BALTIMORE - We’re now getting a bit of a break when we fill up. But with gas still hovering around $3.50, you want to make sure you get what you pay for.
So, how do you make sure? ABC2 News is working for you with an investigation into the pumps that prove you’re getting your money’s worth.
Joe Eccleston is used to a warm reception wherever he goes. He says, "When consumers see you at a gas station, they're always happy.
He’s one of 16 state inspectors with Weights and Measures and it’s part of his job to inspect gas stations across the Baltimore area.
He says, "I feel a little bit of job security because this is a necessity to make sure someone is out there making sure the consumer is safe."
Eccleston does those checks one station at a time, looking at meters inside and out and measuring gas to make sure you get your due.
On occasion, he finds a pump that’s not putting out what it should.
Drivers believe it happens all the time. When gas prices are high, they complain by the hundreds, telling the state’s Department of Agriculture they got ripped off by a bad pump.
Last year, state officials say they received more than 500 complaints about problems with gas pumps, with those complaints handled within a day or two.
But we went deep into the records from the department’s Weights and Measures section to see how often the pumps are really a problem. ABC2 News spent weeks going through thousands of pump inspections for the entire Baltimore area.
As part of our investigation, we looked at the four inspections for those stations, with some dating back as far as 2009. In total, it was more than 3,000 pages of documentation.
Our investigation turned up thousands of rejected and condemned pumps that were put out of service not because of problems that could potentially cost you money.
There were violations for things like price meters that moved before you ever starting pumping gas or machines so out of whack you ended up paying for more gas than you really received.
Ken Ramsburg is the acting chief of the Weights and Measures section. He says, "I think the rejection rate is relatively low for the volume of gasoline that's being sold." Ramsburg explains statewide about five to six percent of gas pumps are rejected.
The overall numbers we saw are tough to hear. In the five jurisdictions we examined, we found more than 4,000 rejected or condemned gas pumps in files dating back to 2009.
Of those rejected or condemned pumps, 1045 were flagged because of issues that could impact what you pay. But Ramsburg says the state is on top of those issues quickly.
He says, "The bottom line is we want the complete transaction to be valid for the consumer and on both parties. We want to make sure there's no gain on either side, seller or buyer."
But the side that needs protection more often may surprise you.
Our investigation of those state records found station owners are three times more likely to lose than you are when a pump goes bad. In short, bad pumps are a bigger problem for them.
And Baltimore County gas station owner Bruce Riley understands that too well. He says, "A lot of times they tell us to shut the pump off because you're giving away too much gas."
It may be tough to sympathize with Riley when you’re paying more than $3.50 at the pump. But he’s on the same page as his customers.
He welcomes the inspections, knowing he’s got a lot more on the line when problems arise at his station. He tells ABC2, “It's critical because while the customer might lose a dollar or two if the pumps aren't correct, I could lose thousands if the pumps are not correct."
©2007 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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