More to Gas Prices Than Dollars and Cents

December 12, 2005
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I've been driving for 59 years and the other day I observed something I'd never seen before: red "quarantine" tags on gas pumps at a neighborhood BP station near my home in suburban Detroit.

Upon inspection, it seemed the tags were from the Michigan Dept. of Weights and Measures. The tags declared the pumps had been tested that day and found to be inaccurate. The station was given, as I recall, five days to correct the problem. A State of Michigan truck was parked in the gas station.

I drove away to a neighbor "unquarantined" station to fill for a penny more ($2.099 vs. $2.089), but the event was something new in my experience and caused me to ponder. A day or so later, I noticed that red tags still were attached to some pumps at the offending station.

The message here is to be wary of retail gas operators who cheat, either deliberately or through faulty equipment. But how can you tell if a pump is rigged to charge you for drawing off more gas than actually flowed? I don't think the motorist can, which is why states have weights-and-measures cops with measuring devices.

Of course, gas stations have their problems, too. There have been scattered reports of "driveaways" in the metropolitan area, especially when gas exceeded $3 per gallon for a period right after Katrina. If the driver of a full-sized van with 42-gallon dual tank capacity, like the Econoline Club Wagons I used to have, drove off without paying, he'd be guilty of a felony for exceeding the customary $100 threshold.

A mirrored problem with pricey gas is siphoning theft. I once caught a bunch of kids filling their outboard boat's tank from my '55 Plymouth, and that was when gas was 25 cents a gallon, so it's all relative. A quarter-century ago, after the Iranian Revolution induced a gas crisis, there was a big movement to equip cars with locking gas caps or filler doors. The need or demand seemed to wither away in subsequent years, although many vehicles still have the feature as standard. One wonders if locking caps will make a comeback. In the short run, that's a need that aftermarket auto supply stores ought to be able to fill.—Mike Davis

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