NEWARK– As the March chill keeps home heating oil companies busy with deliveries, the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Weights and Measures (“OWM”) is making sure winter-weary consumers are getting every gallon of fuel oil they pay for in the final weeks of the fuel season.
In early morning surprise inspections near a Newark fueling depot two weeks ago, OWM’s Fuel Meter Task Force checked trucks for signs of meter tampering or compromised equipment that could result in consumers being charged for more oil than they actually receive.
“New Jersey residents who rely on oil to heat their homes may purchase hundreds of gallons at a time and they deserve to get every drop they pay for,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “The majority of the oil companies and individuals who operate these trucks are honest. Surprise inspections like this help protect the integrity of the home fuel industry by putting operators on notice that the Division of Consumer Affairs is on the lookout for deliberate efforts to shortchange deliveries.”
OWM, with assistance from county and municipal Weights and Measures offices, annually inspects and certifies commercial weighing and measuring devices used in the state, including the dispensing pumps on oil delivery trucks. Once a pump’s meter has been calibrated and certified, metal seals are put in place to prevent tampering.
In the unannounced inspections conducted on March 1, Task Force members, assisted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“PANYNJ”) Police Department flagged trucks as they drove toward the depot to load up on the heating fuel before making deliveries to consumers.
Once the trucks were pulled over, Task Force members inspected measuring devices that were compromised or appeared to have been tampered with and checked to see that trucks and drivers had all required documentation. PANYNJ Police provided logistical and security support, and conducted safety inspections of the trucks.
Of the 20 delivery home heating oil delivery trucks inspected, four were placed out of commission for serious violations that could have resulted in consumers being shortchanged.
Two trucks owned by J. Duncan & Son in Newark had broken meter seals and further testing showed they were dispensing less fuel than represented.
One truck owned by Globe Petroleum in Red Bank had a broken meter seal. Further testing showed the truck was dispensing fuel in proper amounts but without a meter seal, was vulnerable to tampering.
One truck owned by Allied Oil in Hillsborough had an air eliminator line with evidence of tampering that would have caused the meter to count air as fuel product, thus shortchanging deliveries. Three other Allied Oil trucks were inspected and found to have no violations.
All four of those trucks were condemned, meaning red tags were placed on the meter and no deliveries can be made until the violations are corrected and the meters re-inspected and recertified as fit for use.
Five additional trucks were found cited for lacking required documentation or other violations that would not have resulted in short deliveries to consumers.
The owners of each of the nine trucks will be issued notices of violation carrying civil penalties of between $50 and $650, depending on the number and types of violations cited.
Each company will have the option of contesting the citations in Newark municipal court.
“Consumers need to feel confident that they are getting what they pay for when it comes to their home heating oil,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “That confidence is undermined by companies that deliberately cheat their customers or otherwise fail to ensure the accuracy of their equipment. Going forward, the Fuel Meter Task Force will continue its efforts to keep the home fuel industry honest by inspecting trucks to ensure the accuracy of deliveries.”
Approximately 300,000 households in New Jersey rely on home heating oil. Merchants are required to provide consumers with a delivery ticket for each sale of home heating oil, and that ticket must include the date of delivery, number of gallons dispensed, per-gallon price, and total price.
To avoid getting shortchanged on home heating oil deliveries consumers should:
James Wilton, Supervisor of Technical Services for OWM, coordinated these inspections. Task Force members Richard Pluymers, Veatrece Newton, William Sabo, Jason Flint, Evan Earle, Bryan Thomson, Antonio Cotroneo, Kyle Pierson, and Yocelin Tejada, within OWM, conducted these inspections.
Acting Director Rodríguez thanked the PANYNJ Police Department for its assistance in this initiative.
Consumers who suspect a problem with the delivery of home heating oil can contact the State Office of Weights and Measures by calling 732-815-4840 or filing a complaint online at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov.