Paying at the Pump

When I get gas, I swipe my credit card at the pump, fill up, get my receipt, and drive off. Since the filling up process takes a couple minutes, I find myself observing other people.

One thing I’ve noticed is that most people do not pay at the pump. They pull in, look around trying to find the pump number, and then walk inside to pre-pay. This always seemed odd to me, but maybe it’s because pay-at-the-pump was a nearly ubiquitous feature when I got my license. Besides the fact that it’s an unnecessary waste of time to walk across the lot to go inside, wait at line, and pay, I also never understood the concept of prepaying for something when no one can predict how much it will cost. Even if I drive exactly the same route at about the same speed, and the price of gas hasn’t changed, my gas bill fluctuates by several dollars. Paying for $25 of gas might leave me with the pump shutting off before I’m done, or it might leave me contemplating overfilling my tank to get my money’s worth. All in all, the process of going inside never made sense to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

Why do people go in? Do they insist on paying cash? Do they enjoy the company of the attendant? Having gone inside to buy a bottle of water or a pack of gum periodically, this seems quite unlikely to me. The only truly reasonable explanation I can think of is that the people who go inside buy something else while they are inside, like coffee or a newspaper. But very few of the people I watch going in come out with anything in their hands, so that theory is ruined, too.

Is it a generational thing? The older generation grew up going inside to pay for gasoline before pumping it, so they keep doing it, and I’m young and never knew the old way? But isn’t pre-paying a new concept, fueled (pun intended) by drive-offs, an issue ignited (pun intended) by the soaring price of gasoline? Is it the user’s irrational lack of trust of the gas pump, like how I refuse to deposit checks into ATMs for fear that they’ll vanish into the ether?

I sort of want to start polling people next time I’m filling up. But I’ll start here. Do you go in to pay, or do you pay at the pump? And, much more importantly, why do you make that choice?

6 thoughts on “Paying at the Pump

  1. I pay cash. I’m trying to cut down on credit card use as a budget aid. I’d rather pay at the pump and one gase station I used to use did take cash at the pumps. I like to save time and having to go inside is a pain but not enough to get me to use credit cards more often.

  2. I just use my debit card at the pump; effectively the same as cash. I figure I’d rather have a full tank so I don’t have to come back to the gas station in two days. 🙂

  3. Another big thing is that gas stations can offer “discounted” prices on gas when you pay in cash… at least in Mass.

  4. Way back in the olden days the gas station attendant came out & filled up your car for you. Then you paid him from the luxury of your front seat. Thus, your theory of us old-timers being used to going in to pay is hog-wash. I will by-pass a gas station that won’t let you pay at the pump. These newfangled contraptions (like debit cards) are so awesome!

  5. I usually use a card at the pump because of speed and overall convenience. However if I’m just putting some gas in the tank and know that I have a big trip coming up in a week or so I might then go pay cash. In this instance I know that for example I only want 10 or 15 dollars worth of gas and that I will do the “fill her up” later on before the trip. Or if I happen to find a stray $20 bill in my pocket, sometimes I’ll just pay cash and avoid a charge on the credit card.

    But I’m mostly a card guy.

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