Hundreds of Iowa gas pumps are unable to display a per gallon price above $3.99. With gasoline crossing the $4 a gallon threshold, that’s a problem that the state ag department must deal with as Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey’s agency monitors gas pumps for accuracy.
"There are about 34,000 total gas pump meters out there in the state. We estimate between five and eight percent of them are not able to register above that $3.99 per gallon," Northey says. "It’s a small part, but that’s still a lot of pumps out there."
According to Northey, most of those pumps are located in small towns or located on lake docks so boat owners can fill their tanks without taking their boats off the water. "They don’t get a lot of volume and hence have not been replaced in a long time," Northey says. "We are allowing those pumps to still be used as long as the retailer is planning to update them, getting the new meter."
In the meantime, Northey’s agency is directing gas retailers to cover up the price on the pump and post the correct price in a temporary sign. Northey says it will take several months to replace the old price meters with a top price of $3.99 as there seems to be a backlog of orders for replacements. "It will cost some dollars. It’s not terribly expensive. It depends on the pump meter itself. Of course, these are pumps that aren’t pumping a lot of gallons so it is not inexpensive, per gallon, for the retailer to do that," Northey says. "But it is required that they do have a pump meter that shows what the gallons are and shows what the price is on it."
Some of these meters are the old-fashioned, mechanical kind which have rolling numbers rather than a digital read-out on a screen. The Iowa Department of Agriculture’s weights and measures division is in charge of inspecting gas pumps to ensure they’re accurate and Northey says every pump in Iowa is inspected at least every 15 months. "What we do in those inspections is go out and be able to measure for sure that it was within less than one percent variance on that pump," Northey says. "Then we also measure to see if there’s supposed to be ethanol in it that it really does have ethanol, or if it’s not supposed to have ethanol that it doesn’t, and then we can measure octane as well."
Some retailers have had to replace digital meters on their gas pumps for another reason: their meters only recorded a total sale price of $99.99.