Maxed Out: Old Gas Pumps Finally Hit Limit

old gas pumpI read an article the other day that reported an interesting dilemma in the making. Apparently, older “Mom-and-Pop” service stations equipped with older pumps are unable to process gasoline purchases at a cost higher than $3.99 per gallon. That’s because their pump’s price dials were never configured to handle a “4” in the dollar column. I’m not making this stuff up, folks. If there is a sad spin to an otherwise amusing story, it seems many of these stations will be forced out of business. The cost of replacing the pumps is prohibitively expensive considering the volume of gasoline sold.

Imagine the Possibilities

If such short-sighted design, reminiscent of the “Y2k” programming flaws, could be the answer to keeping prices low, what other areas of our lives could we implement such tactics? Imagine if fifty years ago car dealerships had not planned for five-figure pricing. “No one will ever pay $10,000 for a car!” We might all be driving Model T’s, but at least they would be paid for.

What if soft drink vending machines had not thought to equip new machines with dollar bill accepters? With the price of a 20oz. bottle of Coca Cola now as high as $1.25 out of a machine, would there be a national shortage of quarters? Surely this would have capped the cost of vending machine goods at $1.00 because anything more than four quarters just seems ludicrous! Well, at least it used to seem so.

If there were no “big and tall” clothing stores, would we all be forced to conform to “standard” sizes to find an adequate wardrobe. As a big and mostly tall guy, I’ve benefited from “big and tall” men’s clothing shops, so I can’t knock this idea too hard. However, I wonder if I had more difficulty finding expandable waistlines, and plus-sized shirts if I would be more strict with my diet and exercise program. Not much I can do about being tall, but plenty I could do better about being big.

A Growing Trend

It seems over the years our nation has outgrown their pants and their pocketbooks (and now their gas pumps). Some of it can be attributed to inflation, the rest of it to our insatiable collective appetites for something bigger and better. Either way, it is obvious something has to change. The Wisdom Journal seems to think higher gas prices may be good for us. Now that’s a statement you won’t hear on the nightly news! He may be onto something. There are some industries out there really hurting because of the high prices (trucking, travel, etc.), but for the majority of us this spike in prices has forced us to look for ways to conserve, to be more frugal. In this way the higher prices have been a good thing. However, I hope for the sake of the “Mom-and-Pop” store owners we see some relief soon.

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  1. I remember when I was a kid in the summers watching “The Price Is Right!” There was a game on there where you could win a prize if you could guess the price correctly. The top prize was always a car, second was usually a washer and dryer and third was a blender or a sofa or something. The contestant only had ten numbers (0-9) and the car always started with a 3 and had only 4 digits! The second prize had 3 digits and the third prize had 3 digits. Today, when they play that game, the show goes ahead and gives you the first number for the car…

    Man, times have changed.

  2. Gas prices are getting out of control, but I agree, they may not be all that bad for us. In comparison to other places in the world, gas is relatively cheap. Take into consideration the dropping value of American currency… and its clear to see that the price of gas will not improve. Maybe its time we walked a little more, made some things ourselves (instead of paying for shipping costs), and quite possibly our overall health would improve.

  3. Even when I was a kid (and I’m admittedly a youngin’) my dad would hand me a $20 and I’d run into the gas station to pay for a full tank of gas, a candy bar and still come running back with a fiver.

    I admit that I didn’t start living frugally until I realized that I didn’t have as much money as I thought I did. Thankfully, I’m now living where I can rely on good public transportation or my feet to get me where I need to be, but not everyone has that luxury. I’m sure my parents would love to just walk downtown like I do, but a 20 mile roundtrip is pushing it 🙂

  4. There is always options to the old gas stations. Few steps:
    1) Price it $0.40 per gallon
    2) erase the “dot” and paint a new one between the cents. Now you have $04.0
    3) paint an extra fixed “0” right after the price number.

    Done, you have a $ 04.00 per gallon pump. The cents will have to be rounded up to the .1 multiple. May be it will increase the price rounding up.
    It might give them some extra life. But the way prices are going up, they might have to re-paint the dot in a couple of years.

    • @Marcela: “But the way prices are going up, they might have to re-paint the dot in a couple of years.” Scary thought, isn’t it?!

  5. Not to worry about Mom and Pop stores. The local paper ran a story like this when we hit $3 a gallon a couple years ago and older pumps couldn’t handle it. They had to publish a follow up a couple days later, the station had found a conversion kit online that hardly cost them anything.

  6. Oh… and before the station found the conversion kit, they were simply using a setting that allowed them to price it $1.50 per 1/2 gallon. Which I’m sure was confusing, but probably also got ’em a bunch of folks who thought they were getting a stupendous deal.

  7. Good post FD.

    Like most, I don’t like the high gas prices. But also like most, I’ll learn to adjust my driving and cut back in other ways and get through this.

    I wonder if at least some folks will find that being more frugal turns out to be a good thing. It will be less stressful than always wanting more. Also, might give people more time to do things that will make them happier.

    Brian answered a question that was bothering me about converting the old pumps to handle the higher prices. Thanks

  8. I remember seeing some gas price signs where the “1” in the dollar space was permanent, they had to tack a mis-matched sign over it when the price went above $2.

    This all reminds me of an old-school software guy I was working with. I proposed a design that would allow for 32 different settings (at the time we had about 10). His answer was “What about when they want 33”? You have to plan for expansion beyond what you think is a reasonable limit..

  9. Hmm never thought of it that way. Higher prices has definitely made me greener. I could easily drive to work, but I simply can’t afford it any longer, so I take the train. What sucks is, now the powers that be can wag their fingers at us when we complain about the prices and get all parental on us: “Now, now, this is for your own good. You will thank me when you’re older.”

  10. > higher gas prices may be good for us

    I agree, but I would like to see a larger share of the gas price stay in the US in the form of taxes, instead of feeding Sheiks, Mullahs, and communists.

  11. What is “good for us” is that high gas prices mean we’ll finally see real electrification of passenger vehicles:

    Buy one of the above, or any of its imitators, and you won’t need to worry about funding countries that hate our guts.

  12. America has to get off of foreign oil as fast as possible! For the $650 Billion the Iraqi war cost us, we have yet to see one drop of oil! If the same money had been spent developing Solar thermal electric power in the Southwestern U.S.A.(at home!) We would now be tapping into the largest source of renewable, or perpetual Power the world has ever known! Instead we count our dead as the sun sets on our economy, where cheap oil may abound, but with no jobs, we cannot buy it! The (GRD) great republican depression will force changes on the American people no war or plague might have, and we will run whimpering back to our traditional gasoline fueled gas guzzlers, unable to stand courageously and switch to Diesel, or Compressed Natural Gas, let alone hybrid eco-boxes! Face it, we will buy new pumps programmable to whatever our OPEC slavemasters wish us to pay, and gripe but roll over at the pumps every time to get our precious, presious gasoline for our equally precious gas guzzling ego-monsters with V-8 engines that roar with sexual satisfaction, for this is our first love, the one we can never forget, and the one we will live and die for!

  13. The solution is far too simple to warrant even mentioning the design flaw here:

    Calibrate the pump to distribute a half gallon rather than a gallon and price accordingly by the half gallon. This will provide a solution until the price exceeds eight dollars per gallon.