RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) — According to the AAA, average gas prices in North Carolina are only about 3 cents higher than this time last year.
While gas prices remain stable, inflation is driving up the cost of the holiday season, meaning consumers are looking for every opportunity to save. One place they might unknowingly pay more is at the pump — and the reason for that has nothing to do with price.
The amount of gas consumers buy at the pump may not always match the amount they receive. Gas pumps can go out of calibration and inadvertently cost consumers more.
The ABC11 I team requested inspection data for dispensers in Wake, Durham and Cumberland counties. More than 1,100 pumps inspected since last November have been “rejected” upon inspection. That’s about 7% of the 15,800 pumps inspected in the three counties, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
“In short, as a customer, do you get what you pay for?” said Steve Benjamin, director of NC’s Agricultural Standards Division. “But we also pay attention to justice. So while the customer should get what they pay for, we also don’t want companies giving away products that hurt their bottom line.”
The pumps are checked for calibration, which means they will deliver the amount of gas purchased.
Around 260 pumps in the three counties have not been calibrated compliant since last November; this corresponds to 1.6% of the tested pumps. Cumberland County reported the highest percentage of pumps rejected for calibration at 3.8%.
“You put that nozzle in your car, you pull the trigger, you fill up; you go. You don’t usually ask if I got what I paid for?” said Benjamin. “So we’re out there every day looking for these things for people.”
The inspectors also check the characteristics of the pump, including checking the lights and whether the paper is being dispensed correctly; Things that don’t directly affect the cost, but affect the overall function of the pump. Almost 8% of the pumps inspected in the three districts were reported for this issue.
Wake County reported a higher percentage of total pump rejections at 9%. Inspections in Durham and Cumberland County resulted in approximately 5% of the pumps being marked as rejected.
Benjamin said Wake County lost an inspector a few years ago, so the higher rejection rate is partly because the department is still working to catch up on overdue inspections.
While many inspections are performed regularly, they are also spurred on by complaints.
“Every time the price goes up, we get more complaints,” explains Benjamin. “That doesn’t necessarily mean there are more problems, but it’s consumers who are paying more attention and saying, ‘Gosh, I’m paying more for gas.’
Consumer complaints prompted inspections at 55 locations across the three counties.
Benjamin said consumers can look for a few things at the pump that might indicate a problem.
“You would turn it off and then maybe another number, two or three tick ahead like you’re still pressing it,” he said. “When you turn it on it can jump 10 cents before you even put it in the car and again there was no delivery. So these are mechanical in nature and we would check them out.”
The number of marked pumps has increased. Last year, the I-Team reported that 1 pump was flagged in Wake County between June and November of 2021. This year, 119 were marked between November 2021 and November 2022.
A ‘flagged’ pump means that inspectors must take it out of service because it could harm the consumer or the business.
Consumers can check when a pump was last inspected by looking at the NCDA sticker attached to each pump.
If an individual has concerns about a pump they are using, they can notify the NCDA at 984-236-4750.
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