Motorists filling up at a Mundelein Marathon gas station over the last three years had a 35 percent chance of getting less — or maybe more — than what they paid for.
Testing records for the station at 301 Townline Road, compiled by the Illinois Department of Agriculture's weights and measures division, show 12 to 14 of the property's 37 fuel lines failed inspections each year since 2009.
Last year, inspectors determined one line at the station wasn't giving as much gasoline as had been purchased, while two lines were giving more gas. But 11 lines were also “rejected” for mechanical defects, which state officials said most commonly means the meter is “creeping” or “jumping” when not in use. Those defects can lead to the customer paying for fuel not received.
“We took this station over (in 2010) and spent biblical amounts of money to fix it up,” said Andrew Kardoush, the station's manager. “The station is a little bit old, but we fixed everything and it passed inspections.”
State records show that 79 other gas stations located in communities within the Daily Herald's coverage area of northwestern Cook County, most of Kane and DuPage counties, western Lake County and southeastern McHenry County had at least one fuel line that failed inspection over the past three years.
Statewide, more than 5 percent of the 86,636 fuel lines inspected failed in 2011, mostly for mechanical defects, the records show.
“We always try to be perfect, but these are machines and mechanical things break,” said Bill Fleischli, executive vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association. “We certainly want to be 100 percent, but 95 percent when you're talking about an ounce of fuel going one way or the other, that's not too bad. There's never been a case, to my knowledge, where someone tampered with the pumps.”
Lenny Goebel, a program manager in the weights and measures division for the state's agriculture department, said there's no proof that a pump's calibration was off for any reason other than wear and tear.
“We've never found it proven that anyone's done it intentionally,” he said. “We've never found the calibrations were tampered with.”
All consumer complaints are looked into by inspectors, even if the gas station recently underwent an inspection, Goebel said.
All fuel lines throughout the state are inspected each year by the state's agriculture department, except in Chicago, Cicero, Evanston, Schaumburg and Granite City, department officials said. However, Schaumburg is handing inspection duties back to the state this year.
“We'll lose a little bit of revenue, but it's offset by the time our employee will have to do other duties, so it's pretty much a wash,” said Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz.
A staff of 26 inspectors handles the testing for the state. Each line — most pumps have three or four on each side — is inspected individually. Goebel said the number of fuel lines dictates the amount of time inspectors spend at a site. Statewide, gas stations average 25 lines, records indicate. The inspections generally take a couple hours, but that time is extended when fuel lines fail inspections because they will often be retested.
There are several components to the testing. If the pump equipment passes a visual check, inspectors dispense fuel into a measured container. Using the gas pump's readings, the inspector puts five gallons into the container. The inspector then checks to see if there are actually five gallons in the container. If the measurement is off by six cubic inches in either direction, the fuel line is taken out of service. For comparison purposes, a 12-ounce can of soda is almost 22 cubic inches.
In recent years, more lines have been flagged for giving out too much gas than not giving what was paid for, according to state records. While consumers might believe that's a good thing, that means taxing bodies aren't getting the full amount of motor fuel taxes they should be receiving and may have to look at other means to make up for revenues lost to generous fuel dispensers.
“They have 10 days to get those fuel dispensers fixed,” Goebel said.
A state certified repairman is required to fix the faulty lines and then can return the pump to service. But it can take anywhere from hours to days to line up the repairs, some complained.
A few years ago, Fleischli's organization attempted to pass legislation that would have privatized the inspection process. It argued that having someone who was licensed to inspect and repair would kill two birds with one stone and save owners money by not having pumps out of commission for so long and save taxpayers from staffing the posts.
In 2011, it cost taxpayers almost $1.5 million to pay the inspectors' salaries, according to state financial records. The average salary is just under $57,000 a year. While they are also responsible for inspecting other devices, gas pumps and grocery store scales are their chief inspection duties, Goebel said. It costs gas station owners $23 per line for the inspection process, Goebel added. That would have generated almost $2 million last year.
Money generated from inspection fees goes back into the state's general fund, Goebel said.
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