October 10 2011|08.00 AM UTC

Samantha Eckles

How Accurate Are Gas Pumps?

Category: GasTags: , ,

It seems that our neighbors to the north have been gouged at the gas pumps, and not just by the record high fuel prices. A recent study by the Canadian government revealed that 6% of all gas pumps tested in Canada are inaccurate, with the consumers being overcharged at about two-thirds of the faulty pumps.

The testing classifies a pump as being inaccurate when there is a discrepancy of 0.5% or more over about five gallons of fuel. This small overcharge adds up to an extra $20 million each year, while the gas stations lose about $12 million annually to faulty pumps.

Could this same thing be happening in the U.S.?

According to the 2002 census, there are 121,446 gas stations in the US. Depending on the location, the accuracy of fuel pumps is regulated by state or local laws, and in some areas, both governments have jurisdiction. There are many stories of inaccurate fuel pumps across the country, so we looked into what protections are in place for drivers when battling fraud at the pump.

In Arizona, where drivers buy about 2 billion gallons of fuel each year, the State Department of Weights and Measures inspects pumps about once every four years. They will send out an inspector more frequently only if a consumer lodges a complaint.

In Oregon, most of the 28,000 pumps are tested annually by one of 20 inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture’s Measurement Standards Division. In a recent press release, Jason Barber, the administrator of the Division, states that “When people go to the pump, they can rest assured that, in most cases, if they pay for 10 or 20 gallons of fuel, they will actually get that amount.”

However, when filling up in the Beaver State (or New Jersey), don’t even think about trying to pump your own gas to keep an eye on things, or you could be slapped with a $500 fine. Legislators here banned self-serve pumps in 2002, claiming that full-service stations result in lower unemployment rates.

New York City regulations are much tighter, where both state and city consumer laws apply to monitor gas pumps. The Department of Consumer Affairs, whose “gas squad” inspects each of the 10,850 individual pumps in the city at least once a year, protects drivers in the Big Apple from overcharges. They boast that 97% of all city pumps are accurate as a result of their vigilance.

How to spot inaccurate pumps?

-Know the size of your gas tank. If your Honda Civic has a fuel capacity of 13.2 gallons and the pump reads that you have put 16 gallons of gas in, there’s definitely a problem.

-Always get a receipt and watch for discrepancies between the pump price and the printout.

-Keep track of your mileage and fuel costs. If you seem to get more miles per tank when you fill at one particular station over another, chances are there’s an inaccurate pump involved.

- When you are buying gas, look for the state or county inspection seal, which is usually a square yellow sticker near the nozzle of the pump. This will indicate which agency is responsible for regulating the accuracy of the pumps, as well as the most recent inspection date.

If you think a fuel pump is wrong, be sure to get an invoice that indicates the pump number and station name. You can attempt to complain directly to the station manager, but unless you have a dispute over the price not matching the one that is posted, any gripes about the pumps will likely be ignored. Contact your State Department of Weights and Measures, which will be able to direct you to the enforcement officials. Many states, including New York, also have online complaint forms available to drivers.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

TorontarioJonas November 8, 2011 at 7:56 am

Excellent tips and advice for instances of gross overcharging, such as the Civic’s 13.2 gallon tank ‘filling’ with 16 gallons.

I still consider subtle over-charging for fuel difficult to accurately gauge (no pun) because of so many variables. How empty/full is your tank at each fill up? (I know between fills you can calculate MPG by the difference). If comparing fuel at different stations, does one or another grade or octane level of gas better suit your car’s engine, possibly yielding better mileage? Do you and your family’s driving habits vary a lot, and are we always comparing “apples VS apples”?

Still it’s just great to a) fill where you seem to spend less per tank, and b) point out the possible real offenders to the state authorities. It’s up to the consumer to average their own data and draw their own conclusions (and maybe suspicions.)


REGINALD MISQUITTA December 1, 2011 at 11:32 am



Mark December 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

you can see video about gas pumps accuracy at http://www.cdnauto.org/gas_pumps_accuracy_test.asp


KEN LOVE May 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm

The way to assure accuracy is to take 1 gallon can & fill, but be careful at end not to pulse pump fill that would cause gallon indicator to skip. If 1 gallon too small, try 5 gallon. Good Luck.


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