Who watches the pumps that supply you with gas?

The inspectors at the NC Motor Fuels Lab use knockmeters like this one to determine how different kinds of gas affect the quality of your engine's performance. (WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Before you ever start your engine or put your car in gear, someone’s checking the fuel you put in your tank. But what is the state doing to safeguard drivers — and their cars — from poor quality gas?

Responsibility for evaluating the quality of your gasoline falls under the responsibility of the North Carolina Motor Fuels Lab.

“We have 10 inspectors who go out throughout the state,’’ said lab manager Marcus Helfrich. These inspectors travel in mobile labs that help them do some of their evaluation work right in the field, but they also carry a supply of special cans that are used to collect samples.

“Inspectors will label them, fill them up with product and seal them,” explains Helfrich.

Then, once a week, inspectors send fuel samples which need further analysis to the main lab, where diesel, kerosene, gasoline and even motor oil are tested to make sure you get what you pay for.

“We test physical properties such as octane, vapor content as well as the flash point of diesel fuel,” said Helfrich.

The lab also looks for contaminants, such as debris or water, in the fuel. Last year the state tested 20,000 samples, and 3 percent had water or sediment in them. Another 5 percent didn’t provide the octane the fuel was supposed to have.

Violators of the state’s requirements on fuel get shut down until the problem is corrected, and Helfrich says fines are usually never levied.

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“We rarely do fines because it hits them much harder in the pocketbook when we close the pumps for sale,’’ he said. “Some stations do upwards of $100,000 dollars a day at pumps. Our laws were written in the 1930’s and a $500 fine is not quite the same.”

In addition to scores of sophisticated equipment, the lab contains several special engines rigged with gauges and computer screens which test octane.

Our research shows octane is especially important nowadays. “Today’s technologies in vehicles are designed to improve fuel economy of the vehicle,” says Chris Chesney of the CARQUEST Technical Institute.

Better fuel economy equals better mileage—mileage the government wants improved.

“In 2018, the average fuel economy standard is 35.5 miles per gallon for the fleet of vehicles the manufacturer sells,” said Chesney.

To get the best mileage, you’ve got to use the right fuel grade for your vehicle with the right octane for your engine.

Our research told us putting regular gas in a vehicle whose engine needs premium grade gasoline will not only make your engine work harder to perform, but it could increase emissions.

Not only that, but if you use the wrong grade gasoline in your engine, it’ll also cost you money in the long run, because your poorer performing engine will make you fill up more often.

Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.

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