Hands To The Pump

We were ambling past our local petrol station the other day, and I was struck with a sudden thought.fuel-pump

It’s just undergone a refurb, and there were flashy new pumps in place on the forecourt. But in terms of functionality, these new devices are the same as the ones they replaced. They’re strictly manual in operation.

I got to wondering. Why is it that petrol pumps don’t have the ability to dispense a precise amount of petrol? If you want to spend thirty quid, why do you have to play the game of nudging the trigger when you get to within £29.75?

You know how it goes. £29.80. £29.87. £29.93. There’s no logic or reason behind the increments. 95. 96. 98. 99. Gently now…

£30.01. And you swear long and loud, and dole out the extra penny.

Let’s put it like this. What if there was a pump that would allow you to rock up, pop in a debit card and then let you tap in the amount that you wanted to put into your car on a keypad? It would deliver what you wanted, without the need for the jiggery-pokery. Surely it can’t be that tricky to devise a simple valve that works on a calculated amount of fluid based on price per litre? Of course, the standard safety cutout that shuts off when you’ve filled up would still work if you ordered forty quid and only had room for thirty-five in the tank. It means you’ve got that bit more control and you’re only putting in what you need, to the penny. As fuel prices continue to rise, a simple fix like this is a no-brainer, right?

Or maybe there’s a more sinister agenda at play here. Think about how much those accidental pennies that we put in add up over time, and over the millions of vehicles whose drivers let that extra dribble of fuel through. How much revenue would the petrol companies lose over the course of a year if the penny or so overspend was taken out of the equation?

Let’s make a guesstimate, based on a very rough set of figures. Imagine a driver that has never been able to stop that extra penny going through the gate. He uses the pumps once a week. That’s around 50p a year. Not very much.

But bear in mind that according to figures released by the DVLA last year, there are 34.5 million vehicles licensed for use on the road. So by keeping the pumps manual, petrol companies are making around 17 million quid just by us being a little bit fumble-knuckled on the forecourt.

It’s not surprising that you’ll never see a fully automatic fuel dispenser at our garages. There’s no reason for the petrocompanies to make one, and millions of reasons to keep us playing the same frustrating game at the pumps.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

5 thoughts on “Hands To The Pump”

  1. My pet hate also. Although you’ll find most stations will let you off the penny. But I’m sure your right. There is a more sinister motive. Also in london anyway, more and more stations are being closed up and built on. It’s a real case if planning ahead to find fuel especially in my job anyway. And when you find a station, 9 times out of ten you’ll be joining a long queue

  2. I’ve even tried to outwit the persky pump by announcing in a loud voice just before filling “right I only want £19.99 worth if fuel”. At £19.98 you think it will jump to £20 but the bitch will give you £19.99 and then £20.01 or just jump straight to £20.01. Darn them pumps

  3. Hmm, it’s not really that hard to jiggle the handle though is it? And I speak as a newbie to this driving thing, who’s only had to do it 3 or 4 times in 8 months (I don’t drive much. Obviously). Govt semi-conspiracy is a bit of a stretch!

    Mind you, I suspect you’d be apoplectic at my idea – fit ANPR cameras to all petrol stations so that you can’t buy fuel if you car if uninsured, untaxed etc. Might sound draconian but it would eliminate a vast – truly vast – amount of criminality and trauma at a stroke.

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