There's a 2-in-3 Chance Your Local Gas Station May Be Ripping You Off, Breaking the Law and Harming Your Community
Other ways of filling up your car might be costing you, though, and these prices aren’t posted on the signs at the station.
Gas station inspections—which usually leave behind stickers like these—are meant to ensure gas stations and their pumps aren’t violating laws that could end up costing unsuspecting motorists over time. We studied 2016 inspections across multiple states to learn how many stations earned violations for water and sediment mixed into their gasoline to faulty hoses and leaky pumps. Want to know the odds of filling your car with more than just gas the next time you’re at the pump? Keep reading to see what we discovered.
Failings at the Fuel Pump in Georgia
Of the thousands of gas station violations recorded across the U.S. in 2016, more than 1 in 5 involved water. This isn’t the water provided so you can wipe your windshield or the accessible water hoses in case of an emergency, but water found mixed in with the gasoline dispensed directly from the pump.
A driver might not even realize this violation right away, but some common symptoms involve sputtering and decreased performance while trying to accelerate. The damage from water seeping into your gas tank can be costly, and stations that have been identified as responsible for these violations in the past have occasionally denied paying to have their customer’s cars repaired.
More than 1 in 10 violations also involved broken displays at the pumps, cracked hoses, and leaks. If a gas station pump housing or display looks tampered with in any capacity, it’s possible the device could have been illegally modified. These reprehensible revisions have been occurring at an alarming rate over the years.
Leaking Into the Georgia Landscape
Leaky hoses and pumps at the gas station aren’t just a nuisance when gasoline leaks onto your clothes or shoes; they can have an intensely adverse effect on the environment and communities.
In Barrington, Illinois, a Mobil gas station was ordered to pay $20,000 in fines for environmental damages caused by a gas leak that contaminated soil and groundwater and even caused vapors to enter surrounding homes. A study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found even the smallest spills at service stations can cause significant contamination of soil and groundwater.
According to pump violations reported in 2016 across Georgia, more than 1 in 10 violations involved faulty discharge, and nearly a third of all pump leaks occurred with regular-grade gasoline.
Incidents of Infractions in Florida
In some states, a gas station might only be inspected once every two years to check for pump violations. Among other things, the inspection can reveal how many times a pump was locked, failed to dispense the right amount, or even dispensed too much gas compared to what was charged.
Throughout 2016, more than 11 percent of gas station inspections reported in Florida occurred in March. The following month saw nearly half as many inspections, accounting for more than 6 percent of the year’s total. Gas station violations seem to vary over the course of the year, which may indicate a surge of inspection activity rather than a seasonal shift in violation prevalence. Among noted infractions is the failure rate of gas pumps, almost 7 percent of which were reported in May and August.
While these inspections are often unannounced, inspectors have the ability to close gas station pumps if their variances exceed certain perimeters. In some instances, inspections can reveal more than sub-par gas quality or pumps that overcharge. In 2015, a three-month inspection across Florida of over 7,500 gas pumps found 103 credit card skimmers, which could be stealing customer information as unsuspecting drivers swipe their cards at the pump.
Fraudulent Flow in Florida
The speed of gas dispensing at the pump can directly affect the amount of fuel vapors being sucked back into the nozzle, effectively charging you for gas you’re not receiving.
While nearly 70 percent of the pumps inspected in 2016 in Florida pumped at a normal speed, almost a third of pumps pumped too slowly, and more than 1 in 10 failed their inspections.
According to these inspections, nearly 95 percent of plus-rated pumps flowed at a slow speed. Regular- and premium-leaded gas followed normal speeds more than 97 percent of the time. While you’ll eventually get the gas you need, you could find yourself waiting for what feel likes forever when you’re fueling up.
North Carolina’s Tainted Tanks
Sediment that enters your car this way can settle at the bottom of the gas tank, and its adverse effects can be exacerbated by letting gas levels run low, resulting in damage to internal parts of the car’s engine.
More than 20 percent of North Carolina’s gas station violations also involved water, which was most commonly found in diesel fuel. Water and particles in diesel cause the significant internal damage to a diesel engine fuel system. Symptoms of this damage can include increased fuel consumption, smoke, noise, and poor starting. It’s important to note that violations examined for this project includes all condemnations, lab and field. Field inspections are most often condemned by a tank sample, not the dispenser which usually meets specifications. Tanks samples are a proactive measure that often stops the condemned product every reaching the customer.
Gas Tank Trespassers in North Carolina
Over the course of 2016, water violations at gas pumps in North Carolina most often occurred during rainy months like August, September, and October (peaking in September), and over the springtime months of April and May. Inadequate filtration systems can lead to water seeping into gas pumps, causing engine sputtering and trouble accelerating to higher speeds.
Sediment violations were less likely to be recorded during rainy months, and gas stations had the lowest number of occurrences in September and June. However, while water violations were less common in January and February, sediment infractions were highest during these early winter months.
Cut the Costs
As if gasoline didn’t cost enough, there are plenty of ways you could be overpaying at the pump without even realizing it. Water and other debris could secretly seep into gas reserves, infecting your car and damaging your engine, not to mention fraudulent skimmers and even leaky pumps.
We contacted the departments responsible for inspecting gas stations in a handful of states to find out the types of violations that were the most common.
Due to the differences in reporting and inspection protocols, each state’s data is noncomparable to other states. We analyzed various areas of gas station inspections based on the strengths of each state’s inspections.
Data from Georgia were used to analyze leaks and violation prevalence overall. Gas station inspection data from Florida were used when looking at the percentage of inspections and violations over time, as well as the failure rates and flow speeds at pumps. Gas station inspection and condemnation data in North Carolina were used to analyze the presence of water and sediment during inspections.
Graphics courtesy CheapCarInsurance.net