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FCN Investigates: Are you getting what you pay for at the pump?

7:35 PM, Nov 5, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- We are just weeks from the busy Thanksgiving travel season.

But, before you fill up for your trip the On Your Side team has three things you'll want to know before you hit the road. It's part of a First Coast News investigation.

At the gas station, every cent counts.

"I get pretty much what my car gives me," said Michael Bryce, as he filled up the car. "I get around $20 half a tank, $40 for a full tank, $5 for an eighth of a tank."

If you feel like something just isn't right, you might be on to something.

It is Anthony Davis' job to find out.

He's one of the petroleum inspectors with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"We want to make sure that consumers are getting what they're paying for," Davis said.

FCN's David Williams joined him at the Chevron station on New Kings Road for an inspection. Inspections are done at least every 12-14 months, says Davis.

Davis uses special measuring jugs that figure the accuracy of gas pumps.

The state allows pumps a little leeway of plus or minus 6 cubic inches of gasoline per 5 gallon sample. A cubic inch is roughly 1 cents worth of gasoline, per 5 gallons. That works out to about a fifth of a cents worth of gasoline per gallon.

First Coast News poured over 2,968 facility inspections in a nine county region of the First Coast using data going back to 2008.

FCN found 785 inspections that were provoked by consumer complaint. Of those inspections, 255 devices failed because they didn't give customers what they paid for.

New in 2013, Davis said he has written about 60% fewer violations in October compared to the same month in 2012. He said he wrote 116 violations in October 2012 compared to just 45 in October 2013.

Why? He said what's getting better in 2013 stations are keeping a closer eye on their pumps and are taking better care of equipment.

He said in 2013, he is seeing more consumer complaints for various reasons like believing they're being shorted, which means more inspections are being done.

So, what happens if a pump is cheating you?

"At that time, I'm gonna secure that pump, because they're not going to be able to use it again until they send their maintenance people out to actually recalibrate them back to zero," Davis explained.

Inspector Davis said there are ways you can be absolutely sure that you're getting exactly what you pay for at the pump.

"They need to make sure that it starts on zero," he said as he pointed to the screen that shows you how much you are paying as you fill up and how much gasoline you are getting.

FCN went to a gas station on Blanding Boulevard.

According to their most recent inspection, two hoses were shorting customers. The pumps were shut down

"We openly listen to our customers," manager, Sam Abera said.

FCN asked the manager about the inspection.

"Some would say you guys were ripping customers off," FCN asked Abera.

"No." He said. "No, if we made a mistake, I apologize and we will correct it."

Abera showed FCN the pumps that he said were corrected within 15 days.

FCN also went to a gas station on Atlantic Boulevard.

According to their most recent scheduled inspection, seven hoses were out of order by as much as 24 cubic inches.

Those pumps were immediately taken out of service and a correction notice issued. That was hard to hear for driver, Olive Thompson.

"This is where I always come," Thompson said. "So I'm disappointed to hear that."

"I'm sorry that it happened," the gas station manager told FCN. First Coast News concealed her identity because she fears losing her job for speaking about the inspections. "I did not know that. If I did, we would've gotten something done."

All of the pumps at the station passed re-inspection.

"I'm glad they did the corrections," Thompson said. "I'm happy to hear that."

Davis said most gas stations aren't fixing their pumps on purpose.

"They have no idea that these pumps are actually in favor of the vendors until we come out and actually tell them about it," Davis explained.

By the way, that Chevron station passed their inspections.

FCN found hundreds of stations that had no violations at all.

We also found more than 1,200 pumps that failed because they gave away too much gas.

According to the data, the top two were the Tobacco and Beverage King on Egedwood and Macclenny Mart in Macclenny, but those violations have been corrected.

If you feel like you're not getting what you pay for, you have the right to file a complaint with the state's Department of Agriculture.

First Coast News

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