Normally when you swipe your credit or debit card at the gas station, you expect that the pump is going to work correctly and give you the gas that you paid for. With gas prices hovering around $3.50 a gallon across the country, the last thing anyone wants is to have to pay extra because of a pump problem, but that’s just what a gentleman in Kansas City faced recently when pumping his gas.
Haley wasn’t too happy after he stopped for gas at a station at North 13th Street and Quindaro Boulevard in Kansas City, KS, earlier this spring.
Haley says the pump jumped 10 cents before he even squeezed the handle.
“They said, ‘we’ll give you your dime back,’ or whatever, but I said, ‘that’s not the point,'” Haley said.
Haley said he reported it to the station. The clerk offered a refund, but nothing was done to the pump.
“People will see me and share with me different places where it happens to them, it’s probably not just one place where it’s happening,” Haley said.
That was when Haley contacted KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux to look into the matter.
KCTV5 News made two trips to the station to purchase gas at the same pump that was giving Haley problems.
During one purchase, the pump jumped 4 cents. The next visit days later, the pump jumped once again by 4 cents.
Chaloux went into the gas station to alert the clerk to the pump jump problem.
“I just used your pump 1, and it jumped before I pumped any gas in,” Chaloux said.
The clerk said he would let his boss know and kindly offered a refund for the pump jump.
At the time KCTV5 was at the station, there wasn’t a bag placed over the problem pump.
Therefore, KCTV5 filed a complaint with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees fuel station inspections.
An investigator was later dispatched to the station, and determined that it was a worn valve at the end of the nozzle that caused the pump to jump.
“They (valve) don’t go all the way shut, which allows product to drain out of there. When the next person comes along, they turn on the device. If the hose has been drained a bit, it records a sale,” said Lewis Hutfles, an inspector with the Kansas Division of Weights and Measures.
With high gas prices, drivers want to make sure what they pay for makes it into their tank.
KCTV5 discovered that it depends on where people live as to how often an inspector checks a pump for accuracy and quality.
If drivers fill up in Johnson or Wyandotte counties, the state has a private contractor who inspects all the pumps within 12 months.
For the rest of the Kansas counties around the metro, an inspector only checks the pumps once every 18 months. There are eight inspectors, including five state workers and three contractors, to inspect the state’s 31,804 pumps at 1,980 gas stations.
The National Conference on Weights and Measures found that during July 2010 through June 2011, Kansas inspectors found a number of miscalculated pumps.
If those corrections had not been made, consumers would have spent nearly $2.3 million on gas they never received.
For the state of Kansas to close a gas pump, there is plus or minus of a six-cubic inch tolerance of gas that basically breaks down to around half a cup of fuel either extra or short before it is shut down.
“I mean it’s pretty strict, and it’s amazing they do hold it, there are some that do need to be calibrated from time to time,” Hutfles said.
In Missouri, gas pumps are checked more often. Under state statue inspectors check every pump, once every six months.
A Missouri Department of Agriculture spokeswoman told KCTV5 that the state has an out-of-tolerance pump rate of 1.94 percent with 64 percent in favor of the consumer, for an estimated additional value of $1 million per year for the consumer.
After Haley’s experience, he feels that every consumer needs to be on alert at the pumps for any possible problems.
“Vigilance is important for the consumer,” he said. “The consumer really has to pay attention wherever you are.”
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“I’d seen videos on the Internet before where this happened, but I always thought it was fake,” said Josh Ishmael, who lives in Olathe. What Ishmael is referring to is that his pump wasn’t actually working and pumping gas, but the meter was still going and charging him more money. Ishmael said that it wasn’t charging a lot but that the meter was still counting up. As he put it “74 cents is still 74 cents.”
Ishmael took a video of the ‘pump shenanigans’ and sent them to a local TV station, KCTV5, who took the video to the owner of the station for an explanation. The owner refused to talk on camera but instead went out and check the pumps personally, finding that the nozzle for the regular gas worked fine but that the E85 gas nozzle indeed was functioning incorrectly. He then made a promise to get the pump ‘checked out’ and bagged it so that no other drivers could use that particular pump.
Unfortunately, what happened that gas station in Olathe, Kansas is something that’s happening at other gas stations around the state, and the country. In other parts of Kansas for example, including Johnson and Wyandotte County, a reporter for KCTV5 found that gas pumps are inspected once a year as opposed to the rest of the state where they are checked every 18 months. This more frequent checking helps to make sure that the pumps are functioning correctly and are charging customers correctly as well.
There have been various reports from around the country about gas station owners actually tampering with their pumps in order to give less gasoline and get more money, but in this case it seems that the pump was actually faulty. However, in many states the top complaint being made by consumers this summer has to do with accuracy of gas pumps, followed closely by fuel quality problems.
All of which means that, even if you find the cheapest gas station in town, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the gas pump while you’re pumping your gas. That will help you to make sure that it’s functioning correctly and actually giving you the right amount of gas for the right price.