Gas Pump Inspectors Find Discrepancies

Hundreds of gas pumps are dispensing too little or too much gas.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Hundreds of gas pumps are dispensing too little or too much gas. (Published Monday, May 6, 2013)

    At the pump, most drivers will tell you every drop counts.  That, however, is especially true in Shannara Hanna's case.

    "A lot of times, I just hold down the pump, even when it’s done, just to get a few extra drops out," she says.

    Hanna is not alone.  No one likes to be cheated at the pump.  But the Troubleshooters found nearly 3 out of every 10 pumps inspected last year didn't give you the full amount of gas you paid for.

    It's Ion Daha's job to find those pumps and put them out of service until they're fixed.  He's one of 6 state inspectors responsible for making sure you get what you pay for.  He uses specially calibrated containers to test pumps across the state.

    In Connecticut, a pump can still pass Daha's test even when it dispenses a little less than what the pump says.  That's because it's within the margin of error the law allows.  Currently, it's anywhere from 6 tablespoons too little or 6 tablespoons too much of gas per 5 gallon sample.  If a pump gives you even less than that, Daha says he takes it out of service right away.

    The Troubleshooters went along with Daha during his inspection of the Shell gas station on Silver Lane in East Hartford.  All the pumps dispensed gas within the state's margin of error, but Daha says that's not always the case.

    He's condemned plenty of pumps in his seven years with the state and it comes as no surprise to many drivers.  In fact, when the price at the pump increases, so do the number of complaints made to the Department of Consumer Protection about bad pumps.

    "Complaints are a top priority for us, for the work we do.  We understand people are very upset about prices, so we try to make sure we get out to the complaints first thing," said Frank Greene, with the DCP.

    Since 2010, 567 complaints have been verified by state inspectors, like Daha, for things like price violations, computer jumps and pumps shorting customers.  We wanted to know how often state inspections find problems with pumps during routine inspection though, and dug through 5,000 pages of hand written reports to find out.

    Our investigation turned up hundreds of rejected and condemner pumps that were put out of service because of problems that could potentially cost you money.

    "I understand the anger.  I understand it totally," said Greene.

    But what we found may add more fuel to the fire.  Last year, 27% of the pumps inspected were shorting customers on gas.  In 2011, 14% of the pumps inspected were short-changing customers.  Finally in 2010, 9% of pumps inspected were condemned for the same issue.

    While that's enough to make any driver angry, consider this twist we also found.  Our investigation shows slightly more pumps giving away gas to customers over the last 3 years.  Last year, 1 out of every 5 pumps inspected gave the consumer more gas than they paid for, including the Gulf station in Meriden.  It's the same gas station, Hanna regularly fills her tank.

    "That's why I come here because it drips for a very, very long time!" Hanna said.

    In 2011, nearly 18% of pumps were in the plus range and in 2010, 12% of pumps were once again in the customers favor.

    "Generally you start pumping more through the meters as time goes on, it gets looser," Greene pointed out.

    If you're wondering, the place with the most pumps giving away gas the last 3 years is New Haven.  While, the town with the most pumps shortchanging customers since 2010 is Milford.

    "I think our role is to assure citizens that yes, you're getting what you are paying for," said Greene.

    For a closer look at a gas station near you, check out this link on NBCConnecticut.com.  If a gas station was flagged by an inspector for giving away too much gas or shortchanging customers the last 3 years, the report will pop up on our interactive map.