Got a problem at the pump? The Stark County Auditor's Office routinely checks gas pumps, scales and other measuring devices countywide.
You're certain you pushed the button that says $2.19 a gallon before pumping gas at your friendly neighborhood convenience store. Then the receipt pops out showing you just paid $2.79 a gallon.
What should you do?
If you experience a problem at the pump, you're not alone.
Stark County Auditor Alan Harold said his office gets several calls each week from consumers reporting issues while buying gas.
"Anytime you feel that something's not right on the receipt or with the numbers that show up on the pump — the gallons or the price on the pump — you should certainly ask the store if they know there's an issue. But second, you should call our office and let us know about it, because we're happy to go out and investigate on your behalf," he said.
The Weights and Measures Division of the auditor's office annually checks the 3,215 gas pumps countywide, division Supervisor Nick Owens said this week. Those include commercial gasoline stations as well as compressed natural gas pumps, such as those for SARTA and Kimball Transfer. The office also tests scales everywhere from industrial sites such as the Timken Co. and sand-and-gravel pit scales to truck scales, deli scales in local supermarkets and scales at fabric stores.
On the gas pumps alone, Owens said, "We probably do about 3,600 tests, including retests."
The biggest complaint with gas pumps, Harold said, seems to be "pump jump," which he defined as "when you see the meter running before you hear the gas running."
It's easily explained: "There's a tolerance that each of these machines have on that." But the gas flow catches up quickly to the numbers on the meter, he said.
Owens said that for some complaints about a suspected over-charge, the customer pumping gas actually has hit a button, unknowingly or accidentally, agreeing to pay for an additional service, such as a car wash.
"Some of these pumps have so many grades of gasoline on them that sometimes the hose hits one of the buttons and it pushes the wrong grade," he said, adding that reports of issues are addressed immediately.
"We normally follow up within 24 hours of a complaint to verify whether it's a scale or a gas pump that wasn't working properly," Owens said. "If the device doesn't act up for me, there's no action I can take. When a consumer wishes to get their money back in such a case, it ends up being between the store and the consumer. If I find something wrong with (the pump), it's a lot easier for them to get the money back."
Each product, such as each grade of fuel, is tested at the pump so Weights and Measures employees can see whether the proper amounts are being released from the tanks. They also make sure the pump does not appear as though someone tampered with it. Then they check the registers and the consoles in the stores to make sure the pump and the consoles duplicate one another, Owens said.
When Owens' division detects a problem, a timeline begins.
"If we find a device that's out of compliance, or say there's a light bulb out and you can't see the full price on a gas pump, or a leaky hose ... Depending on how bad it is, we will give the store 14 days to repair the problem," Owens said. "We'll go back after 14 days to retest the device. If it passes, fine. If it doesn't, we give them an additional seven days. After seven days, we will lock the nozzle with a red tag. Or in some incidences, we'll just unplug and tie it with a red tag so it can't be used." By law, only a registered service person can break the seal to repair the device.
Owens said he doesn't get as many calls about pricing challenges like he did previously.
"On the older analog pumps, we've had many incidents when those were still in service that the prices were completely off. That was a calculation error," he said.
Anyone wishing to contact Harold's office may do so by calling 330-451-7357 or online at http://www.starkcountyohio.gov/auditor.
Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @lsteineckREP