Are Gas Stations Scamming Us?

Gas pump nozzle

As if we don’t pay enough at the gas pump, now comes word that some stations may deliberately be shorting the amount of fuel we pump into our cars.

Originally reported by the Bangor Daily News, state inspection officials in Maine have found several stations with multiple pumps delivering less fuel than customers are paying for. In fact, some of them are so glaringly inaccurate that the agriculture department ordered them immediately shut down for being seven times outside the acceptable error tolerance.

That’s not even the worst of it: The state doesn’t have the time or money to find out which stations are doing it on purpose and which are the result of poorly calibrated pumps. The newspaper shared a memo from Maine’s Department of Agriculture that certainly isn’t shy about what it believes is happening:

Several well-known retailers are knowingly overcharging the public and assuming that any fines that they pay are more than offset by the increased profit.

Refilling at a gas stationAnd if it’s happening in Maine, the odds are good that it’s happening in other states, too. So what can we do about it?

Not much. Politicians up in Maine are steamed (like their lobsters!), asking why the weights and measures people can’t do their jobs. I can only imagine how angry consumers are.

I happen to think there’s an easy way to fix this problem. Two ways, actually.

  1. A $5,000 fine for every day a pump is found to be in violation. That should wipe out those extra profits nicely.
  2. Put this issue in the consumers’ hands. Ask people to buy 5 gallons of fuel, then have the purchase weighed and tested at private test stations. If a violation is found, it gets reported to the state, which then double-checks the station. If confirmed, a massive fine gets levied, and the consumer who found the cheating pump gets ten percent of the fine. Multiple offenders should face jail time.

I can understand a gas pump dispensing a fraction of a gallon more or less than what the display says; I expect it, even. But if gas-station owners are skimming consumers on purpose, well, that’s downright criminal.

What should happen to gas-station owners who cheat their customers on purpose?


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  1. This kind of regulation is easy to administer. You simply require each station to certify all their pumps at regular intervals, and they must pay for the service from a bonded and certified inspector. It’s purely legal– after all, you must pay for code/building inspections and car/emissions inspections, so there’s no reasons why gas stations can’t be required to pay for weights & balance inspections. With this system, you also not only don’t have to hire new state employees, you add new jobs to the economy. When a pump is in violation, it is locked out. If a station has too many violations, THEN you call in the cavalry for some of the more draconian penalties you suggest. Main problem with your suggestions is that they would likely be thrown out in court because they are a bit too extreme.

  2. @
    I agree! If bloggers ruled the world we’d be in a much better place. How come common sense solutions like this don’t get more attention? Or, for that matter, even brought up by the people in charge?
    Gas stations cheating customers is no better than customers driving off without paying. It should be a criminal offense.
    Bravo cargurus.

  3. I love your theory on what to do to fix the problem. If it was to get implemented (and it really should), gas station owners considering to start skimming customers would think twice before doing so, hopefully it would act as a deterrent to those already doing so as well. The only thing I don’t love about it is that it probably won’t be implemented any time soon, given the speed of politics just about anywhere.

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