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Report problem with gas pump

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Question: A couple of weeks ago, I went to Albuquerque on vacation. I stopped to fill my '99 Honda Civic with gas at a local station. The tank holds 11.9 gallons, and, according to the pump, I took 11.7 gallons. But that can't be, because I was still a quarter full when I pulled into the gas station. I don't believe my gas gauge is broken, because I've run the tank much lower than that and not run out of fuel. I think the pump was rigged. My question is, how often are gas pumps checked for accuracy? Who checks them? And what can a consumer do if she suspects that a pump is rigged? — Nancy

Ray: Good questions, Nancy. Each state has its own bureau of weights and measures (or something with a similar name) that's responsible for checking the accuracy of gasoline pumps and other scales and meters used to sell things to consumers.

Tom: In New Mexico, it's called the Standards and Consumer Services Division, and it falls under the state Department of Agriculture. Hey, what do you want from us? We don't organize state bureaucracies, we just answer car questions.

Ray: In New Mexico, we're told that every gasoline pump is inspected within 30 days of being installed or repaired by an authorized service person. Additionally, every pump in the state is subject to a surprise inspection at least once a year. And if it's found to be off by a meaningful amount, it can be shut down immediately by the inspector. And if there's reason to believe that it was tampered with intentionally, civil penalties can be imposed.

Tom: Of course, there are always sleazeballs who find ways around the laws. So the department also sends out inspectors to respond to consumer complaints about specific gas stations or pumps. And, according to Joe Gomez of the division, it puts those inspections at the top of the priority list.

Ray: So if a pump's readings seem fishy, in New Mexico you can call 1-505-646-1616. In other states, look for a listing in the phone book for the equivalent of the state department of weights and measures. Or, if your attorney general's office has a consumer-protection division, it should be able to refer you to the right place.

Tom: Just keep in mind, these bureaus only handle complaints about the accuracy of the pumps. Complaints about other gas-station issues, like the cleanliness of restrooms or the personal hygiene of the attendants, should go directly to my brother at his home number.

Question: Why is a pickup truck called a one-and-a-half-ton pickup? — Nadeen

Tom: Great question, Nadeen.

Ray: A lot of people are confused by this. When a pickup truck is said to be a "one-and-a-half-ton" pickup, that means its payload capacity is 1 1/2 tons. Which means the maximum amount of weight it can carry, including passengers, is 3,000 pounds.

Tom: By the way, you can often tell a pickup truck's payload by its name — or, more correctly, its number. Ford uses the number 150 for its 1.5-ton pickups (F150), 250 for its 2.5-ton pickups (F250) and so on. GM and Chrysler simply add a zero and use 1500, 2500 and 3500 designations.

Ray: Of course, tonnage is such an abstract concept that we've been campaigning for a new, more easily understandable payload designation. We want the average man on the street to quickly understand how much he can put in his vehicle. But so far, only Mercedes has adopted our new standard. You'll notice they have the ML320 and the ML430, which are rated for payloads of 3.2 and 4.3 mothers-in-law, respectively.

Question: I have a 1993 Cadillac, and my problem is water pumps. Including the original pump, I have had four pumps on this car since buying it new — an average of 12,000 miles per pump. The first three pumps were new from GM. The last pump, which was installed last week, is an aftermarket pump with a lifetime guarantee for the part only. I wrote to GM and asked why these pumps keep failing (always a failed bearing), and the only advice they gave me was to buy some water-pump lubricant at the auto-parts store. Any thoughts? — Pat

Tom: Well, that's pretty lame advice, Pat. I guess they want you to lubricate your wallet so you'll be ready to spring for another pump in 12,000 miles.

Ray: Clearly, something is causing these pumps to go bad, and my guess would be a belt that's too tight. If the belt that drives the water pump is too tight (or if it's the wrong belt and it's too short), it could be pulling too hard on the water-pump shaft. That would put extra stress on the shaft's bearing and cause it to fail too soon. And that's exactly what's happening.

Tom: So before this new pump gets ruined, I'd go to your Cadillac dealer and ask the mechanic to do several things. First, I'd ask him to check and see if there's a technical service bulletin (TSB) about this problem. My guess is that you're not the only one it's affecting, and perhaps the dealer has a bulletin by now on how to fix it.

Ray: If nothing turns up, I'd ask him to change the serpentine belt (assuming that it hasn't been changed recently) and have him check the automatic belt tensioner. A faulty tensioner could be pulling the belt too tight. And if it's the fault of the tensioner, you'll lose another water pump, even with a new belt. Good luck, Pat.


The Magliozzi brothers' radio show, "Car Talk," can be heard Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at noon on KUER FM 90.1, and on KCPW 88.3/105.1 FM Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017. You can e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk section of the Web site www.cars.com.