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6 Investigates: Fuel pump complaints go unchecked

Posted: 5:17 PM, Jul 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-25 22:58:15-04

Since a new law took effect last year, complaints about people being cheated at the gas pump are going unchecked.

In one local case, four people complained about the pumps malfunctioning at a Circle K – Shell gas station on Weber Road, near Holly Road. Two of those complaints remained open weeks after being filed, according to records recently obtained by KRIS 6 News. A visit last week to the same gas station showed a slow fuel pump problem persisted – which was first reported to the Texas Department of Agriculture in February.

A clerk at the gas station said there had been complaints in the past, but those were taken care of and the recent problem was new information. The store owner did not respond to a message seeking comment.  

It’s those kinds of gas pump problems that could continue because since a new law that took effect on Sept. 1st, according to Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner.

“It’s very hard for us to hold the station accountable,” Miller said. “About the only thing we can hold them accountable on is keeping the registration current, and that’s about it."

Texas lawmakers overwhelmingly supported House Bill 2174, which took effect Sept. 1 after the governor signed it into law. The intent was to save taxpayer money by outsourcing the fuel pump inspection process.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, approved the law change.

“The goal is to make sure that if there is a problem, it’s resolved quickly,” Hunter said. “If it is not, then we need to make those modifications in January."

The Texas Department of Agriculture handles complaints about credit card skimmers, dirty fuel and malfunctioning pumps to ensure consumers aren’t being ripped off at the pump. But the enforcement power has been stripped, Miller said.

Before the law change, the department used to send a state inspector within 24 hours of a complaint. But now, the new law requires three complaints about the same gas station within 12 months. Once that happens, the state will notify the station owner who is then required to hire a third-party licensed inspector to resolve the problem.

Since the new law took effect, 31 complaints have been filed about gas stations in Corpus Christi. Six of those complaints are unresolved – classified as “open,” according to records obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.

But there are many that don’t make it through the complaint process.

While pumping gas in May, physical therapist Ernie Llamas took matters into his own hands when he suspected he was being ripped off. The meter was running, but no fuel coming out of the nozzle.

He took a video and showed it to the store clerk. She refused to refund his money, so he posted the video on Facebook to warn others, and it went viral.

“Most people were thankful and aware, and some of them had even commented how they, as well, felt cheated out of the gas tanks," Llamas said, in a recent interview.

The station owner later offered Llamas a refund, which Llamas did not accept. Last week the owner confirmed that a service company seen at the station had repaired the pumps.

Problems like what Llamas experienced at the pump are extremely rare, said Robert “Brad” Howe, who owns R&R Petro Services, a full-service fuel company. Modern technology in the gas pumps these days makes it difficult to get ripped off, even if a fuel pump is running slow.

"It’s all electronically calibrated, and you have to go through programming to change the calibration whereas the older pumps had like a dial on the meter that you can adjust,” Howe said.

Less enforcement from the state has meant a lot more work for private businesses like Howe’s company. That’s been a good thing, he said. But there are hang ups expressed by some of his colleagues in the same line of work.

It’s meant private companies now play an enforcer role, and at times, that can make for an awkward relationship with regular customers, Howe said.

We asked Howe what someone should do if a fuel pump is slow?

“I’d recommend that they shut it down and tell the owner that the pump is pumping so they can have it checked out,” he said.

And if that doesn’t resolve your complaint – Hunter advised a quicker response to the complaint could be through the consumer complaint division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office .