What should you do if you think bad gasoline has damaged your car, or if you think the pump dispensed less gasoline than you paid for? The N.C. Department of Agriculture helps with both these problems.
If you think you got a tank of bad gas (which usually means water or sediment in the gas), call the Motor Fuel Section at the N.C. Department of Agriculture at 919-733-3246 to make a complaint. While your car is at the repair shop, ask the mechanic to save a sample of the gas, and ask the Motor Fuel Section to test it. Save all your receipts from the repair work, and the receipt from your gasoline purchase.
Sometimes a bad gas delivery affects a lot of vehicles that fill up in a short period of time. The more reports that come in to NCDA, the more likely it is that the station owner will voluntarily pay for repairs (either out of pocket or through the station’s insurance). The NCDA can shut down the pumps until the problem is resolved. Isolated cases may or may not prompt the station owner to pay voluntarily. If the owner will not pay voluntarily, you can take the station to small claims court, but unless the repair bill is large, that may be inconvenient. Calling attention to the problem (and to the owner’s resistance to paying for the repairs) through the news media and social media are other alternatives.
Better technology helps reduce the frequency of bad gas complaints compared to decades past. Storage tanks customarily now have filters. Store staff are required to test the gas frequently. NCDA has over 200 requests a year to test suspected bad gas.
Another gasoline-related problem is improperly calibrated pumps, which may short the consumer by dispensing less gas than was charged for. The NCDA Standards Division enforces correct calibration of gas pumps, and other pump regulations (like proper lighting and credit card readers). NCDA inspectors report that calibration problems show up in 2 – 5% of the pumps tested across the state.
How does an inspection work? NCDA inspection trucks carry certified five-gallon test cans for each grade of gas. When arriving, the inspector visually assesses the pumps. There is a check list of items having to do with the safety or accuracy of the pumps. To test calibration, five gallons of gas will be pumped twice into the test can – once at a high-flow rate and once at a slow-flow rate. At five gallons, the gas pump display is compared to the test can. If the pump does not function properly, it will be tagged for recalibration or repair and will not be permitted to operate. All gas is returned to the storage tanks once the tests have been completed.
NCDA pump inspectors cover the state making unannounced inspections. They also respond to consumer complaints and concerns. If you think you have encountered a faulty pump, you can report it to the Standards Division at 919-733-3313.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough, NC. She can be reached at 919-732-7300 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was last updated in January 2020.