Consumer advocates say ‘hot fuel’ may inflate price at the pump

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Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, CA — If you think filling up costs a lot now, just wait until the dog days of summer.

Fuel expands when temperatures rise, but most retail gas station nozzles don’t adjust for volume differences based on temperature. That oversight means California motorists could be losing up to 3 cents on every gallon, or $480 million annually, according to an estimate by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

“It’s outrageous that Americans cannot rely on an honest measurement for every gallon of gasoline they pump,” said the foundation’s president, Jamie Court, in a recent letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Those numbers should really rankle Californians this week: Gas prices hit a state record of $3.49 on Tuesday, just as temperatures soared into the 90s.

Motorists in many states make up the difference in the winter, when temperatures drop below 60 degrees and the fuel contracts. That’s not usually the case in California, however.

Dennis Johannes, director of the state Division of Measurement Standards, said an early report on statewide fuel temperature tests taken last month “tells me that already the fuel is over 60 degrees, and we’re not even into summer.”

Although there’s nothing illegal about charging for gas based on a 60-degree-gallon, lawmakers, truckers and consumer advocates are starting to take up the issue of so-called “hot fuel” which they say takes up more space in a gas tank, causing consumers to get less energy from the gallon of gas they’ve
paid for.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat running for president, will host a congressional subcommittee hearing June 7 on gasoline concerns, including hot fuel. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., recently urged the governor and state legislature to get involved, while lawmakers in Texas and Missouri are weighing bills that would force retailers to add temperature-adjusting pumps. In Arkansas, two men recently filed a federal lawsuit against oil supply and distribution plants for not adjusting prices for temperatures.

Hawaii requires retail pumps to dispense fuel on the assumption that it is 80 degrees, instead of the standard 60 degrees.

Truck drivers and others filed suit last year in California and several other states, accusing oil companies, service stations and truck stops of cheating customers and padding profits by skirting the temperature issue.

Oil companies and dealers dispute the 3-cent estimate and deny that they are pocketing money at customers’ expense. Installing costly temperature-sensing equipment would push prices higher, said Lisa Mullings, president of a trade group for truck stops and travel plazas. “There’s absolutely no evidence that it’s needed,” she said.

Consumer Watchdog
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