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Cheating at the Gas Pump


Claim:   Account reports instances of customers being cheated by malfunctioning gas pumps.

MIXTURE OF TRUE AND FALSE INFORMATION

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, April 2008]

Cheating at Gas Pumps

This is a true story, so read it carefully. On April 24, 2008, I stopped at a Kangaroo BP gas station, located at 1325 Main Street, Cartersville, GA. My truck's gas gage was on 1/4 of a tank. I use the mid-grade, which was priced at $3.71 per gallon. When my tank is at this point, it takes somewhere around 14 gallon's to fill it up.

When the pump showed 14 gallons had been pumped I began to slow it down, then to my surprise it went to 15, then 16. I even looked under my truck to see if it was being spilled. It was not. Then it showed 17 gallons had been pumped. It stopped at almost 18 gallons. This was very strange to me, since my truck has only an 18 gallon tank. I went on my way a little confused, then on the evening news I heard a report that 1 out of 4 gas stations had calibrated their pumps to show more gas had been pumped than a person actually got.

Here is how to check a pump to see if you are getting the right amount:

Whichever grade you are using, put EXACTLY 10 GALLONS in your tank, then look at the dollar amount, if the dollar amount is not EXACTLY 10 times the price of the fuel you have chosen, then the pumps are rigged. In my case as I said the mid-grade was $3.71 9/10 per gallon, my dollar amount for 10 gallons should have been $37.19. If I had only check the pump. It doesn't matter where you pump gas, please check the 10 gallon price. If you do find a station that is cheating, contact the Georgia Agriculture Department, and direct your comments to Tommy Irvin, Commissioner. In other states contact proper authorities.

Please don't delete this until you have sent it to all people in your address book. We need to put a stop to this outrageous cheating of customers. The gas companies are making enough profits at honest rates.
 

[Collected via e-mail, May 2009]

Cheating at the gas pumps (PRINT OUT YOUR RECEIPTS!!!)

This email was sent to me by a friend whose cousin is the Ridgetown, Ont. fire captain.

This is true. It happened to them three weeks ago somewhere in Ridgetown on our way to Kingston. The pump should have totaled @ $38.00 (and change). When the receipt was printed, and she checked it was $ 47.00 (and change).

She got mad, went inside the store, asked for a calculator and let them do the math. They refunded her. She told them that if they cheat, they had better make it right. Normally, her husband would skip printing the receipt.. Not her

We saw on the news the other night that this is happening everywhere.

Brian pumped exactly one liter of gas. The price did not match the cost of one liter. It was higher. He went inside and complained, got a refund.

There is also a number on each pump that you can call and complain.

This is a true story, so read it carefully.

On March 24, 2009, I stopped at a gas station in Chatham. My truck's gas gauge was on 1/4 of a tank. I use the regular grade, which was priced at $0.885 per liter. When my tank is at this point, it takes somewhere around 45 liters to fill it up.

When the pump showed 45 liters had been pumped, I began to slow it down. Then, to my surprise, it went to 50, then 55. I even looked under my truck to see if it was being spilled. It was not. Then it showed 60 liters on the pump. It stopped at 62 liters. This was very strange to me, since my truck has only a 65 liter tank. I went on my way a little confused, then on the evening news I heard a report that 1 out of 10 gas stations had calibrated their pumps to show more gas had been pumped than a person actually got.

Here is how to check a pump to see if you are getting the right amount:

Whichever grade you are using, put EXACTLY 10 LITERS in your tank, then look at the dollar amount. If the dollar amount is not EXACTLY 10 times the price of the fuel you have chosen, then the pumps are rigged.

In my case, as I said, the mid-grade was $0.885 per liter; my dollar amount for 10 liters should have been $8.85. I wish I had checked the pump. It doesn't matter where you pump gas, please check the 10 liter price. If you do find a station that is cheating, contact the MTO, and direct your comments to the Commissioner, the info is on the gas pumps.

Please don't delete this until you have sent it to all people in your address book. We need to put a stop to this outrageous cheating of customers. The gas companies are making enough profits at honest rates.
 

Variations:
  • A variant circulated beginning in May 2009 opened with the following added preface:
    This email was sent to me by a friend whose cousin is the LA fire captain.

    This is true. It happened to them three weeks ago somewhere in Pomona on their way to Pechanga. The pump should have totaled @ $68.00 (and change). When the receipt was printed, and she checked it was $77.00 (and change).

    She got mad, went inside the store, asked for a calculator and let them do the math. They refunded her. She told them that if they cheat, they had better make it right. Normally, her husband would skip printing the receipt. Not her...

    We saw on the news the other night that this is happening everywhere.

    Brian pumped exactly one gallon of gas. The price did not match the cost of one gallon. It was higher. He went inside and complained, got a refund.

    There is also a number on each pump that you can call and complain.
  • In May 2009, the warning was issued as a Canadianized version (see the second item quoted in the Examples section above), with the location changed from Georgia to Ontario, gallons to liters, and prices for each adjusted accordingly. This version also incorporated the May 2009 preface (noted above) supposedly sent by a Los Angeles fire captain about a Pomona, California, woman's experience at the pumps, altering his and her location to Ridgetown, Ontario.
  • Also in May 2009, versions appeared in which the date of the incident was changed from 24 April 2008 to 24 March 2009.
Origins:   When economic conditions are tough and/or the price of gasoline rises substantially, the suggestion that already financially pinched consumers aren't even getting a fair shake at the pump is enough to make anyone see red. So, it's not surprising that
the above-quoted warning about "cheating at gas pumps" quickly gained widespread currency in April 2008 as gasoline prices edged towards $4.00 per gallon, and began hitting inboxes again during an ongoing economic downturn in May 2009.

It's difficult to verify whether some anonymous person in Georgia truly encountered a malfunctioning gas pump one day in April 2008 (and whether his report of same was accurate), but the Georgia Department of Agriculture told us at that time that the pumps at the station referenced in the quoted e-mail had been checked by that agency's Fuel and Measures Section in November 2007 and were re-checked (in response to this e-mail) in May 2008, and in both cases they were found to be operating according to standards:
Our Fuel and Measures Section has looked into these claims against the station in Cartersville. The station in question was inspected on November 29, 2007 and all the pumps were found to be accurate. The station was inspected again on May 5, 2008 and again all pumps were found to be accurate.
Since this message conflates two distinctly different issues (whether gas pumps accurately report the amount of gasoline dispensed vs. whether gas pumps accurately register the proper charge for the amount of gasoline dispensed), we'll address them by discussing some general factors involved in the dispensing of gasoline.

Vendors of gasoline are subject to a variety of state and federal laws requiring them to maintain adequately calibrated dispensing equipment and calling for periodic inspections by government regulatory agencies to ensure that they are in compliance with said laws. However, this does not guarantee that every gas pump you might encounter will necessarily be accurate, for a variety of reasons: Some agencies may not have the funds to regularly carry out required inspections at every location, regulators' equipment might itself be inaccurate, understaffed agencies may not be able to adequately enforce compliance with regulations, etc.

Furthermore, instances of malfunctioning or improperly calibrated pumps are not necessarily indicators that a particular gasoline vendor is "cheating." Such irregularities may be due to worn-out equipment which can be difficult to spot (and is about as likely to cheat the vendor as it is the customer), such as the common occurrence of worn check valves:
Some alert consumers have noticed it over the years: A pump that seems to hesitate a second when the lever is squeezed. Anywhere from 2 to 6 cents tick off before the rush of gasoline starts. That's what happens with a common, hard to diagnose and mostly ignored problem with the "check valve," which is supposed to make sure gas flows at the same time the price meter starts.

Don't blame the gas guys. Even consumer advocates say retailers may be losing as often as consumers, and no one appears able to rig the meters. But the small "check valve" at the end of the multibillion dollar industry just wears out, and often goes unnoticed for months.

A bad valve can also work against retailers, freezing the price gauge for an instant after gas starts. No one's sure who gets gored more, or how deeply.
Unfortunately, much of the responsibility for spotting such irregularities and reporting them to regulatory agencies falls upon consumers themselves, and it isn't always easy for the average consumer to notice problems like the ones described in the above-quoted message. Determining whether a particular pump is correctly reporting the amount of gasoline dispensed can be rather difficult, especially if the difference is relatively small — just about all consumers can do in this area is to be aware of how much gasoline their vehicles should take at various fuel gauge level readings and note whether the reported number of gallons they buy corresponds to this number. (That is, if you know your car typically takes seven gallons to fill when your gas gauge needle is on the halfway mark, you should be concerned if a half-tank fill-up suddenly takes eight or nine gallons instead. Note that you need to learn this system by trial and error: Because gas gauge needles do not necessarily move at an even rate across the full range between "F" and "E", you can't assume that a car with a 14-gallon gas tank will necessarily take exactly seven gallons to fill when the needle sits on the halfway mark.)

It's much easier to determine whether pumps are accurately registering the proper charge for the amount of gasoline dispensed simply by multiplying the number of gallons you buy by the price per gallon. (If you can't easily do this calculation in your head, you can either use a calculator or employ the suggested method of noting the total dollar charge at the moment the pump reads exactly ten gallons dispensed.) But of course, catching this sort of problem is only possible if the pump is accurately reporting the amount of gasoline dispensed, which, as noted above, is usually much more difficult to determine. (It can also be the case that gas pumps which test as correctly calibrated when dispensing, say, five gallons of gasoline may not necessarily test as correctly calibrated when dispensing smaller or larger amounts of fuel.)

For now, though, it's generally the case that the retail gasoline industry has a number of other (and bigger) problems to deal with, and that consumers have not (so far) been very aggressive in reporting the problems they might encounter:
"I think our industry would love to replace anything that wears down," Bob Renkes of the Petroleum Equipment Institute said. But the check valves aren't a high priority when the industry is dealing with issues such as preventing identity theft when swipe cards are used, static electricity discharges and the 5 percent of retailers whose old mechanical equipment can't register a price of $4 a gallon.

State and local regulators doubt any but the most ambitious consumers would contact them in case of a problem, even though the phone numbers are on inspection stickers. More likely, consumers fume and wonder if they were cheated, or report it to the manager of the gas station or convenience store.
Last updated:   25 July 2014

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Sources:

    Elder, Laura.   "Gas Station Accused of Cheating Customers."
    The [Galveston County] Daily News.   23 July 2008.

    Gormley, Michael.   "Common Glitch at Pump Adds to Gas Costs, Also Cheats Station."
    Associated Press.   26 April 2008.

    Theodore, Terri.   "Feds Announce Fairness at the Pumps Legislation."
    Canadian Press.   15 April 2010.

    Associated Press.   "2 Mich. Men Charged with Rigging Gas Station Pumps."
    Toledo Blade.   7 September 2005.