Getting enough gas? State investigates pump calibration

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) –People all over Region 8 look to save money at the pump now more than ever, and sometimes they file complaints that reveal few problems. According to Roger Frazier with the Arkansas Bureau of Standards, people file complaints more often when the price of fuel hits a certain mark.

Frazier told Region 8 News during a phone interview in mid-May investigators with the Arkansas Plant Board perform routine, random checks of gas pumps in Region 8. By law, every commercial gas pump in the state is required to be inspected by a registered service agent. Once the pump is serviced, the pump is approved with a yellow sticker, valid one year from the date of inspection. The state then goes in and checks the work.

"If they (service agent) find a pump off in calibration or price, they'll fix it normally before they leave the station," said Frazier. "They'll also go in and fix it. They can break the seal, adjust the wheels and calibrate it. Then they'll put a seal back on it."

Frazier said the seals are the first things state inspectors look at before testing gasoline quality and calibration.

Inspection records obtained by Region 8 News reveal a total of 12 consumer complaints were filed in 2011 in northeast Arkansas; however, all complaints were "investigated okay" by the state.

Region 8 News tagged along with Shelby Ross and Mark Bell as they investigated pumps in Jonesboro and Paragould. On both occasions, neither found problems in ten pumps.

Using a five gallon drum with a measuring device, Ross checked three pumps with our cameras rolling. All pumps were found within tolerance.

"They are allowed three (tenths of an inch) either plus or minus. That's called acceptance tolerance. If it's at 3, they still have to get it to close to zero as they can," said Bell. "That's called acceptance tolerance. If it's a routine check, we're allowed 6 either way, plus or minus and that's called a maintenance tolerance. That pump is being maintained and it is within our tolerance."

If a pump is found faulty, it is shut down with a red tag labeled "rejected." Bell said he hasn't issued a red tag in quite a while.

"It's less than 2-percent that we find incorrect," said Bell.

Bell blamed the high price of gasoline for most of the complaints.

"With the price of gas being what it is, they will come in and fill up. It'll hold $62 worth and instantly, their mind reverts back to when it cost them $58 and the pump must be wrong," said Bell.

According to Frazier, there are 34,000 gas pumps in the state of Arkansas at 2,290 stations. He was unsure why the number of faulty gas pumps was lower than other parts of the country.

Region 8 News also watched Shelby Ross, another investigator, check seven pumps in Paragould. While our cameras were rolling, no problems were discovered.

Ross said he makes sure anything sold with weight, length or volume that is as advertised. Ross said that includes everything from medications to meat at grocery stores, even the weight of a bag of potato chips.

"We have independent agencies now that come around and check these and they don't want their work to show up as being bad," said Bell. "They can't afford not to set the pump as correct as possible."

Bell and Ross also check for water in the bottom of tanks. No problems were uncovered when our cameras were rolling. However, consumer complaints did uncover problems at two gas stations. Those problems have been corrected, document show.

At Devine Gas in Paragould, water was discovered in the station's premium gas tank during an inspection in December of 2011. A stop sale was issued and once the water was pumped, the pump was allowed to operate. In November of 2011, the same problem was discovered at the Quick Stop in Marmaduke. Inspection records show nine complaints about water were filed in Region 8 counties last year.

If a station is found to have violated the law intentionally, the state will issue fines for repeat offenders.

"I've never had one go past the red tag which generates the warning letter. I've never had to come back and fine anyone," said Bell, who has been an inspector for 17 years.

While most complaints are investigated "okay", you are still urged to contact the state if you believe there's a problem. If you have a complaint, you can file it by calling the Arkansas Bureau of Standards at 501-570-1159.

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