With gas prices on the rise, NCDA&CS gas pump inspectors responding to lots of calls
With gas prices above or nearing $3 a gallon across North Carolina, drivers are paying closer attention to whether they are getting what they pay for.
The 24 inspectors with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who inspect gas pumps statewide are also paying close attention.
"Complaints about gas pumps have been on the increase in recent weeks," said Jerry Butler, who oversees the NCDA&CS Standards Division's gas pump inspection program. "Normally this time of year we get few complaints, but with the rising prices, we have had more calls."
Department inspectors routinely inspect gas pumps at the nearly 7,000 stationcross the state to be sure the pumps are operating correctly and are dispensing a gallon of gas for each gallon purchased. In total, there are about 120,000 individual pumps statewide that must be checked. Inspectors also respond to consumer complaints.
"Pumps that are not operating correctly cost consumers and businesses money, and in today's economy, people are carefully watching what they spend," Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "Our goal is to ensure fairness in these business transactions."
An inspection begins with an inspector removing the bottom front panel of a pump to check for signs of leaks, to make sure meters are sealed and have not been tampered with and to check for a safety cut-off switch. Inspectors have trucks equipped with test cans that are certified accurate for volume. Gas is pumped into the test cans and the volume reading on the can is compared to a reading on the pump. If both the pump and test-can reading are the same and no other problems are found, the pump passes inspection and receives an official NCDA&CS label noting the month and year the pump was inspected. Inspections occur about every 18 months or when the department receives a complaint.
If the volumes don't match or if other issues are found with a pump, then it fails inspection and can be locked until the problem is corrected, Butler said. Stations contact the Standards Division once repairs have been made to dispensers, and inspectors go back out to check the pumps again. The gas pumped into the containers on the Standards truck is returned to the main storage gas tanks.
On average, approval of gas pumps runs around 90 percent. "To date this year, we have tested 81,695 dispensers and rejected 9,076, for an 89 percent approval rate," Butler said. "Calibration issues involving the amount of fuel dispensed tend to represent about 2 to 5 percent of the problems we find on day-to-day inspections. The remaining problems involve faulty display lights, credit or debit card readers, tape dispensers or other items.
"One thing people think we have control over, but don't, is the price for a gallon of gas," Butler said. "Whenever prices go up, we see a spike in phone calls, including complaints about prices, but that does not typically equate to us finding more problems at the pump."
If consumers think they have encountered a faulty pump, they can report it to the Standards Division at (919) 733-3313.