I-Team: Are you getting what you pay for at the gas pump?

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The I-team investigates gas pumps (WTVD)

How do you know you're getting what you pay for at the gas pump?

It's one of those things most of us inherently trust. But every once in a while, the "system" breaks down and those pumps go bad. That happened a few weeks ago to ABC11 viewer Vivek Balasubramaniam. He finished pumping and went to put the nozzle back, but the pump's meter kept turning.

"The numbers were still climbing," he explained. "The dollars and the gallons were still counting and I was like, what is going on? And I look at it and make sure I'm not pressing the handle. But you know, if it's counting, there should be gas coming out, right? No gas coming out. So that's when I pulled out my phone and started recording it."

Balasubramaniam recorded this video and sent it to the I-Team:

It's not the first time the I-Team has been tipped to a faulty pump in the Triangle. In fact, what happened to Balasubramaniam happens enough that there's a name for it.

"We call it 'creep'", said Steve Benjamin, Director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Standards Division.

Benjamin's unit is responsible for regulating the devices that weigh and measure things bought and sold.

"This was a case where the customer shut the pump off, he'd finished fueling, he flipped the handle down, turned off the pump and the numbers on the pump kept rolling up very slowly, both the money and the gallons."

When it happened to Balasubramaniam, the questions came quickly. "How often does this happen? If I fill in five gallons, is it really five gallons? Is this happening to everyone else and am I the only one noticing? Or is it just this pump?"

In order -- the state has logged a handful of complaints (around three) about "creep" in 2016; Benjamin's inspectors monitor quantity and quality daily; when a pump does break, odds are, it will stay broken until it's fixed; breaks are just about always pump specific.

Read More: The N.C. Department of Agriculture is 'at work' checking gas pumps

But as the I-Team was getting those answers, another problem surfaced: not enough state inspectors to get to every pump, every year. There's no state mandate requiring that but Benjamin says it's the state's goal and they've been coming up short for years.

Benjamin has 11 full time inspectors for the whole state and a host of "dual-role" employees that are the equivalent of 5.5 more full-timers.

"It's a challenge," Benjamin said. "To put it politely."

Part of Benjamin's problem is that he's got fewer people out in the field than he had five years ago (when he lost one inspector) and thousands more pump nozzles to check. He says there are around 130,000 nozzles in North Carolina.

"Population's growing," said Benjamin, "you've got to support the population, but our challenge is, my staff can't keep up with that population."

Benjamin said pumps are usually inspected every 15-18 months instead of every 12 months. To get to every pump every year, Benjamin says he'd have to add seven more full-time inspectors to his staff, costing $666,000 up front and $285,000 every year after.

He isn't expecting to get the extra resources this year, but says his unit is important for two reasons: quality of service and trust.

"You pick up that hose, you put it in your car, you never see the product, you pay for it. You assume it's correct and you assume the amount that you got was correct. And I think part of that is you know we're out there looking and checking on it."

But Balasubramaniam says he'd be happier if Benjamin had more people out doing just that.

"These are essential machines being used by tons and tons of gas stations around," Balasubramaniam explained. "You would imagine there would be more people or more planning to get this inspected."

If you find yourself at a "problem pump," look for a state sticker on the pump itself. It should have the year the pump was last inspected and a phone number for the Department of Agriculture.

"We're the ones to call," said Benjamin. "The number's on the pump. Call us. We're very responsive to that. You're going to get a call from the inspector letting you know what we found or didn't find, whatever the case may be."

If consumers think they have encountered a faulty pump, they can report it to the Standards Division at (919) 733-3313.
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