Patrolling the pumps: Are you getting the gallon you're paying for?

Patrolling the pumps: Are you getting the gallon you're paying for?

As gas prices hover near the $3 a gallon mark, many of you wonder, are you getting your money's worth? You are paying for a gallon, but are you truly pumping a gallon? The WAFF 48 Investigators  went patrolling the pumps to find out.

Many don't realize this but there is a watchdog of sorts out there and one of their main jobs is to make sure nobody's getting ripped off at the pumps.

You probably don't know Tim Thomason. Some call him the gas police. His job:

"Make sure a gallon's a gallon," he said.

Thomason is an inspector in the Department of Agriculture and Industry. Among the things he inspects: quantity and quality of the fuel flowing through every pump in North Alabama.

Thomas either approves or condemns the gas through random spot checks and your complaints.

"Sometimes we find a problem, sometimes we don't. To be honest it's a computerized mechanical animal out here," said Thomason.

If you feel you're not getting every bang for your buck at the pump--Thomason's way is the only true test.

"We'll do it on five gallons to make sure for five gallons the price is what it said it was," he said.

A grasp of the handle, a pulse of the pump and the fuel siphons through for a test sample.

"I'm starting on zeros on both gallons and money amount," he said. "And I have to make sure the money amount is what it says it's going to be."

Then, it's wheeled over and poured for measuring.

"That clear bright is what you're expecting out of your fuel," Thomason said. "If I look down there and don't see the bottom of the test measure then we can look at the visual quality," he said.

So far, the fuel's up to par, but how does it measure up? The tolerance for forgiveness is tight.

"Layman's terms, if I have a five gallon bucket, my tolerance is maybe a baby food jar," he said.

That's plus or minus six cubic inches.

These pumps earn seals of approval. But if the fuel doesn't make the cut--the pump is condemned.

"I'll lock down that pump until the repair folks come in and re-calibrate it and I'll make my way through within ten days," said Thomason. "I've probably closed as many for giving it away as I have for holding it back. We walk the line of protecting the consumer and the person in the store that runs it."

All of our pumps checked out just fine during this sweep of tests in North Alabama. But if you ever have your doubts-don't hesitate to call for a second opinion. Inspectors usually respond within 36 hours.

The toll free number is 1-800-642-7761.