As head of a team of inspectors calibrating gasoline pumps and tanks around the state, Robert A. Smoot picks up information most motorists never would know.
For example, don't fill up your car at a service station where a tanker truck is pumping gasoline into the underground storage tanks. "It stirs up all the water and sediment that has settled in the bottom of the storage tank and you will get a bad shot of gas," said Smoot, director of the state's Division of Weights and Measures.Also, don't believe the owner's manual statement about the number of gallons a car's gasoline tank will hold. The manual is usually wrong, though not by much, Smoot said.
His division inspects pumps and tanks at approximately 5,000 gasoline stations throughout Utah. Weights and Measures also follows up on complaints or randomly checks out the accuracy of scales, cash registers, car washes, laundromats and any other commercial measuring and timing devices to make sure consumers get what they pay for.
The majority of consumer complaints fielded by the division deal with gasoline retailing.
Smoot said most of the gasoline-related concerns deal with a motorist saying the pump dispensed more fuel than the gasoline tank will hold.Once a gasoline pump is calibrated by an inspector, the regulation mechanism is sealed so it can't be adjusted. There are times when a pump gets out of whack on its own, Smoot said, but cheating customers would require a service station operator breaking the seal and readjusting the pump.
"Most of those complaints don't turn out to be valid because the problem is usually a miscalibrated gasoline tank (in the car) or gas can," he said, noting gasoline tanks are mass-produced and not precisely measured to hold an exact amount of fuel.
Smoot recalled the adjustment seal being broken once several years ago at a station in southeastern Utah. But the state couldn't prove wrongdoing on any party because the station had changed owners between inspections.
If someone is caught, he or she is given notice to correct the problem and a warning not to let it happen again. And if it happens again, a hearing is held and the violator can be fined and disciplined. Maximum fine is $5,000.
Smoot said the last service station operator to be fined was last year in Cache County. He said the fine was substantial, but the settlement agreement struck with the state attorney general prohibits disclosing the company or the amount of the fine.
The violation involved an operator supplied with only unleaded fuel but selling it as both regular and unleaded. Smoot said the state found out about the problem when an auto accident knocked one of the pumps over and the investigating police officer saw one storage tank with lines feeding both the unleaded pump and the regular pump.
When the division does get a complaint about bad gasoline, it will test a station's storage tank for water and debris. Many complaints stem from a motorist filling up while a tanker truck is filling the storage tanks, which stirs up any sediment that has settled in the bottom of the tank and condensation clinging to the inner walls.
But if an unacceptable amount of foreign matter is found in the fuel, the division advises the station to reimburse the customer and clean out its storage tank. Smoot said that occurred at a service station at Bullfrog Marina near Lake Powell, where 3 inches of water were found in the storage tank.
Inspectors suspect the refinery or distributor put water in the fuel because the storage tank was above ground and rain hadn't fallen in weeks.
Although only 2 percent to 3 percent of the complaints are valid, Smoot said, Weights and Measures responds to all of them. Any motorists with concerns about accuracy of a service station's pumps or quality of gasoline should call the division at 538-7159.