and the tank should be drilled or cut so that it cannot hold gas."

After filing a complaint with the State Attorney General and Better Business Bureau, Spahn said, the dealer offered to refund the money.

The dealership told The Lookout that the issue had been resolved and that management had no comment. They said the ad would be removed from their site.

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