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FM Edition:

As the rand weakens and international oil prices increase, fuel prices are likely to go up next month. But motorists need to beware of a growing number of scams at filling stations.

These include the siphoning of fuel from distracted motorists who pay for litres they do not receive, and the cloning of bank cards by unscrupulous petrol attendants.

But what are motorists to make of a situation where a pump at a fuel station charges a customer for more litres than the vehicle’s rated tank capacity? Is this a deliberate overcharge?

Most fuel tanks can take on more litres than the formal specification from the manufacturer, which is careful to say it is an approximate value. As the US national institute of standards and technology explains, fuel tank capacity can vary as much as 3% due to design characteristics. In most cases, the specified capacity will not include the vapour head space at the uppermost portion of the tank or the piped hose. Filling the tank past the automatic fill when there is that "click" will result in this space being utilised.

An extra 5l above the rated capacity may be plausible and possible, but what about 15l? In the case of a car with a 45l tank taking on 15l extra, (and this happened to me), what recourse is there? Sasol spokesman Alex Anderson says motorists can ask to see a calibration certificate from the fuel station. Calibrating is done to correlate the readings on an instrument to check its accuracy.

"The Trade Metrology Act stipulates that pumps must be calibrated by a verification officer every 18 months," says Anderson.

A calibration certificate is then issued, which allows motorists to see if the fuel pump and station in question meet legal requirements .

But the document is a complicated read. Automobile Association (AA) spokesmanLayton Beard says the best course of action is to pay close attention to what’s going on.

"Be aware of how big your petrol tank is and, when you are having fuel pumped into your vehicle, get out and watch so you can flag any issues immediately."

Beard says while the AA has yet to receive a complaint of pump rigging, an error (such as the attendant not zeroing the pump before serving the next customer) could be one of many reasons why motorists unwittingly pay more.

"Be vigilant and if there is a problem, take it up," says Beard.

Anderson says from a Sasol perspective, issues that cannot be resolved on site by the manager can be "escalated" to the Sasol contact centre, whose number is displayed on the pumps and inside the store.

For motorists still unhappy with a fuel transaction, there are watchdogs. One is the SA Petroleum Retailers Association, another the Motor Industry Ombudsman.