MILWAUKEE -- As if gas prices aren't high enough - there is now something else to worry about at the pump! FOX6's Contact 6 has learned state inspectors have found hundreds of gas stations not giving customers what they paid for at the pump!
Contact 6 took three gas canisters and pumped unleaded gas at three stations on a list of the biggest offenders of what's called "meter jump" and "meter creep."
"Meter jump" occurs when making a payment and selecting a fuel grade. The meter will jump up a few cents before a customer starts dispensing fuel into a tank.
"Meter creep" occurs when a customer is finished dispensing fuel, and the meter creeps a few cents beyond where it should have stopped.
Hundreds of pumps fail inspection every year, many with "jump" and "creep" problems as seen in the inspection report obtained by Contact 6. Contact 6 asked the Department of Weights and Measures what they found on all inspected southeast Wisconsin gas stations since January of last year.
"I think they kind of do rip you off in a way," one man pumping gas into his pickup truck told Contact 6.
Another man nearby wondered, "I don't really trust them but what can I do about it?"
Contact 6 looked at two years of state reports and found the top three stations with meters moving in their favor. They include Jetz Convenience Store in Muskego, East Racine Petroleum in Sturtevant and the PDQ in Pleasant Prairie.
Contact 6 did a test of their pumps and did not find any problems. The owners say corrections were made almost immediately after state inspectors discovered an error. Each of the three owners said their pumps are now accurate.
When problems happen, service technicians like John Chovanec with Walt's Petroleum Serivce, Inc. get the call. Chovanec says factors like age, weather and basic wear and tear of gas pumps all contribute to meter "jump" and meter "creep." However, human error is also to blame.
"Customers are so rough with nozzles," Chovanec said at a Citgo station in West Allis. "They're dropping them on the ground, using the nozzle to select the grade of fuel..."
Chovanec says when hoses are ripped off the pump itself, that can also contribute to the problem.
"You drive it down the street for a couple of blocks and there's gonna be some damage to this equipment," Chovanec said.
Stations face fines if they do not have pump problems corrected immediately, but none of the three Contact 6 visited was fined.
Chovanec says both state inspectors and store owners themselves constantly test pumps for accuracy, disspelling the myth that store owners try to cash-in on unsuspecting customers.
"Maybe 20 or 30 years ago it would have been easier to do, but not any more," Chovanec said. "Not with the electronics that we have and how accurate the meters really are now."
Lead seals also help prevent pump tampering. Each is crimped onto the internal meters at each pump and are engraved with the technician's initials and the name of the service company.
Actually, Chovanec says, the Inspection Report shows that errors are usually in the customer's favor!
"There are certainly times where you see there's more gallons going in than you think should be going in," Chovanec said.
The Department of Weights and Measures says consumers are accurately charged 99.6% of the time. But problems still occur.
If you have a complaint about a specific Wisconsin gas pump, you can call the Consumer Protection hotline at 1-800-422-7128.