When you fill up your gas tank, how do you know the gas pump's gauge is really accurate? News4's I-Team rode along with the MD Department of Agriculture's Elizabeth Koncki, who's tasked with keeping the state's gas pumps honest. This story was published Feb. 28, 2012 - 7:02 a.m.
Think you watch every penny at the pump these days? You’ve got nothing on Elizabeth Koncki.
“All inspections are unannounced.”
Every day, Koncki is on the road inspecting gas stations for Maryland’s Department of Agriculture.
And, boy, can she stop the meter on a dime -- or in this case, a penny.
“My greatest job skill is being able to stop exactly at five gallons and 10 gallons,” she said with a shy smile.
To make sure customer aren’t getting shortchanged, Koncki uses specially calibrated containers that look a lot like old fashioned milk jugs.
She starts each pump and watches it for 30 seconds, making sure the price doesn’t move. If the meter rolls before or after she stops pumping, Koncki can put it out of commission.
Koncki pointed to the display panel and said, “I pump until this says five gallons and then I read how much was actually dispensed.”
There’s a tolerance. A pump can only dispense three cubic inches too little or six cubic inches too much per five gallon sample. If the pump if off by more than that, Koncki can shut it down.
"I do find errors," she said. "We would like to check them once every year, but due to so many pumps versus so many inspectors, it's once every two years."
(HOW WE DID IT: The News4 I-Team went through more than 3,000 pages of paper inspection reports provided by Maryland’s Department of Agriculture, Virginia’s Office of Weights & Measures and the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Inspectors “condemn” pumps for the most serious violations and “reject” pumps for smaller violations. Both require repair and re-inspection. A (-) reading favors the gas station because the pump dispensed less fuel than what the customer paid for. A (+) reading favors the customer because the pump dispensed more fuel than paid for. Information for Maryland gas stations includes the most recent inspection report and any subsequent re-inspection. If a station recently changed ownership, you may also see the last inspection report for the previous owner. Virginia provided inspection reports for the last three years. DC provided a list of gas stations inspected and information for two stations with condemned pumps in Fiscal Year 2012. Information contained in the map is a summary of a multi-paged report. If you want to see the complete report, contact the respective government agency.)
Kevin Jones thinks he found one of those errors. “I care now because I just had another child and gas prices are going up," he said.
Jones called the News4 I-Team after he kept seeing inconsistencies at the pump with his new car.
"You're getting 23 in the 20-gallon tank.” Jones explains. “You have to wonder."
Jones said he’s had the same issue with his motorcycle. A 10 gallon tank that seems to hold 12 gallons of gas at some stations.
"With it being a machine, it could be that it's not calibrated or it's just off," Jones says.
To find out how often a pump is cited, the News4 I-Team dug through hundreds of inspection reports from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.
In just Montgomery and Prince George's counties alone, we found 57 percent of stations had to be re-inspected for a variety of violations. Some were for small technical issues like labeling and cracked glass on the computer display. Others were for cracked or worn hoses, nozzles and other mechanical parts.
But 12 percent were cited for shortchanging customers.
One of the worst? A Rockville station shorted drivers by almost two gallons. Inspectors shut the pump down. It only went back into service after it was repaired and re-inspected.
But it’s not always bad for the driver.
Sixteen percent of stations were cited for giving more gas away than the pump showed.
On the day the News4 I-Team went out with her, all of the pumps passed Koncki’s inspection.
“That’s approved,” she said as she affixed the orange sticker of approval, something you should always look for when you’re filling up.
Koncki then rolled her containers to a hole in the pavement. “Now, I am going to give the station its gas back,” she explained.
Because she knows better than anyone that now, more than ever, every drop is worth a bundle.