RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The average gas prices in North Carolina are only around 3 cents higher than this time last year, according to AAA.
While gas prices are holding steady, inflation is driving up the cost of the holiday season, which means consumers are looking for any opportunity to save. One place they may unknowingly be paying more is at the gas pump--and the reason why has nothing to do with the price.
The amount of gas consumers buy at the pump may not always be the amount they receive. Gas pumps can get out of calibration and unintentionally cost consumers more.
The ABC11 I-Team requested gas pump inspection data across Wake, Durham and Cumberland counties. More than 1,100 of the pumps inspected since last November were 'rejected' during their inspection. This represents around 7% of the 15,800 pumps inspected across the three counties, according to data provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
"The short story is, are you as the customer getting what you pay for?" said Steve Benjamin, director of NC Dept. of Agriculture's Standards Division. "But we also look at equity. So while the customer should be getting what they pay for, we don't want the businesses to give away product either, which hurts their bottom line."
Pumps are checked for calibration, which means they are dispensing the amount of gas purchased.
Around 260 pumps across the three counties were out of compliance for calibration since last November; this represents 1.6% of the pumps inspected. Cumberland County reported the highest percentage of pumps rejected for calibration at 3.8%.
"You put that nozzle in your car, you squeeze the trigger, you fill up; you leave. You don't question typically, did I get what I paid for?" Benjamin said. "So we're out there every day looking at these things for people."
Inspectors are also looking at the attributes of the pump, which includes examining the lights and if the paper is dispensing properly; things that don't directly impact the cost but affect the overall function of the pump. Nearly 8% of pumps inspected in the three counties were flagged for this issue.
Wake County reported a higher percentage of pumps overall rejected at 9%. Inspections in both Durham and Cumberland County led to around 5% of pumps labeled as rejected.
Benjamin said Wake County lost an inspector a few years ago, so the higher rejection rate is partially due to the department still working to catch back up on overdue inspections.
While many inspections are done on a regular basis, they are also spurred by complaints.
"Anytime the price goes up, we get more complaints," Benjamin explained. "That doesn't mean there are necessarily more problems but it's the consumers paying more attention, going, 'Gosh, I'm paying more for gas.'
Consumer complaints led to inspections at 55 locations across the three counties.
Benjamin said consumers can look out for a few things at the pump that may indicate an issue.
"You would shut it off and then maybe another number, two or three keep ticking up like you're still squeezing it," he said. "When you turn it on it might jump 10 cents before you ever even put it in the car and again there was no delivery. So those are mechanical in nature and we would go and inspect those."
The number of tagged pumps has increased. Last year the I-Team reported 1 pump was tagged in Wake County between June - November 2021. This year 119 were tagged between November 2021- November 2022.
A 'tagged' pump means inspectors have to put it out of commission because it could be harming the consumer or business.
Consumers can check the last time a pump has been inspected by finding the NCDA sticker placed on each pump.
If an individual has any concerns about a pump they use, they can alert NCDA at 984-236-4750.