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For Your Protection: Inspecting gas stations

Gas inspection
Posted at 4:15 AM, Jul 17, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-17 07:28:41-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -- With gas prices on the rise and the economy still recovering, many Americans are watching every penny they spend.

While AAA estimates prices will begin to rise at the pump, have you ever wondered though when filling up at the gas pump if you're getting what you pay for?

We took that question to Earl Davis with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service's Bureau of Standards.

"I'm here to make sure the consumer is getting the right amount of product they're paying for," Davis said. "I'm also here to protect store owners to make sure they're not giving away too much product themselves."

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It's Davis' job to inspect retail stores and gas stations throughout north Florida. Statewide there are more than 9,000 retail shops inspected at least once every other year, but typically a retailer is inspected every 13 months.

At gas stations Davis and his colleagues are looking for everything from the quality of gas being sold to the price of the gas.

"It's one of the biggest complaints we get," Davis said. "We're making sure prices are marked correctly so you're not being pulled in by a road sign that says one price and the gas pump says another."

Davis cautions though, watch out for "cash price" versus "credit price". Davis says stations can not add a surcharge in the state of Florida for using a credit card, but stations can offer a discount to those paying with cash.

You may also be surprised to learn how much, or how little, stations can charge.

"State of Emergency declared by the Governor locks in pricing, they (gas stations) can only go up in price when fuel is brought in," Davis said. "A lot of people think that's year round. Gas stations can charge pretty much whatever they want on the profit side, $9, $10, consumers just have the right not to go there."

While stations can mark up fuel as much as they want during non-states of emergency, they are limited by how cheap they can sell fuel. Davis explains Florida has an "underpricing law" setting the standard that stations can not sell gas cheaper than they buy it. For example, if a station buys fuel from their distributor for $2.50 per gallon, that is the lowest rate the station can sell it to consumers. Keep in mind, the more fuel a company buys, typically less they pay for it.

It's an extensive inspection that can take several hours to complete.

Inspectors start by making sure the pumps are functioning properly and discharging the correct amount of fuel. Using a five-gallon test measure, Davis measures to make sure that the display on a pump matches the actual amount of gasoline dispensed into a test tank.

When it comes down to this aspect, Davis says consumers are very rarely ever cheated.

"The majority of store owners give just a little bit from what we see as an average," Davis said.

Inspectors also check the storage tanks on site to make sure the fuel being sold isn't contaminated with water or other elements that could damage your car. Samples are taken from the storage tanks and sent to a lab in Tampa for analysis. According to statistics provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nearly 98 percent of samples taken from more than 10 billion gallons of petroleum fuel samples collected from stations during the 2010/2011 fiscal year met state standards.

Drivers may notice when filling up at different stations that some companies tout having better gas than others. But, is it really?

"Gasoline is gasoline, crediblity, they're all the same," Davis said.

Have a concern about a gas station? Report comments and complaints to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by calling 1-800-Help-FLA.