Motorists Complain About Gas Pump Accuracy

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – Montana motorists and gas station owners are paying more attention to the accuracy of gas pumps due to the high price of gasoline.

Complaints from motorists have nearly doubled from last year, said Tim Lloyd, chief of the Montana Weights and Measures Bureau, which tests and licenses all gas pumps in the state.

He said his office received 27 complaints last year and 24 so far this year.

“The accuracy of the pumps hasn’t decreased,” Lloyd said. “The price has increased and people don’t believe they’re getting what they’re paying for.”

He also notes the listed capacity of a gas can or vehicle gas tank is often an approximation.

State law requires commercial fuel pumps to be tested for accuracy once a year. The test involves filling a 5-gallon measuring device. All commercial pumps must be accurate within plus or minus 6 cubic inches, or about 6 tablespoons.

About 2 percent of the state’s gas pumps failed the test last year after a 3 percent failure rate in 2006. The numbers for this year haven’t been tabulated, Lloyd said.

One of the reasons gas pumps fail the test is simple wear and tear, said Burl French, president of meter repair company Northwest Fuel Systems in Kalispell.

“It could err either way,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”

Lloyd said lately, gas station owners are testing their pumps more often to make sure they’re not coming out on the short end of the deal.

“If we find their pumps are within requirements, but giving a few extra cubic inches of gasoline to buyers, they’ll hire a service company to bring that back down to zero,” Lloyd said.

Such precision has become vital in such a high-priced market, he said.

Rick Henry, who works for Advanced Petroleum in Billings, said gas stations are voluntarily hiring service repairmen to calibrate their meters several times a year, even though it’s only required once.

“Many of the high-flow stations like Costco and Flying J are keeping a close eye with the price of gas so high,” Henry said. “A lot of gas stations are calibrating more and more.”

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