Are You Being Ripped off at the Gas Station?

Photo: Doug Wilson

Food for thought: have you ever wondered if the price per gallon/liter at the gas station is truly correlated to the amount of gas that makes it into your tank?



Could be pretty easily fudged, don’t you think?


Actually, that's harsh. I would like to believe that most gas station owner operators are not trying to rip off customers. Even regular calibrations are not failsafe.


That being said, how can you take matters into your own hands? Here is a simple test to help you ensure you are getting your money’s worth at the pump, with a built-in mechanism to ensure you do even if the pump is out of whack.


  1. Look at the price per gallon/liter before you pump.
  2. Pump exactly 10 gallons/liters into your tank.
  3.  Take a look at the price. Is it exactly 10 times the price per gallon/liter?
  4.  If not, stop pumping, and point out the discrepancy to the attendant. They should only charge you for the proper amount. If you prepaid, you will receive a refund for the amount you overpaid.


It’s that simple. It takes almost no time to stop pumping at 10 gallons/liters and check the price, but could save you from overpaying on an entire tank. I have saved a few bucks doing this myself.


Of course, this is not a fool proof test; if the pumps are improperly calibrated, the amount of fuel that comes out of the nozzle may not be what registers at the pump. And more often than not, the meters are linked; for them to be out of whack could be indicative of even bigger problems. So if you want to test the amount of petrol actually coming out, you need to use your own container to measure the gas, which as this article points out - is not entirely accurate either, but is better than nothing.


If you have reason to believe that you are being ripped off or have a complaint that the attendant was unable to resolve, most gas stations have a toll free complaints hotline posted on the pump that you can call.


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Guest's picture

It takes almost no time to stop pumping at 10 gallons/liters and check the price, but could save you from overpaying on an entire tank.

for most compact cars, gas tanks are no more than 12 gallons. i'd say go for 5 gallons, then check.

Guest's picture

Or, you could drive a Smart car. The tank is so small, you really don't care what the gas costs.

Guest's picture

couple other ways
1. If you get in the car and don't see an appropriate change in the fuel meter you can contest it with the reciept of what you were charged.
2. If you see the amount being totaled wrong and this happens more than once I would see about starting a class action suit. All that is required is the receipt... If the receipt doesn't match the pump screen then there is a problem, and if the numbers don't add up there is a problem. You don't have to do it at the pump.
3. Pay VERY close attention for individual gas cans... As long as the cans are never off on amounts you should be able to be confident about other times.

Guest's picture

or we could get crazy and stop at 1

Guest's picture

If you check the pump, it normally has a stamp or license from the state. It could be the department of weight and measures or another agency. They have a responsibility for regulating gas stations. If you think you are being ripped off, and have solid proof, such as knowing what your tank size is and being charged for a larger amount, report it to that state agency. They are supposed to investigate.

Guest's picture

"In California, some stations were using equipment that tricked customers into believing they were getting more gasoline...

The gas dealers were especially difficult to catch there because the equipment initially fooled inspectors. While inspectors usually pump 1, 5 or 10 gallons of gasoline for testing, the illegal equipment ensured those amounts dispensed properly...

When undercover inspectors pumped differing amounts of gasoline--such as 6 or 9 gallons--they discovered they were shortchanged by as much as a third..."

Guest's picture
Chris Leow

So what if the gas of price is high, we in Malaysia (an oil producing nation is getting subsidized gas ! We in Malaysia are enjoying high growth and high inflation, I do not understand all this complaining. We have to thank China for our strong growth as our economy was going down until March 2009 and China rescued us by buying our commodities. Currently there is strong job market, 2 jobs for every worker, we have to import in foreign labour to do jobs that locals do not want to do ! We have high inflation, an example is a local dessert called "cendol" selling for $1.20 in local currency a month ago, is now selling for $ 1.80 in local currency. Thats a hefty increase, so don't complain, enjoy the boom ! If you want to spend more just job hop your way to a higher salary like what we are doing in Malaysia !

Guest's picture

Another trick to watch out for at the gas pump is how many places deceptively advertise their prices.

Here in Chicago several gas station brands advertise huge signs that you can see from the road with a price like $2.69 a gallon.

Only when you get close to the gas station or even into the gas station lot can you read on the sign the small print "w/ car wash" under the $2.69 price.

Many people start pumping before they realize that the price without car wash is actually a higher price, say $2.89 a gallon.

Guest's picture

That's why I add those gas stations (e.g. usually Citgo with car washes in my experience) to my "Do-Not-Shop" list.

I see the same "deceptive" practice with grocery store sales with their "family value packs." In order to get the sale price, you must buy 5-10 pounds of a given meat. If not 5-10 pounds, then the per pound price is $1.00 - $2.00 more. That $5.99 porterhouse steak price looked good in the flyer, but not when you have to buy 5-6#/$30+ of steak. Oh,wait. You live by yourself, and you only wanted a couple of steaks/pounds? Then, that'll be $7.99/pound instead.

I no longer shop at Dominick's for this reason. I placed "deceptive" in quotes, because Dominick's does disclose in their ads that it is a "family value packs" price. But it just feels dishonest/slimy/skeezy/shady to sell me the exact same product but cost 30% more per pound if I only wanted a smaller batch right next to the "family value pack." They're packaging the meats right there at the store, so I'm not sure how they "justify" the increase in price. Do those styrofoam packages and the labor to butcher the meats make up 30% of the base cost of a steak?

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Guest's picture

The reason they are selling "family value packs" at a lower cost is that THAT specific meat is older than the other stuff, and they are just trying to get rid of it before they end up throwing it out for spoilage.

They're just trying to make sure less food goes to waste. Is that really dishonest?

Guest's picture

You sound a little jealous of the U.S., Chris.
Does it bother you that no one wants to live in Malaysia?
The U.S. has the best quality of life here and we don't want to live in Malaysia. Why is it that I think you wish you were an American?

Guest's picture

I remember a year ago NJ gave a surprise inspection to all the gas stations in the area to test if they were pumping the amount that they said they were. Very few actually were regardless of what the pumps said. Regardless i know the offenders in my area and now steer clear. I could not find the results ( I printed out the page and didn't bookmark it ) but I am sure you can find it with enough web searching.

Guest's picture

Your County department of Weights and Measures does routine inspections (both undercover and visible) of all registered gas sales locations, and if you suspect you are being ripped off, and report it to the agency, they are required to investigate (same goes with price scanners in all retail stores). Some county departments also give a list online of local businesses that have been found out of compliance for a certain period time (San Diego definitely does).

Hope that helps!

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Great ideas, all! Any more ideas on how to ensure we aren't being ripped off at the pump?

Guest's picture

Very interesting topic. I suppose this could be very easy for gas stations to try to sucker you. Hopefully this isn't true, but definitely makes you think.

Guest's picture

Nice work Nora. It's far too easy to be complacent and become lazy when it comes to this kind of stuff. I've never even thought about gas stations ripping me off, but hey, why not.

While it's good to be trustworthy, it's also healthy to be cynical.

Guest's picture

I agree with the post about testing random amounts of gasoline instead of 1 gallon each time. I heard this from a Weights and Measures person.

There is another way to tell if you're getting what you pay for. Keep track of your MPG. Change stations occasionally and see if your mileage changes. If it does, why? Of course there's always the chance you bought new tires like I did (after 60K on the old ones). My mileage immediately went down! Bigger tires = less revolutions per mile = lower miles per gallon registered.

Keeping track of your gas mileage(mpg)can also help you decide on whether tune-ups are needed.

Guest's picture

You know i've tried doing that, but I will now.

I had a related strange experience yesterday. I was filling up and my pump ran out of fuel. I kept sqeezing the trigger and little spurts came out but the dial only went a little. Anyway according to the dial I didn't have enough for my journey but I made it all the way back home with I guess £5-6 of fuel left. So i'm well chuffed, something went in my favour!!

Guest's picture

You are my hero today! I can take that simple advice with me anywhere for the rest of my life.

Guest's picture

I was on a honda civic forum a few years back. Our particular civic has a 13.2 gallon tank. Somehow one of the members was able to pump more than that at a pump somewhere. That's where you won't be able to tell, and where you will pretty much have to trust the gas station. Unless you wanna waste your life to expose a one in a million gas station.

Guest's picture

My car provides a reading that keeps track of how much gas has been used. I usually reset it to zero when I fill the tank and compare it to how much gas has been pumped the next time I get gas. There are some gas stations where the amount shown by my car and the amount on the pump are relatively close, and others where the pump is always higher by sometimes as much as two gallons. I think the test you describe will show if the price advertised is what is charged, but won't confirm that 10 gallons have actually been delivered into the car.