County of Santa Cruz Department of Weights and Measures

Frequently Asked Questions

What steps can I take to prevent being shorted on a weighing or measuring device?

Make sure the device is on a level surface and that you can see the display. The instrument must start at zero. There should not be anything touching the device. Watch the person doing the weighing or measuring to make sure that nothing extra is added. Verify that there is a current Weights and Measures seal on the device.

If there is no seal on the device, how do I know if it is accurate?

All commercial devices should have a round paper seal showing the date it was tested by our department. If it does not have a seal, call our department at (831) 454-2383.

How can I avoid being overcharged at the register?

The best way to avoid being overcharged is to make a list of all the items you are going to purchase, and write down the shelf prices. Compare the prices you wrote down to the prices you are charged.

What should I do if I am overcharged?

If there is a discrepancy, notify the cashier. If the cashier does not change the price, talk to the manager. If the manager cannot or will not change the price for you, contact our department.

Do you investigate complaints?

Investigation of consumer complaints is a high priority in our department. All complaints are assigned to a district inspector and investigated within three working days. When a complaint is outside our jurisdiction, we direct the consumer to the appropriate agency.

What do I do if I want to file a complaint?

The first thing to do is gather as much information as possible. Weíll need the address of the establishment and a statement of what happened there. Check your reciept. If it’s a device complaint, know the pump number, the grade of gas, or the checkstand number where the scale is located. If you have a scanner or quantity complaint, we need the brand and size, posted price and how much you paid. We’ll ask if the seller was responsive to your inquiry, and for any other information you think might be pertinent. Call our office with this information at (831) 454-2383 If you leave your address and phone number, we will inform you of the results of the investigation. We take complaints seriously and respond as soon as possible.

Do you phone businesses before you inspect them to let them know you are coming?

No, all visits are unannounced to verify the business practices being inspected are representative of standard operating procedure.

Have you ever found anyone deliberately cheating?

Intent is hard to prove. We prosecute violations civilly or criminally. We hold civil penalty hearings to resolve serious or repeated violations, or refer cases to the District Attorney. Several of our statutes are strict liability, meaning that intent does not have to be proven.

How often do you check gas stations?

Gas stations are inspected every year. Gas stations that do not pass an initial inspection are placed on an increased frequency of inspection. Increased frequency of inspection can be every six months depending on the number of meters that failed on the first visit.

The gas pump advanced before I pumped any gas. Was I cheated?

Fuel pumps have a pressure relief valve that allows a small amount of fuel to drain overnight or on hot days. When you turn it on, it jumps. A pump that advances but does not stop may have a leak and should be reported to us.

I have an 18 gallon gas tank, but the pump says I put 18.5 gallons into my nearly empty tank. Is this possible?

Yes. The capacity of your gasoline tank stated in your owners manual is an estimate. The actual volume it holds can be higher or lower than the stated capacity, because of production changes, the filler pipe, and whether all the air in the tank was vented during fueling. Fuel meters can be inaccurate. We fail about 5% of those we inspect. If you feel you are being cheated, contact our office to file a complaint.

What steps can I take to prevent being cheated at a gas station?

Verify that the advertised sign and the pump price are the same. Make sure the pump regester starts at zero. Know the estimated capacity of your gasoline tank. Make sure a current Weights and Measures seal is visible on the pump. Stop pumping at 10 gallons and compare the price per gallon times 10; it should equal the charge on the totalizer. $1.599/gal X 10gal = $15.99

Do you check the quality of the fuel, too?

Yes, we check the quality of fuel at every station in the county. Each tank is tested for the presence of water. Samples of fuel are sent to the Division of Measurement Standards Petroleum Lab for octane and quality analysis. Petroleum and automotive products must meet SAE and ASTM Standards.

What happens if a gasoline or diesel meter is found to be in error?

If any meter or other commercial device is found out of tolerance, or is overcharging the customer, it is placed out of order (red tagged) until repaired by a certified device repairman. After the device has been repaired, we recheck it to verify that it is in compliance.

Have gas stations ever been closed ?

Yes, there have been several instances of contaminated fuel being sold, which resulted in station closure.

The produce I recently purchased weighed less on the scales in the produce department than what I was charged for at the register. Am I being cheated?

Scales in produce departments are intended to be an estimation of the actual weight. These scales are provided as a convenience to customers and are not certified.

Can any scale be used or does it have to be a special scale?

Only scales that have been approved for commercial use (type approved) and sealed by the department may be used for a commercial transaction. A licensed service agent may place a device into service before our inspectors conduct their tests.

What is “tare”?

Tare, or tare weight, is the weight of a bag, soaker, ice, packaging, wrapping, box, bin, pallet, truck, or any material not considered product or part of the net weight. Tare weight plus net weight equals gross weight. Selling by gross weight or measure is a misdemeanor (Business & Professions Code 12023).

Do you test utility meters?

We only inspect electric, vapor (gas), and water meters that utility companies do not. An example of these meters is a mobile home park in which there is a master meter and an individual submeter at each mobile home. We test the submeters and a utility company (such as PG&E) tests the master meter. We test these submeters every ten years.

What authority do you have over utility meters?

We have original jurisdiction over sub-metered installations; where a landlord is master metered by PG&E and has individually metered apartments, mobile home spaces or business locations. Each unit must be individually metered if there are separate charges for gas, electricity, or water.

What information is required on a utility bill

The Public Utilities Commission requires that all information and charges that appear on a customerís bill follow the format of the serving utility:
  • Opening and closing reading dates
  • Opening and closing meter readings
  • Days in billing period
  • Rate code being charged
  • Baseline use and rate
  • Over baseline use and rate
  • Total charges for the billing period
Note: A copy of the prevailing rate schedule must be posted in a common area of the office building.

What is a cord?

Firewood is sold by a measurement called a “cord”. A cord must equal 128 cubic feet. To be sure you have a cord, stack the wood neatly by placing the wood in a line or row, with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other, making sure that the stack is compact and has as few gaps as possible. Measure the stack. You have a cord of wood if the width, times the height, times the length, equals 128 cubic feet. Common measurements of a cord of wood are 8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet and 16 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet. Note that if you take a great deal of time to stack the wood it may be slightly less than the amount invoiced because the wood seller loads the delivery truck quickly. If you are unsure, call our office and an inspector will measure your wood.

If a firewood dealer assures me that the wood in the back of his truck is a full cord, how can I be sure?

You can't. A seller may not legitimately use terms such as “truckload”, “face cord”, “rack”, or “pile”, because these terms have no legally defined meaning and, therefore, you have no way of determining how much firewood you are actually receiving. Wood sellers must provide you with a reciept stating their name, address, amount of wood delivered and the date. If a species is noted, all the wood must be the same species.