Target 11 investigation: 1 in 20 gas pumps fail inspection

by: Robin Taylor Updated:

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PITTSBURGH —

Customers weren't getting what they paid for at a local gas station.  Inspectors found a faulty pump and ordered all the other pumps to get re-calibrated. Target 11 Investigator Robin Taylor went out with inspectors to find out how this happens.

The vast majority of fuel pumps are accurate. That said, some do fail, and when they do, you could be overcharged. When I went out with the inspectors, I saw pumps that were right on and others that flunked the test.

Inspectors are looking for a zero reading.

"That's perfect. That's what a reading should look like," said Scott Sistek, the head of Westmoreland County's Weights & Measures department.

To measure for accuracy, he pumped five gallons of fuel into a special tank and then used a gauge to see if the pump was delivering the correct amount of fuel.

Pumps can only be off a tiny amount before either customers or the business gets short-changed.

"We are protecting the consumer, but at the same time we are protecting the business owner," said Sistek.

If the pumps pass, they're given a certification sticker. If they fail, they'll have to be recalibrated. Sistek said it happens sometimes, but not very often.

Yet, while we were on an inspection in Greensburg, one pump failed. It was off by about 6 ounces and was red flagged so no one could use it.

So what does that mean in dollars and cents? At $4 a gallon, filling a 15 gallon tank, the customer would have overpaid by 54 cents.

Now I know that's not a lot, but in a day, if 50 customers use the pump that's an extra $27 in station's hands. In a week that's $189.

I combed the records for Allegheny County and found out about one in every 20 pumps fails inspection. It's a figure that's not very reassuring for customers. Many of them do wonder if they're getting what they're paying for.

"You don't know if you're getting ripped off or not," said Clayton Ryder as he was filling up.

"As expensive as it is, you just hope you're getting what you're paying for," said Chris Dragan, another customer who travels a lot on business.

On our visit to Westmoreland County, the BP station across from the mall was ordered to recalibrate all of its pumps because too many of them were shorting customers.

While in Allegheny County, the Sheetz on Golden Mile Highway passed with flying colors. Their pumps were just like new.

"People think they're getting cheated, but actually it's the other way around. Most of the stations, when they're off, do give out extra," said Greg Medica, with the Allegheny County Weights & Measures department.

Since we shot our story all of questionable pumps have been recalibrated. But this is important: Pennsylvania is one of three states that does not test octane levels, so I can't tell you if premium gas really is 93 octane or not.

That's something that could change in future, but it not inspected now.