NCDA&CS at work checking gas pumps
The price of gas never seems far from people's minds, what with prices at near-record highs and with the approach of the summer travel season when people will be filling up more often.
What's happening at the pump is also on the mind of gas pump inspectors with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Standards Division.
The department is responsible for ensuring that pumps are dispensing a gallon when the display reads a gallon. And consumers are paying attention.
Jerry Butler, who oversees the gasoline and oil inspection measurement program and has been with the department for 27 years, says rising gas prices almost always equate to a rising number of consumer calls.
"I expect we will see a spike in calls as people begin traveling this summer. With gas prices where they are, people are watching the displays on the pumps closely for anything out of the ordinary," Butler said. "People are aware of the department's inspection sticker on the pump and can easily get the number to our office at any gas station."
There are 25 inspectors charged with inspecting each one of the nearly 121,400 pumps at 6,577 stations across the state. More than half of the inspectors also check price scanners and commercial scales for accuracy.
For the most part, inspectors find that the pumps function properly, but when there is a problem, the watchful eye of a consumer can save other shoppers money and can also alert stations to a problem they may not be aware of.
On average, approval of gas pumps runs around 90 percent, Butler said. "To date this year, we have tested 23,851 dispensers and rejected 2,336 of them, for a 90.2 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 a daily basis. The remaining problems involve faulty display lights, credit or debit card readers, tape dispensers or other items."
The gas pump inspection business has only gotten busier in the past 20 years as more and more stations are built and become operational. "I know I can look around my community and see four or five gas stations that have been added in just the past year," Butler said. "That's at least 100 more pumps that need to be checked."
NCDA&CS inspection trucks carry certified five-gallon test cans for each grade of gas. When an inspector arrives at a pump, he will do a visual assessment of the pump, looking for the brand name of the pump manufacturer, along with the names of the gas grades available and the price per gallon.
Five gallons of gas will be pumped twice into the test can – once at a high-flow rate and once at a slow-flow rate. At five gallons, the gas pump display is compared to the test can. If the pump does not function properly, it will be tagged for recalibration or repair and will not be permitted to operate.
All gas is returned to the storage tanks once the tests have been completed.
There is a check list of items an inspector will review during the testing process. Each item being checked has something to do with the safety or accuracy of the pumps.
"The day-to-day work of our Standards Division is some of the most visible to consumers. Price-scanner inspections, checking comm-ercial scales in places of business or inspecting gas pumps are just a few ways the department touches the lives of N.C. residents," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. "I'd guess that nearly every resident comes in contact with one of these tools of commerce at least once a week, so these inspections are important to consumers' wallets."
If consumers think they have encountered a faulty pump, they can report it to the Standards Division at 919-733-3313.