THE Ohio General Assembly can do motorists a favor by passing legislation to require county testing to verify the purity and octane of motor vehicle fuel.
Ohio, it turns out, is among only four states - Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Nevada are the others - that do not require such tests, which would be conducted by county auditors under a bill pending before the legislature.
Because county auditors already certify the accuracy of filling station pumps, the additional duty makes sense from an organizational point of view.
And, wonder of wonders, the legislation actually has a decent chance of success because it has solid bipartisan support, which has been in short supply recently in Columbus.
Whether they realize it or not, motorists need to know that the gas they put into their cars' tanks carries the proper octane rating, but consumers now are at the mercy of sporadic checks by petroleum dealers and filling station operators.
Most cars on the road today run on relatively low-octane gasoline, but an increasing number of vehicles with high-compression engines require a higher grade. Continuous use of the wrong grade of fuel - whether low octane in a high-compression engine or vice versa - can damage the engine, automotive experts say.
The legislation also would require checks of fuel filters that are supposed to protect motorists against water or sediment, which can cause serious engine malfunctions. That makes sense, too.
Estimates are that the cost of enforcement would be modest. Lawmakers could improve the bill by including some mechanism for funding the test equipment county auditors would use so as not to create an unfunded mandate.
Predictably, the proposal is opposed by the Ohio Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, whose spokesman told the Columbus Dispatch that the federal government already requires quality checks, meaning a state mandate is unnecessary.
But savvy consumers should know they can't put their faith in a federal government that these days goes easy on regulations in order to satisfy industry interests.
Moreover, Joe Testa, auditor of Franklin County, which surrounds Columbus, told the Dispatch that he has produced five years of quality data showing that additional tests are justified.
Mr. Testa, who conducted octane tests on a voluntary basis since 2001, said failure rates hit 15 percent the first year but have dropped to 3 percent to 5 percent, indicating the value of increased scrutiny. Most retailers welcome the tests, he said.
All told, the testing legislation represents an oddity in Columbus: a bill that would protect consumers and their cars from a legitimate problem without much extra cost to taxpayers, something Democrats and Republicans can agree on for a change.
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