News 3 Investigation: Cheated at the Pump

By: Kristen Ross Email
By: Kristen Ross Email

It's been bad enough dealing with high gas prices for the last year and a half, and just as we are starting to get some relief, how would you feel to find out that you're not getting what you pay for at the pump?

Turns out some gas stations in the Brazos Valley are making some extra cash off of you.

"I've been commuting here for six years," Motorist Bill Crouse said. "It's an hour and 15 minutes each way, every morning and night."

For Bill Crouse, commuting from his home in New Waverly to his job at Sterling Auto in Bryan is anything but a cheap endeavor.

"I was running about $500 a month," Crouse said.

Bill averages just about 15 miles to the gallon, so making the most of his fuel is crucial. However, Bill sometimes wonders if he really gets every penny he pays for.

"We rely on these service stations to follow through with what's portrayed on the pump and when we're shorted it's more of an expense to us," Crouse said.

Turns out Bill has reason for concern.

A state-wide sting operation conducted by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has uncovered a growing problem of pump, after pump, after pump short-changing consumers in favor of the business owners.

"They're 100 percent negative, so I guess we'll be tagging every pump out of order," a state inspector said.

The state found Sunmart stations across the state not giving customers what they're paying for. In fact, 990 of the company's 1704 pumps were found cheating consumers, some of those from right here in the Brazos Valley region.

"We've been very active in the Brazos County area this past year," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said.

Staples, the State Commissioner for Agriculture, says routine inspections of stations only occur now about once every four years.

But in that time, just in the Brazos Valley, pumps have been tagged out of order in every county. Including more than 30 pumps in Grimes county, nearly 60 in Brazos, and about 65 in Burleson county, many for improperly maintained pumps or pumps found to be deceiving consumers.

"One consumer being cheated is one too many," Staples said.

It's an added expense that can add up fast.

At stations like the Big Diamond on Harvey Road in College Station, pumps have been taken offline several times before. Just in the last nine visits from the TDA, pumps have failed not only once, twice, three times, or even four, but five times-three of those in just four months.

Inspectors there noted pumps charging customers before they ever started fueling up, with consumers losing anywhere from seven, to 28, to even 31 cents just by picking up the pump.

We decided to ask the station if consumers can really trust that they're getting what they're paying for. However, we were told the manager wasn't available.

So we went back a week later, and we were told to contact their corporate office.

But the state has stepped up its efforts to do routine follow-ups more frequently, and also respond to complaints as quickly as possible.

That way if a station is trying to make a quick buck off of you they'll tag and bag it right away.

"If it's a mistake, it's just not acceptable. If it's old faulty equipment that's not an acceptable excuse," Staples said.

It's something that makes Bill Crouse feel a little bit better when he leaves his job working on cars to getting in his own car to go home.

"I am very cautious where I buy my gasoline and I watch for that to try and make sure I get the minimum gas I'm paying for," Crouse said.

Bill Crouse and his family just recently moved to College Station to be closer to his job, in part due to gas prices.

Officials with the corporate office for the Big Diamond store say, that despite the state finding their pumps to be improperly maintained, in several instances, that they were never able to repeat any of the problems their pumps were said to have.

The company adds that they did replace or repair any items in question.

Below is the complete statement provided by Valero:

Thanks for your questions about our retail location on Harvey Road. We take concerns about dispenser accuracy and compliance seriously, and respond quickly if problems are detected in inspections.

At this location, there were several inspections earlier this year where inspectors identified potential problems that could not be duplicated when repair crews were called in.

· On Feb. 22, an inspection noted one of the credit card readers was not working and the meter was "jumping." The credit card reader was replaced, but repair crews from an independent third-party firm found that the meter was working perfectly.

· On March 25, an inspection found a different meter had a faulty auto shutoff. Repair crews replaced that nozzle, fixing the problem.

· On April 23, inspectors noted that two different meters were "jumping." Again, repair crews did a separate inspection and found the meters working perfectly. Nonetheless, they replaced hoses, tightened swivels and checked the nozzles on both meters.

· On June 3, a follow-up inspection found "jumping" again in one of the meters from the April 23 inspection. Once again, repair crews checked the meter but found it working perfectly. They inspected the meter for possible leaks, but none were found even after the line was tested repeatedly.

· On June 17, all pumps were inspected and found to be in compliance.

There have been no reported problems at this station since. Gasoline dispensers are like any other machine; eventually they wear out and need maintenance. But in the majority of cases, when they are out of calibration, they are found to be dispensing more gasoline than customers paid for, not less. At Valero we take all concerns about calibration seriously, and in the cases where pumps are found to be out of compliance, they are quickly put back into compliance.

Helpful Links Below:
List of Pumped Tagged Out of Order in Our Region
Search for Gas Stations Near You

KBTX-TV Channel 3 4141 E. 29th Street Bryan, TX 77802 Phone: (979) 846-7777 Fax: (979) 846-1490 News Fax: (979) 846-1888
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