Follow Georgia Department of Agriculture inspector as he examines a station.

Pay at the pump: Inspectors try to keep stations honest

Due to data duplications, a previous version of this story included incorrect information on metro Atlanta stations with the most failed gas pump inspections. The list of stations with the most violations should not have included the Shell Food Mart at 4118 Lavista Rd., Tucker. This station has only had six violations since Jan. 1, 2013, and all six were for dispensing more gasoline than a customer paid for. The correct list is included in the revised version below.

Brian Hammock always pays attention at the gas pump.

“I know I’ve been ripped off before,” said Hammock, 38, of Atlanta. “That Suzuki only holds 9 gallons.”

Then how in the world did he pump close to 11 gallons into it?

The truth is, he didn’t — the pump was woefully inaccurate. It might have charged him for nearly 11 gallons, but the laws of physics say 11 gallons won’t fit in a 9-gallon tank.

Hammock doesn’t drive the Suzuki anymore and he doesn’t recall where the offending gas station was, but the state of Georgia probably knows.

The state Department of Agriculture’s Division of Weights & Measures is charged with inspecting every pump in Georgia to make sure consumers get what they pay for. It also tests the gasoline itself to make sure there’s no water in it and that its octane level is the same. The department sets a goal of inspecting every pump at least once every 18 months.

There are 1,155 cubic inches in 5 gallons. State inspectors pull 5 gallons from gas station pumps to make sure they are accurate. If the draw is more than 6 cubic inches off – plus or minus – the station gets cited for a violation. If the pump is more than 13 cubic inches off, it’s a violation plus the pump is locked.

There have been almost 320,000 pump inspections since Jan. 1, 2010, according to a review of state data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Of those, 22,681 resulted in a violation. Of those:

About 13 percent of all violations were in metro Atlanta. In all, 332 of 1,056 gas stations inspected in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties have had a violation since 2013.

The one station in metro Atlanta with the most recent problems is the Shell Food Mart at 3933 Buford Highway in Buford. Its pumps have failed 54 of 83 inspections since Jan. 1, 2013.

That, however, is a little misleading. The Department of Agriculture received a complaint about the station’s gas in July. On July 28, inspectors discovered the underground tank storing the station’s premium unleaded gasoline contained 14 percent water — a major no-no.

Every premium pump at the station was locked. But, because the station’s midgrade unleaded pumps draw a mixture of regular unleaded and premium, all the midgrade pumps were locked, too.

Technically, the Shell station was only given a single violation, even though more than three dozen pumps were shut down.

“This is not a pump violation,” said Rich Lewis, the director of the Division of Fuel & Measures. “This is what we call a quality violation, a problem with the quality of gas.”

The station’s owner did not return calls seeking comment.

Once a pump is locked, it stays locked until the station proves the problem has been fixed. Often, stations will put plastic bags over locked pumps.

State inspectors do more than make sure the pumps are accurate and ensure the gas is free of water or other impurities. They test the octane level, to make sure consumers who pay more for premium are getting high-test gasoline.

The station’s signs, too, are checked. A retailer is required to post accurate prices. If the station advertises a lower price for cash or loyalty cards, it must also list the higher price for other methods of payment.

Lewis, the fuel & measures director, encourages all consumers to keep receipts from gas stations. If you get a bad tank of gas and it harms your car, your receipt may help you collect damages from the station.

The receipt, Lewis said, is “absolute proof you bought that gas at that time at that pump.” If inspectors find a problem, he said, “that station has no choice but to work with you to correct the problem.”

To report a gas station for a potential violation, call the Department of Agriculture at 1-800-282-5852.