When is a litre not a litre? A sample study of the accuracy of Irish fuel pumps carried out by the AA has some startling findings. Based on 176 pumps checked as part of a pilot study, the AA technical team found that in 16% of cases the pumps were inaccurate.
In most cases the errors made were in favour of the customer but there were a substantial number of instances where the driver got less fuel than was paid for.
The AA technical team carried out the survey in a representative sample of garages countrywide. 12 sites were assessed in locations like Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, Kilkenny, Meath, Westmeath and Limerick. In total 176 nozzles were checked.
“We want to be sure that motorists are not losing out.” Says AA Business Services manager David Murphy. “Especially with prices so high the Irish motorist wants to be sure that a litre is a litre. Given that a driver doing any sort of higher mileage is likely to be using 3,000 litres of fuel a year, and paying over €5,000 for it, wants to be sure that they are getting a fair deal.”
“Our equipment measures errors in pumps at fine tolerances.” Says Murphy. “Legally a pump should be calibrated at zero and when checked must not be out by more than 0.5% before it considered unacceptable. We found that in 16% of cases the pumps were out by more than this tolerance.”
The AA points out that the errors were in both directions – in favour and against the motorist.
“To be fair there were more examples of pumps giving too much than giving too little. But the scale of the inaccuracies is worrying. For 16% of pumps to be out by more than the legal tolerance is unacceptable.”
Even a mistake of 1% in favour of a garage will cost each motorist 94* cent every time the tank is filled. With a typical garage selling anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 litres per week it adds up very quickly.
“The other concern is for the honest garage. A forecourt manager will want to ensure that he is treating his customers fairly but will also want to know that wafer-thin margins are not being poured away through over-dispensing. In the end it is in everybody’s interest that we get it right.”
The AA already provides quality assurance audits on fuel quality and site quality for garages. AA will now be offering pump calibration checks as part of those site audits. Motorists should look for the ‘AA Quality Checked’ mark on forecourts. The AA will be able to provide reassurance for motorists and for garages that a litre means a litre.
*A typical family sized car will have a 55 litre tank. With an average fuel price of €1.70 per litre of petrol 1% error in pump calibration equates to 93.5 cent per fill.