Gas prices rose to near-record highs for the Fourth of July, the holiday that typically coincides with the highest pump prices of the year.

That was not expected to deter more than 2 million New Englanders from hitting the road this weekend, but it is sure to have motorists paying more attention as the gallons and dollars add up at the pumps. High or rising fuel prices predictably trigger questions about whether customers are really getting what they’re paying for when they fill their tanks, according to state officials who are bulking up the state’s gas pump inspection program.

The average gas price in Maine is $3.75 per gallon, up from $3.67 a month ago and $3.56 a year ago. Maine is slightly above the national average of $3.67, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report.

The current price is one of the highest ever for a July Fourth weekend in Maine, but short of the record $4.12 Mainers paid in July 2008.

Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said gas prices often stay flat or dip slightly following the Fourth of July, but Mainers are not likely to see a sharp decline in prices until after Labor Day.

Laskoski said retail gas prices pushed higher after June 10, when the city of Mosul, Iraq, was seized by insurgents. The civil unrest that followed in Iraq affected crude oil prices, ultimately causing retail prices to go up, he said. Crude oil prices started to go down in the week leading up to the holiday weekend, but did not immediately translate into falling gasoline prices.

“In years past, when there was any kind of volatility in the Middle East, we often saw significantly greater spikes in crude oil, which was also reflected in retail prices at the pump,” Laskoski said. “The fact crude oil prices are moving lower suggests we could see retail gas prices move lower as well.”


Laskoski said the situation in Iraq and the hurricane season in the United States will continue to affect crude oil and retail gas prices, making predictions about the rest of the summer difficult to pin down.

Patrick Moody, a spokesman for AAA Northern New England, said more than 40 million Americans, including 2.1 million New Englanders, are expected to travel this weekend. AAA estimates 34.8 million people will travel by car, the highest level since 2007.

Moody said gas prices are unlikely to keep people home this summer, but could force them to cut back in other areas such as eating out or entertainment.

Even with gas prices in Maine over $3.70 per gallon, most Mainers cannot avoid filling up the tank.

“If I need to get gas, I need to get gas,” said Steve McDonald as he filled a gas can at a Portland station. “Ideally, I’d buy less, but I drive for work.”

Barry Wilson of Gorham said he often travels out of state and notices gas prices are higher in Maine than in other states.

“Every penny counts. Times are hard,” he said. “It costs a lot more than it should to get back and forth to work.”

Even though he pays close attention to the price per gallon, Wilson said he rarely thinks about the accuracy of the gas pump and whether he is getting every gallon he pays for.

“I think I’m getting what I pay for, but who really knows?” he said.

The director of the agency that inspects gas pumps to make sure they are accurate said motorists often start getting suspicious when gas prices rise toward $4 a gallon.

Ron Dyer, director of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Quality Assurance and Regulations division, said his department receives as many as a dozen complaints a month when gas prices jump, though the state does not keep records of complaints after they are investigated. It is more common for the department to receive one or two complaints a month, Dyer said.

“It’s something worth paying attention to and something we take very seriously,” Dyer said about the accuracy of Maine’s gas pumps. “It’s critical both consumers and businesses take it seriously. If we’re overpumping gas, even a little can up to a lot of money for the business. For the consumer, you want to get a gallon (when you pay for a gallon).”


Maine law does not establish a frequency for pump inspections, but Dyer said his inspectors try to check the accuracy of each pump in the state every two or three years. Pumps with reported problems or that are the focus of complaints are inspected immediately.

Dyer said he would like to increase inspection frequency to once every other year. He recently hired a seventh state inspector and is in the process of hiring two more, he said. In addition, 20 private sealers also do inspections across the state and file reports with Dyer’s staff.

A review of state inspection records by the Portland Press Herald showed state employees and local sealers inspected 7,240 pumps across Maine in 2013. A total of 240 pumps – or 4 percent – failed inspection and had to be adjusted, according to the records.

A failure means the amount of gas pumped out varies from the amount registered on the pump by at least one half of one percent – about one-half ounce per gallon. Those out of sync can usually be adjusted immediately. Two gas stations had pumps that were so far out of line they had to be temporarily shut down and then adjusted.

In 2013, most of the pumps that failed inspection were pumping more gas than they were charging customers for, the records show.

While state and local inspectors examine pumps throughout the year, the process is a mystery to many drivers.

Inspectors use a 5-gallon tank with a calibrated gauge to test the measurement of each grade of gas at each pump. After a visual inspection of the pump to make sure it is safe and up to code, the inspector draws 5 gallons of each grade of gas to ensure the pump’s display matches the amount actually being dispensed. If the pump is in compliance – within a margin of error of one half of 1 percent – a sticker is put on the pump to indicate when it was inspected.

When a pump is out of compliance, it can be shut down if customers are being shorted or if the gas station would lose a lot of money if it is left in service. Last year, only two gas stations had pumps taken out of service because of problems.

Dyer said when modern pumps are out of calibration, they almost always favor the customer by dispensing more gas than they are paying for. Gas station owners have a vested interest in making sure customers know their pumps are accurate, he said.

“Customers have so many options. They can go across the street,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone gaming the system (by intentionally overcharging customers).”

Dyer said he encourages people to email or call his office if they suspect there is a problem with a gas pump.

“It sometimes pans out the place was fine and there was confusion over what (the customer) was getting, but sometimes there is some tweaking the business can do to make it better,” he said. “With gas being this expensive, it’s a big deal. You want to get what you’re paying for.”