Derrell Smith drove a small white pickup up to the pumps at Smileys Gas on 16th Street Thursday morning.
Smith picked up one of the gas pump hoses and starting filling a 5-gallon container with gas.
After about a minute, the pump shut off, and Smith looked at his container. Theyre giving a bit too much gas, but its in the customers favor, so Im good with it.
Smith wasnt a regular customer at Smileys hes a weights and measures inspector for Merced County. Thursday morning he was checking Smileys pumps to make sure they were giving the fuel they registered, and that the price matched. His gas container wasnt a regular one it was a highly-calibrated affair that is extremely accurate.
Smith is one of four weights and measures inspectors who work for David Robinson, the sealer of weights and measures for the county. Robinsons office is required by state law to check every gas station in the county once a year, and to follow up on any customer complaints about gas stations.
Complaints from customers are always checked out, Robinson said. Some can be done by phone, but if we cant resolve the issues in discussion, we follow up in person.
Smith said when gas stations are checked for accuracy, its on a surprise basis. Were just like a customer we just show up, he said.
Some of the thornier issues the department has dealt with include people breaking into tanks and stealing gas and thieves putting chips in gas pumps to steal customers credit card information.
Almost all the gas stations checked yearly come through with flying colors, Smith said. There are two phases in verifying the accuracy of gas pumps - the device itself and the labels and price signs.
A common customer complaint is about the difference in gas price between cash and debit. Station owners must post the higher price charged if a debit card is used, but some customers just dont see it.
People get mad and complain, and we come out and verify the signs are there, Smith said. They have to be a certain size, compared to the cash price, and sometimes both prices are in small print and people dont see them.
Robinson explained another common complaint. A person will call and say he knows his tank is 22 gallons, but the pump put in 22 1/2 gallons, he said.
Some car owners dont realize if a cars tank is really empty, the gas pump may not shut off until part of the fill pipe to the tank also has gas in it, making it look as if more gas than the tank could hold has been pumped, Robinson said.
When a gas pumps accuracy is verified, the station owner is given a window of plus or minus 6 cubic inches when the countys 5-gallon tank is filled. That works out to about eight ounces, Smith said.
If a gas pump is pumping more gas than the display shows, well let the station owner keep the pump open but they have to fix it within 30 days, Smith said. If the pump is pumping less gas, we red-tag it and shut that pump down.
Thursday morning, Rick Smiley, owner of Smileys Gas, watched as Smith checked the first pump. Its pumping about three cubic inches more youre OK, Smith said.
Turning away from Smiley, Smith smiled and said, Hes giving some fuel away, actually.
The county weights and measures office verifies the accuracy of more than just gas pumps. Robinson said the inspectors also check scales in grocery stores, truck scales, jewelry scales and, in some cases, weight scales used by people.
If a business is charging people who lose weight by the amount of pounds they lose, well verify its scale is correct, Robinson said.
Inspectors will also show up unannounced at grocery stores and verify a pound of hamburger is really a pound. We dont do it annually, but we try and get into stores as often as we can, Robinson said.
Even prepackaged items such as canned beans or a bag of cookies are checked out, Robinson said. Well take a package of cookies that says 40 cookies, and count those cookies, he said.
The price scanners at stores are also verified, Robinson said. We are the person to complain to if a scanner doesnt ring up the right price, he said. We encourage people to talk to the manager first, but if its ongoing or they cant resolve the problem, we want that call.
Complaints about local gas stations or businesses can be brought to the countys attention by calling (209) 385-7431.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org