Drivers on the lookout for ‘computer jump’ at the gas pump

When gas prices hover around record high prices, people tend to watch their wallets closely.
Updated: Mar. 25, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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(WFSB) - When gas prices hover around record high prices, people tend to watch their wallets closely.

Experts say they should also watch the pump to make sure they’re actually getting all the gas for which they’re paying.

Channel 3 spoke to The Department of Consumer Protection on the problem of “computer jump.”

Typically, drivers pump, listen for the click, then drive away.

While they may not always like the price per gallon, the system of getting gas is supposed to be pretty painless.

“People have been pumping gas for 100 years,” said Troy McCullough, driver. “I don’t have any reason to suspect that I’m not getting what I’m paying for.”

The question is whether drivers would notice if the pump accidentally overcharged them by a few cents, or even a dollar.

It turns out, “computer jump” is a more common problem than people might think.

Kaitlyn Krasselt of the Department of Consumer Protection explained that fuel pump lines are supposed to be full of gas, with an anti-drain valve on either end to keep the gas in place.

“But with all things mechanical, there are times when it might fail, maybe something gets stuck in the valve or something like that, and the fuel that is in the line can drain back,” she said.

That means all the gas that was supposed to be in the line accidentally drains back into the station’s reservoir. The overcharge happens when the computer thinks all that gas went into a driver’s tank.

“So, it thinks that it’s already pumped some fuel when it hasn’t,” Krasselt said.

Krasselt said it frequently happens first thing in the morning, when there’s a long stretch of time between cars filling up, giving the line more time to drain the wrong way.

“People typically notice it because the price on the pump is ringing up before they’ve engaged the nozzle,” she said.

Channel 3 sought to find out of customers have been noticing more cases due to the rising gas prices.

Eyewitness News obtained state records comparing the number of “computer jump” complaints filed with the state from Dec. 2021 to March 2022 to the same span of months the year prior, when prices were lower.

Channel 3 found four complaints in the past three months compared to just two complaints the same timeframe the previous year.

While not a huge amount, Krasselt still said she’s not surprised.

“We do tend to get more complaints when gas prices are high,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a higher incident rate.”

“I’m watching and I’m making sure I get every dime I can get out of it because I do I have a big boy on my hands,” said Patrick Ballen of Manchester, a truck driver.

Ballen said he noticed computer creep several times, especially early in the day.

“It’s quiet in the morning time and I can hear when it starts pouring down, and I’m like ‘damn am I getting all the gas that I’m supposed to?’” he said.

The best way to avoid getting overcharged, according to the Department of Consumer Protection, is to keep an eye on the numbers and make sure they don’t creep up before gas is heard flowing.

When the state gets a complaint, the Department of Consumer Protection said it sends a team member out with a calibrated gas can to test the pump.

In two of the complaints from the last few months, records showed the pump actually did need to be fixed, not just to ensure a fair transaction, but also to prevent a different kind of hazard in the pump lines.

“If there’s something wrong and it doesn’t click off, then your tank will overflow and that puts gas everywhere and obviously that’s a huge problem,” Krasselt said. “It’s important to make sure that consumers are getting the amount that they paid for and to make sure that these fuel pumps are working properly.”

“Am I really getting all that I’m paying for out of this?” Ballen asked. “You know them little cents, they do matter.”

Anyone who things they’ve been overcharged by computer jump can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection. Be sure to note both the gas station and the number of the pump that was used. Complaints can be emailed to DCP.complaints@ct.gov or on the department’s website here.