State officials have some valuable tips for consumers who rely upon heating oil to keep their homes warm through the winter.

Some Diamond State residents have already begun to use their heat given that the chilly nights of autumn have begun to set in.

But state officials have some valuable tips for those who rely upon heating oil to keep their homes warm through the winter.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture, based in Dover, has sent out an advisory that urges consumers to protect themselves against faulty equipment or unscrupulous fuel retailers when they fill up.

"Most problems with fuel measurements are honest mistakes, and most sellers are playing by the rules," Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures Administrator Steve Connors said in a press release. "But consumers still need to be vigilant to make certain they get what they pay for."

The state Department of Agriculture's Weights and Measures Section tests all weighing and measuring devices, including fuel truck pumps and meters, used in sales made to the public, spokesman Dan Shortridge. This section's permit stickers are easily recognizable on any gasoline fuel pump throughout the state as part of its regulation.

Consumers of heating oil should protect their billfolds with the following steps:

n Determine the size of their fuel tanks

n Ask the company for a conversion chart

n Measure how many inches of fuel are in the home tank before the purchase

n Determine how many inches of fuel are in the tank after delivery

n Convert the inches to gallons and then compare the number with the amount listed on the sales ticket

Connors said most problems were usually caused by poor equipment maintenance that caused inaccuracies in measurements. But some dishonest sellers could try to take advantage of consumers by pumping some of the fuel back into the delivery truck, he said.

"The ticket may say that 200 gallons were delivered, but only 150 gallons were pumped into the tank," he said. "Consumers should report problems as soon as possible. We will investigate and take steps to correct the problem or order the company to stop selling fuel."

All fuel trucks must provide printed delivery tickets inserted into the metering device after the fuel truck arrives, Shortridge said. The ticket must have a serial number, delivery date, names and addresses of the seller and purchaser, quantity delivered, price per gallon, grade of fuel and the delivery person's name. And the quantity and a sequential sales number must be printed mechanically on the ticket, not handwritten.

The Department of Agriculture inspects each fuel truck annually, Shortridge said. "Inspectors seal each device after testing with a lead wire or plastic security seal, which prevents a vendor from changing the calibration of the device," he said. "A two-inch square seal is then placed prominently on the device so consumers know when it was tested for accuracy."

The Weights and Measures section tested 267 fuel truck meters last year, he said.

The state's inspections notwithstanding, agriculture officials urge consumers to be wary, Shortridge said.

"The process for checking deliveries can sound complicated, but it really boils down to knowing how much heating oil you were given and checking your receipt," he said. "It's nothing more than making sure you've gotten what you've paid for, as with any other transaction.

"And while the vast majority of retailers are honest and above board, consumers should still be on the lookout against equipment malfunctions or those few unscrupulous retailers."