* Digital fuel gauges have a way of behaviour which may not be consistent
By Duncan Mlanjira
A concerned filling station owner, Happy Jere is advising motorists to be vigilant when their are filling up their tanks following an incident that happened at Mount Meru close to the Bingu Stadium in Lilongwe.
It was reported that a lady filled up K4,000 worth of fuel and expected her gauge to be at quartertank mark and felt duped by the attendant and ended up causing a fracas whilst trying to force the attendant to pay her back.
Jere says he has been in the fuel service industry for 24 years, the first 8 years as a sales manager for BP Malawi responsible for managing filling stations and the remaining 16 as a franchisee for Puma Malawi Ltd.
“I would like to attempt to address this issue to this community as it is becoming common and interestingly so by ladies to make such claims at filling stations these days,” he said.
He narrates of a similar incident that took place a couple of weeks ago at his fueling outlet and similar tactics were used by a lady but unlike the altercation that happened with the attendant at Meru, his was cowed into submission due to the aggression from the motorist.
“This resulted in her incurring a shortage. In discussing the matter, we advised this attendant what to do next time it happens to her in the context of good customer service practice.”
Jere also highlighted two incidences he personally dealt with — the first being a lady “who claimed to have bought 10 litres of fuel and her gauge didn’t move an inch”.
“She drove as far as Area 47 and she came back to make the claim. Actually she said the dashboard fuel warning light did not switch off.
“Fortunately, I was around. I listened to her story and advised her that for us to prove her claim, we should drop the tank at our cost and drain the fuel to see if there was indeed no fuel.
“I called a mechanic to do the needful and more than 15 litres was drained from that tank. Matter solved.”
Jere reveals that the other case involved a Member of Parliament, who on a Friday after Parliament business asked to be filled up a full tank but after awhile he was back, claiming noticed that his gauge was not going up.
“The attendant failed to convince him otherwise. It was at night and I was home. After explaining to me on the phone, I asked the attendant to fill up the car again.
“She only filled less than K2,000 and the car was full. The Honorable paid the fuel without another word and left.”
Jere then advised motorists that fuel gauges, especially the digital ones which use bar indicators — from his experience and opinion — have a way of behaviour which may not be consistent as others may testify.
“I have argued before on this forum that as customers, you need to be taking interest in what the attendant is doing when filling your cars. When you are directed to a pump make sure you observe the nozzle is properly placed in its cradle before the attendant starts serving you.
“If you find the nozzle either already in the attendant’s hands or sitting in an abnormal position where it rests just know someone is about to scam you. The pumps were designed to automatically reset to zero when the nozzle is lifted from its normal resting position.
“Those pumps are calibrated by Malawi Bureau of Standards and it is a mandatory exercise they carry out every year. They put special seals on the fuel calibration system in the pumping unit after the exercise that anyone tampering with the pumping system has to break those seals first to succeed in their scheming.
“They also conduct random spot checks to ensure compliance by operators. As customers you have a right to approach them at any moment you feel a particular service station is behaving unethically and cheating on you.
“They will bring their measuring instruments to verify your claims. Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) is also an interested party you may approach to lodge your complaint.”
He went further to school motorists that the pumping system is designed in such a way that totalizers are pushed to move in response to the fuel that passes around the system — therefore it is not true to claim that a filling station can fill ‘air’ in a customer’s tank.
“The only way to steal fuel from a customer is either by manipulating the calibration system or the attendant behaviour in as said above.
“Pa ground pangotelera. Azimayi ndi azibambo polani moto mukuwaika ma attendant mmavuto powabela. Akumakhala kuti fuel athira ndithu. Your behaviour ikuwashotesa anzanu. Unfortunately this affects their salaries as dealers we cannot absorb such costs.
“Finally be advised that whilst we as fuel retailers may not vouch for the behaviour of our staff in their daily conduct whilst discharging their duties, you can rest assured we do not approve nor condone any unethical behaviour by them.
“It is therefore appreciated when customers bring out such issues so that we deal with them and make your fueling experience more enjoyable,” Jere said.