1 out of 10 gas pumps rejected during surprise inspections

SEATTLE -- Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional launch of the summer driving season.

The national average for gas going in to the weekend is $3.65 per gallon of regular unleaded. The Washington average is $3.89, which is the fifth highest in the country, according to the American Automobile Association.

With prices that high, every drop of gas counts. That's why inspectors from the state Weights and Measures Program are making a push to follow up on customer complaints about potentially faulty pumps.

"We find that 20 percent of the complaints are legitimate, whether it's signage or quantity or quality complaints," said Jerry Buendal, Program Manager for the Weights and Measures Program which is part of the state Department of Agriculture.

Over the last two years, the inspectors have found roughly 10 percent of gas pumps failed a field inspection for a variety of reasons, including pumps not matching up with the meters. In 2012, 21,966 pumps were inspected with 2,312 being rejected for not meeting state standards. In 2013, 22,303 pumps were inspected and 2,421 were rejected.

"We rarely find somewhere where we suspect where there's malicious intent," Buendal said.

The reasons are usually mechanical or electronic and old age. Inspectors also test fuel quality.

In 2013, inspectors conducted 1,045 field tests on gasoline, with less than two percent failing state standards. But tests on diesel and biodiesel were more dramatic. Of the 118 lab tests on diesel samples, 76 failed to meet state standards. Of 84 lab tests on biodiesel, 37 failed to meet standards.

Buendal says it's a technical standard that's not being met and fuel is still usable.

"It's a characteristic called flash point, and some of that is house keeping and handling practices of that type of fuel," Buendal said.

The tolerance for a pump to be out of compliance is plus or minus three fluid ounces for every five gallons of fuel pumped. But even one once out proves costly. In 2011, the average US convenience store sold about 128,000 gallons of fuel each month. A measurement error of just one fluid ounce amounts to an error of $3,712 at a price of $3.75 a gallon.