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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A study by state inspection reports from 2004 to 2006 revealed that 34 percent -- or more than a third -- of gas retailers in southern Florida inspected in the past three years had at least one pump that failed accuracy tests -- but, more often to the benefit of consumers rather than against, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
However, almost as often as the pumps benefited customers, they shortchanged customers by not pumping enough gas, the report stated. Of the more than 2,500 stations in the area tested, 580 had at least one pump that dispensed more gas than paid for, while 477 pumped less fuel, according to the report.
"If you go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of milk, you expect a gallon of milk," Jason Toews, co-founder of Gasbuddy.com, a consumer advocacy site that tracks gas prices, told the paper. "The same goes for gasoline."
Although most gas station owners don't purposely shortchange consumers, some members of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (FPMCSA) have reported others for cheating consumers, Jim Smith, president of the association, told the Sun-Sentinel.
"We have a bad reputation as it is right now because of the gas prices," Smith said. "You don't want the consumer thinking they've been cheated every time they buy gas."
In addition, the state inspection records show that at least 173 area gas stations failed more than 10 tests within the past three years. The majority of those instances came from Miami-Dade County, where there are more gas retailers than Broward and Palm Beach counties, the report stated.
Further, failing stations had both shortchanging pumps and pumps that benefited customers. Those stations included:
-- Old Dixie Texaco in Homestead, Fla., which failed 68 maintenance tests, where all but four pumps shortchanged consumers;
-- Blue Heron Amoco/BP in Riviera Beach, Fla., which failed 38 tests. The station ranked highest in providing more gas than purchased, but pumps were also found to shortchange customers in five cases; and
-- Gas One in Delray Beach, Fla., which failed 37 tests, where all but three gave away more gas than purchased.
Owners and managers of Old Dixie Texaco and Blue Heron Amoco declined to comment to the paper. Bob Schonger, manager of Gas One, told the paper that large, high volume stations tend to have more devices malfunction, due to the fact they are used more frequently than low-volume stations.
"We give people a good price," Schonger told the paper. "If anything, we are giving away gas."
Moe Rahman, owner of the West Oakland Park Mobil in Sunrise, Fla., told the paper the company has a zero tolerance policy for equipment failure and problems are corrected soon after the station is notified of deficiencies. The station failed tests 28 times, where in all but six instances, the station shortchanged customers, according to the report.
"Mechanical devices break down over time and we have to take that into account," Matthew Curran, head of the state Bureau of Petroleum Inspection, told the Sun-Sentinel. "And that's why we go back and check these facilities so we won't overpenalize them."
Inspections are unannounced and conducted every 12 to 18 months at every state gas station, Steve Hadder, a field administrator with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bureau of Petroleum Inspection, told the paper. Undercover investigations are conducted in the instances of repeat offenders or from consumer calls, the report stated.
Many inspections come from consumer complaints. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received 13,909 complaints about gas retailers from state residents from 2004 to 2006, a third of them from south Floridians, the report stated.