INDIANAPOLIS-- The average price of gas is currently $3.894 a gallon in Indiana.
While that’s 71 cents lower than a month ago, many drivers are still feeling the pinch.
“When you drive from Gosport Indiana to Indy it's killing us,” Barbara Mathis said. “Then, the prices of groceries, it's just awful.”
Many drivers wonder if they’re pumping what they pay for.
“Always, because you really don’t know what you’re getting,” Mathis said.
Marion County Weights and Measures is tasked with inspecting pumps at more than 420 gas stations throughout the city.
They check to make sure the pumps are within tolerance, meaning they’re pumping the right amount, or if they’re out of tolerance.
WRTV tagged along with Weights and Measures supervisor Nic Gebert as he visited several gas stations.
At our first stop, Gebert did a recheck on two potential safety issues with pumps at a west side gas station, including a pump that kept dispensing even after drivers let off the handle.
Gebert said the gas station fixed both pumps.
“Every one of them are good to use,” Gebert said.
At our next gas station stop south of downtown, Gebert said he needed to recheck a tolerance issue on a pump.
“We are making sure it's back within tolerance and that it's dispensing properly,” Gebert said.
But the supervisor did not get far.
“Unfortunately, the station is waiting on a fuel drop and they're out of two of the grades,” Gebert said. “So, if we can't test it, we've shut it down until we can test it for tolerance."
Gebert condemned the pump by putting a red tag on it and a plastic bag around it.
“They're not going to be able to dispense anything until we come out and make sure it's working properly,” Gebert said.
When inspectors can test pumps, they find most are giving you what you pay for.
WRTV Investigates looked at inspection data and found so far this year, only 3% of fuel dispensers tested in Marion County were out of compliance and condemned for tolerance issues.
And of those, about half are in the gas station’s favor and the other half are in the driver’s favor, according to Weights and Measures.
"These places do not want their pumps out of tolerance,” Gebert said. “These are machines just like any other. They get used. They break down. Things happen. A lot of places don't even know, and they get it fixed."
The Indiana Food and Fuel Association, which represents gas stations across the state, agrees with our findings that few pumps are pumping incorrect amounts.
“We have found in the past that when errors occur, they favor the customer most of the time,” said Scot Imus, executive director of the Indiana Food and Fuel Association. “It’s in every ones best interest to ensure pumps are accurate. When retailers operate on thin margins, they can’t afford to lose even a fraction of a penny.”
When inspectors do find a tolerance issue, Weights and Measures informs the gas station and condemns the dispenser until it can be brought back into tolerance and re-tested.
Weights and Measures, which falls under the Department of Business & Neighborhood Services, do not issue citations, violations or collect fines for out-of-tolerance fuel dispensers because there is no local ordinance for such actions.
"Technically Marion County does not have an ordinance, there's no fine system or anything like that,” Gebert said. “If I thought it was so severe that I would say it's a danger to the public, I would contact state level."
When you pump gas, look for the Weights and Measures approval sticker.
That means it has passed a tolerance test and an inspection.
If the Weights and Measures sticker is missing, it's possible the dispenser failed its last inspection, or it may have received a new part since the last inspection.
Some drivers turn to the Indiana Attorney General’s office which has received 219 complaints since January 2020 against gas stations, including for overcharging or price gouging.
WRTV Investigates found most of the complaints remain open, or still under investigation.
“We allow for the opportunity for the companies to respond,” said Scott Barnhart, director of consumer protection at the Indiana Attorney General’s office. “A lot of times we will get complaints like ‘I don't believe I got the gallon of gas.’ We would refer it over to the appropriate agency to have them take a look."
Barnhart confirmed the state has not filed any lawsuits against gas stations in recent years for price gouging.
“We have not brought any litigation against any companies that I’m aware of the last several years,” said Barnhart. “We have reviewed hundreds of price gouging complaints. The statute only allows us to do certain things as it relates to gas.”
In other words, it can be very difficult to prove a gas station is price gouging.
“It is a challenge,” said Barnhart. “The markets purchase the gas from wholesalers, and there are costs involved from converting oil to gas, distribution costs, marketing costs, transportation costs, all those things add up.”
Tips for Drivers
- Utilize free online/app resources: Try Gas Buddy to track down the cheapest price at the pump and ‘Mint’ to break down your personal budget.
- Take a deeper look at existing bills: Cut out unnecessary additions in things like your cable or phone bills.
- Buy bulk/coupon: Rising gas costs lead to a domino effect, including at the grocery store. Lederman recommends buying in bulk and coupon.
Tips from Marion County Weights and Measures
- Make sure the dispenser is set to zero prior to fueling. If you encounter “pump jump” —when the fuel pump meter clicks ahead a few cents before you start pumping, which means you're paying for gas you're not getting — immediately hang up the nozzle before pumping any fuel and inform the station attendant. Typically, the attendant will refund the few cents the dispenser has registered and reset the pump to zero. However, if you continue to pump after it jumps, the station’s console will have no way to show the amount of the jump, as it only shows the total transaction amount.
- If the station’s attendant refuses to refund the difference, will not reset the pump, or the dispenser jumps again after it has been reset, contact Weights and Measures.
- Remember it can be tough to tell if a pump isn’t dispensing properly
- Look for leaks on hoses and spilled gas on the ground
- You can reach Weights and Measures at 317.327.3835 or WnM@indy.gov
State Weights and Measures
Indiana Department of Health Division of Weights and Measures 2525 N Shadeland Avenue, D3 Indianapolis, IN 46219-1770
Program Director Alan Goff AGoff@isdh.in.gov (317) 356-7078, Option 3 (317) 351-2877 [Fax]
Reporting a Complaint
Report a complaint or to request an inspection email at firstname.lastname@example.org