HICKORY, N.C. -- What do you do if you suspect you're being overcharged at the gas pump? We're not just talking high gas prices. We're talking about paying for gas you didn't even get.
Josh Chapman of Burke County was a smart consumer. He meticulously documented the problem. Josh rang up $62.01 of regular unleaded for his Toyota Tundra at the Cubbard Express on U.S. 321 in Hickory at 9:07p.m. on Thursday, January 5. There’s just one problem - the meter on the pump kept climbing after the nozzle shut off.
So Chapman whipped out his cell phone and fired up the video camera.
“That’s just ridiculous,” he narrated in the grainy nighttime video. “Check out the price’s going up and the pump’s not even moving.”
Chapman called Bumgarner Oil Company, the station’s operator, and left his number. He photocopied the receipt with the exact date and time. He said they never called him back.
The oil company said he never called them back. Whatever happened, the next week Chapman emailed the video to the NewsChannel 36 I-Team.
After reviewing the video attached to Josh’s email, the I-Team called Gerald Brown in Raleigh. He’s a supervisor at the Standards Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They’re the folks who inspect everything from gas pumps to grocery scales to checkout scanners to make sure you’re getting everything you pay for.
Brown and inspector Larry Rudisill showed up at the Cubbard Express, pump number 10 on January 12 at 10am sharp. Chapman told them the problem and they started testing.
Chapman said he didn’t even want a refund. He wasn’t out more than a dime or so.
“I’m not blaming the people that run it because obviously they can't be out here doing maintenance on these things every day,” Chapman said to the inspectors. “I just like the fact that there is an agency that does regulate it and can fix it.”
Brown said he’d be glad to look into it.
First, Rudisill tried to replicate the problem by pumping gas into a stainless steel canister and carefully watching the meter.
At first, nothing. After the pump shut off, the meter didn’t budge.
But when he went around the other side and turned on pump number 9 at the same time, the price ticked up a penny at a time while the nozzles laid motionless on the curb.
“We’ve got a definite problem,” Rudisill said.
The price kept creeping up - 17 cents, 18, 19 - even though no gas had been pumped. It wasn’t until the nozzle was hung up and the pump shut off that the meter stopped. The same thing happened on both sides of the dispenser – pumps 9 and 10.
The inspectors bagged the nozzles and tagged them with a label marked “rejected.”
They told the store manager, who said she’d never seen anything like it in 20 years of working around gas stations.
Bumgarner Oil called in a technician who quickly diagnosed the problem – a leaky valve which inspectors said was probably corroded by ethanol in the gas. A quick fix. State inspectors then returned to re-test and sign off on the pumps.
Chapman was satisfied. “What I really cared about, if I'm just one person that this is happening to how many other people is this happening to with gas prices going up the way they are?” he said.
The inspectors said problems like Chapman’s are rare. They encourage consumers to calmly alert store managers before assuming the worst and calling Raleigh.
“Most of these companies are on the ball and they want to do what’s right,” said Brown, the supervisor. “Give them that opportunity to get it corrected.”
But if all else fails and you get no satisfaction from the oil company, you can reach state inspectors in Raleigh at 919-733-3313.
And you can always document it with your cell phone and send it to the I-Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.