Consumers cautioned on heating oil purchases

DOVER – Delaware authorities say that consumers who purchase winter heating oil should take precautions to protect their pocketbooks against faulty equipment or unscrupulous fuel retailers.

“Most problems with fuel measurements are honest mistakes, and most sellers are playing by the rules,” said Steve Connors, Weights and Measures Administrator with the Delaware Department of Agriculture. “But consumers still need to be vigilant to make certain they get what they pay for.”

The Department’s Weights and Measures Section tests all weighing and measuring devices, including fuel truck pumps and meters, used in sales made to the public.

Connors said consumers purchasing home heating oil should determine the size of their fuel tanks, ask the company for a conversion chart, measure how many inches of fuel are in the home tank before the purchase, determine how many inches of fuel are in the tank after delivery, convert to gallons and then compare the number with the amount listed on the sales ticket.

All fuel trucks must provide printed delivery tickets inserted into the metering device after the fuel truck arrives. The ticket must have a serial number, delivery date, names and addresses of the seller and purchaser, quantity delivered, price per gallon, grade of fuel and delivery person’s name. The quantity and a sequential sales number must be printed mechanically on the ticket, not handwritten.

The Department also inspects each fuel truck annually. Inspectors seal each device after testing with a lead wire or plastic security seal, which prevents a vendor from changing the calibration of the device. A two-inch square seal is then placed prominently on the device so consumers know when it was tested for accuracy.

Connors said most problems are caused by poor equipment maintenance, which can cause inaccuracies in measurements. But some dishonest sellers may try to take advantage of consumers by pumping some of the fuel back into the delivery truck, he said. “The ticket may say that 200 gallons were delivered, but only 150 gallons were pumped into the tank,” he said. “Consumers should report problems as soon as possible. We will investigate and take steps to correct the problem or order the company to stop selling fuel.”

The Weights and Measures Section can be contacted at (302) 698-4500 or (800) 282-8685 (Delaware only).


Dan Shortridge
Chief of Community Relations
Delaware Department of Agriculture