Meet the faulty check valve, a little gremlin that lives inside the gas pump. It could be pilfering your pennies. Or it could be pilfering the gas station’s. It really doesn’t care. According to an AP article, a faulty check valve inside a gas pump is difficult to diagnose and often goes ignored. The pricing errors it produces could either be in favor of the gas station or the consumer. How does this work?
The check valve’s job is to sync the gas flow of gas with the start of the price meter. A faulty check valve might produce a 2-6 second delay before the gas starts pumping, an error in favor of the gas station. Conversely, a faulty check valve could also start pumping a few seconds before the meter starts, an error that benefits the customer. Unfortunately, check valves are difficult to diagnose and may often work sporadically. A spokeswoman for New York’s weights and measures office said, “It’s very difficult to find it unless you are there every day several times a day.”
Making matters worse, many pumps are inspected too infrequently. The article says, “A New York Comptroller’s Office audit in 2000 found many municipalities statewide failed to inspect their pumps once a year as required and that meters were corrected during testing, which could mask overcharging. Four years later, a follow-up audit found only partial resolution, partly because of too little staffing.” State and local regulators doubt that most customers report gas pump discrepancies, and even if they do, it’s likely that they won’t get fixed.
So what can you do about faulty gas pumps? Try to keep track of how much gas your pump is actually pumping. If you see the price meter start several seconds before the gas flows, your pump may have a faulty check valve. Additionally, if you’ve put 11 gallons into your 10 gallon tank, it’s obvious that something is amiss. Report any discrepancies to the gas station. Some gas stations are authorized to give recompense if the discrepancy is within $5.00. Also look for a phone number on the side of the pump which you can use to report any problems. Don’t forget about your local Department of Weights and Measures since recent history has shown some positive results from their involvement.