California Study Looks at Fuel Temperatures

July 16, 2008

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Preliminary results of a study done by the California Energy Commission on fuel temperatures shows average fuel temperatures in the state are higher than the industry standard, appearing to lend credibility to the complaint that vehicle owners are overpaying
for gasoline and diesel thanks to hidden "hot fuel" costs.

According to the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has been pushing this "hot fuel" issue, the study found that gasoline was sold in California at an average year-round temperature of 72 degrees, which means that drivers are getting almost 1% less than they pay

Gasoline expands as the temperature rises, approximately 1% for every 15 degrees Fahrenheit. A century-old industry standard fixes the assumed temperature at point of sale at 60 degrees. The CEC found that the average year-round temperature of gasoline sold in California is 72 degrees (nationally, the average is near 65 degrees). Nationwide, if prices hold in the $4 range for a year, drivers will give up over $3 billion to hot fuel sales, OOIDA says.

The news comes as the National Conference on Weights and Measures meets this week. It is considering whether to recommend to the states that fuel pumps be equipped to adjust fuel price to temperature. Such "automatic temperature compensation" equipment is installed in 95% of fuel pumps in Canada, where the cold climate provides fuel retailers with an incentive to adjust fuel to temperature.

"California has confirmed that fuel is routinely sold at temperatures high enough to short-change motorists year-round, and the same is true across the southern and southwest U.S," said Judy Dugan, research director for the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. "The weights and measures officials who should have fixed this years ago refuse to take their responsibility to consumers seriously. It's time for lawmakers to step in and end this ripoff."

The Partnership for Uniform Marketing Practices (P.U.M.P.), a national coalition of associations representing independent petroleum marketers (including the truckstop/travel plaza association NATSO and the American Trucking Associations), warns against rushing to judgment on the need for automatic temperature compensation devices. P.U.M.P. members counter that there is currently no accurate or statistically reliable data to suggest that consumers are being adversely impacted under the existing system. Coalition members maintain that any variation from the 60-degree standard reference temperature balances out for consumers based on year-round, seasonal averages. And, they say, installing these devices is expensive and will likely raise the cost of fuel further.

For more about the study, download a PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation here:

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