When it comes to buying gasoline labeled "regular," Utah drivers apparently are not always getting what they pay for.
A state official said Friday he has evidence that some gas stations label pumps as regular and unleaded, when both are drawing from the same underground tank of unleaded gas. Some may even post different prices for the same grade.While no one appears to be making extra money from the mislabeling, consumers could be ruining vehicles that require leaded gasoline, said Dave Buhler, director of the state Department of Commerce. Most motorists assume that gas labeled "regular" contains lead.
Mislabeling also is illegal, he said.
But rather than pursue a criminal investigation, Buhler recently called a meeting with leaders of four major petroleum associations and asked them to help solve the problem.
All agreed to help.
"We have no knowledge of anyone doing this because they're trying to make a buck, but the public can't live with mislabeling either," said Glade Sowards, state executive for the Western Petroleum Marketers Association.
Sowards said the average gas station has three tanks to deal with the different grades of gasoline on the market. In addition to regular and unleaded, some retailers sell regular-unleaded and premium unleaded. The difference is in the level of octane.
"Yesterday we mailed out a letter to our retailers calling attention to the problem," Sowards said. "Then we're going to have a seminar at the Salt Lake Hilton next Thursday."
Jim Peacock, executive director of the Utah Petroleum Association, said mislabeling is dishonest, even though regular gasoline now contains only one-tenth of a gram of lead per gallon.
"We all agreed completely that the motoring public must be assured that the product they are buying is what they are getting," Peacock said.
Buhler said the state will continue to investigate complaints about gasoline improperly labeled, and it will take action against violators. He said at least one retailer admitted openly to the practice, but he hopes pressure from the associations will solve the problem.
"Encouraging voluntary compliance with the law is the most effective way to protect consumers," he said.
Meanwhile, Sowards said, high-tech pumps of the future may solve the problem by mixing gasoline for the needs of each individual motorist.