A filling station, gas station or petrol station is a facility that sells fuel for road motor vehicles – usually petrol (US: gas/gasoline), diesel fuel and LPG.
The term "gas station" is mostly particular to the United States of America and Canada, where petrol is known as "gas" or "gasoline". Elsewhere the form "petrol station", or possibly the somewhat old-fashioned term "petrol garage" is used.
History of filling stations in the US
As automobiles were vehicles on the roads of the United States, the first gas station was invented in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now ChevronTexaco). Standard Oil began erecting gas station signs of their logos for advertising. They were known as filling stations. The mass-production techniques of Henry Ford allowed consumers to purchase cars at an affordable price. Increased car ownership resulted in the greater demand for filling stations.
By the gallon or litre
In the United States, gas stations sell gasoline by the US gallon, while in Canada, Mexico, Europe and most other parts of the world, petrol is sold by the litre. In Britain, petrol was sold in gallons until the 1995 Weights and Measures Act, when it became mandatory to price goods by metric measurements (litres).
Types of filling stations in the US
There are generally two types of filling stations in the US: premium and discount brands.
Gas stations with premium brands are often international brands that include Esso, Exxon, Chevron, Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Sinclair, and Texaco. Non-international premium brands include Petro-Canada. They accept credit cards and often issue their own company cards. These stations often charge much higher prices. However, the stations are numerous in locations with more pumps available. They are also much more modern with brighter lighting and are cleaner. For ease and convenience, these stations have fully automated pay-at-the-pump facilities. Premium gas stations tend to be highly visible from highway and freeway exits as they use tall signs to display their logos.
Discount brands are often smaller regional chains or independent stations that offer lower prices on gasoline. Most purchase wholesale gasoline from independent suppliers or even the aforementioned major petroleum companies. In some cases, discount brands typically accept cash only and some may accept credit cards (sometimes with a added surcharge, sometimes not). The customer would have to walk inside the store or up to the window to pay and obtain a receipt later. Many discount stations have a few locations and, in some cases, appear outdated (i.e., non-digital readouts on pumps) and rundown. In addition, these discount gas stations are often located well away from the highway and freeway exits; many are obscurely tucked away in commercial and residential neighborhoods. An exception to these trends is the discount brand ARCO (part of BP), which has a combination of modern and dilapidated stations.
Examples of discount gas station chains in the USA are Valero, Rotten Robbie, and USA Gasoline. Lower price gas stations are also found at some Cooperative, supermarkets (Albertsons, Kroger, and Vons), convenience stores (7-Eleven), mass merchandise stores (Wal-Mart) and membership warehouse stores (Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's). At some stations (such as Vons, Wal-Mart, Costco, BJ's, or Sam's Club), a special membership card is required to receive the discounted price.
Filling stations outside the US
Some countries have only one brand of petrol station. In Mexico, where the oil industry is nationalized (i.e, state-owned) and prices are regulated, the country's main operator of petrol stations is called Pemex. In Scandinavia the main operator is Statoil.
Gasoline prices in North America
In the United States, federal, state and local sales taxes are usually included in the price per gallon. In theory, gas taxes usually fund transportation projects such as the maintenance of existing roads and construction of new ones. In fact, such taxes are fungible such that it is impossible to know to what extent the monies collected actually contributed to the claimed projects.
In the United States, the states of California and Hawaii have the highest prices of gasoline. In Canada, prices are the highest in the provinces of British Columbia and Québec and the lowest in the oil-producing province of Alberta.
Contrary to popular belief, individual gas stations in the United States do not have much control over gasoline prices. The wholesale price of gasoline is determined by area by oil companies supplying the gasoline, and their prices are largely determined by the world markets for oil. Individual gas stations are unlikely to wish to sell gasoline at a loss, and the margin that they make from gasoline sales is limited by the fact that gasoline is a commodity and a gas station which charges significantly more than the wholesale price will lose customers to other gas stations. Because of this, most gas stations profit mainly from selling food products inside their convenience stores. Boycotts against individual gas stations to protest against perceived high gas prices have largely failed. In fact, the price of gas (in real terms) has declined steadily over the past thirty years. In the 1960's, the average American had to work 12 minutes to earn enough money to purchase one gallon of gas. Today, the average American has to work only 8 minutes to afford to purchase a gallon of gas. The reduced cost is even more pronounced when one considers that the average car today goes 20% to 30% further on a gallon of gas than the average car in 1960.
During many public holiday weekends, when American road travel is at its peak, gas prices tend to soar and then drop as the holidays come to a close -- as is to be expected when the demand for gas fluctuates.
Even with oil market fluctuations, prices for gasoline in the United States are among the lowest in the industrialized world. However, this is due principally to difference in taxes. While the price of gasoline in Europe is more than twice that in the United States, the price of gas excluding taxes is nearly identical in the two areas. It is not unheard of for Canadians and Mexicans closest to the US border to drive into the United States to purchase cheaper gasoline at gas stations in border communities.
Petrol prices in Europe
In European Union member states, gas prices are much higher than North America due to higher fuel excise or taxation, although the base price is also higher than in the US (which ensures cheap supply of oil to the country). The high fuel prices can be unpopular (particularly after inflationary or retail increases), and have led to harsh criticism of taxation policy from some quarters. Occasionally there are some national protests, although a recent large scale protest in the summer of 2002, known as 'The Fuel Crisis', caused wide-scale havoc not only across the UK, but also in some other EU countries. The British government eventually backed down and reduced taxation a little, and legislated an emergency law change to outlaw strikes by fuel tanker drivers.
Petrol prices elsewhere
In other energy-importing countries like Japan, petrol costs are higher than in the United States because of fuel transportation costs.
Features of gas stations in the US
Pay before you pump v. pump first and pay later
In small towns and rural areas, gas stations generally allow customers to pump gas first and pay afterwards. However, due to the higher incidence of crime in large urban areas (especially drive away without paying), customers must generally pay first and then pump fuel.
Modern gas stations have pay-at-the-pump capabilities – in most cases credit, debit and ATM cards are normally accepted. At some stations, cash is also taken at the pump, although change must be collected by going to the often bulletproof cashier window.
Full service v. self service
In contrast to most states, gas stations in the state of New York allow customers to use self-service pumps after paying attendants in their booth.
All stations in neighboring New Jersey are full service, where attendants are required to accept payment from customers and pump gas for them. All gas stations in Oregon are also required by law to be full service. Customers are explicitly barred by statutes in both states from pumping their own gas. Both states prohibited self-service back in the 1940s due to fears that foolish customers would handle gasoline improperly and blow themselves up (after all, smoking was still popular at the time). Although modern gas pumps are largely idiot-proof, and smoking is going out of style, both states have retained their existing statutes as a kind of full employment measure.
The constitutionality of the anti-self-service statutes has been challenged. The Oregon statute was challenged in 1989 by ARCO and the New Jersey statute was challenged in 1950 by a small independent service station, Rein Motors. Both challenges failed.
Other goods and services commonly available
Many gas stations are also convenience stores that sell food, beverages, cigarettes, lottery tickets, motor oil, and sometimes auto parts, among other things. Prices for these items and others tend to be higher at convenience stores when compared to a supermarket or Wal-Mart.
Many gas stations also provide squeegees, towels, and toilet facilities for customer use, but a large number of discount gas stations do not provide these amenities. As with many public facilities the world over, the cleanliness and standards of gas station toilet facilities vary and using restrooms (Canada: washrooms) in a fast food restaurant would be a wiser choice.
Many gas stations have air compressors with tire gauges and water machines. Some machines are free of charge whereas some may charge a small fee to use (usually 25 cents to US$1). In many states of the US, free air must be provided for paying customers as required by law. In most cases, a token provided by the attendant is used in lieu of coins.
Some gas stations are equipped with car washes. Car washes are sometimes free of charge or given a discounted price with a certain amount of gas purchase (usually 8 US gallons or more). This promotion is usually advertised near the gasoline price boards. Conversely, car washes operate a gas station to supplement their businesses.
There are a number of gas stations with a smaller fast food outlet inside, such as a McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Pizza Hut, Sbarro, Taco Bell, and Wendy's. They are usually express versions with limited seating, though some may be regular-sized and have spacious seating.
U.S. service station (1950s)
A gas station that also offers such services as oil change and mechanical repairs to automobiles is called a service station. Until the 1970s the vast majority of gas stations were service stations; now only a minority are.
In the UK, a 'service station' refers to much larger facilities, usually attached to motorways or major trunk routes, which provide food outlets, large parking areas, and often other services, such as hotels, arcade games, and shops in addition to 24-hour fuel supplies and a higher standard of restrooms (UK: toilets). Fuel is typically more expensive from these outlets due to their premium location. UK service stations do not usually repair automobiles.
In parts of the US this arrangement occurs on some toll roads and is called an oasis or rest area. In many cases, these centers might have a food court or cafeteria, In the US, the TravelCenters of America is one of the largest full-service chains.
In many states (e.g., California), such configurations are illegal or against public policy. Often, the state government maintains public rest areas directly connected to freeways but does not rent out space to private businesses. As a result, such areas often provide only minimal services like restrooms and vending machines.
In turn, private entrepreneurs develop additional facilities like restaurants, gas stations, and motels in hodgepodge clusters on private land adjacent to major interchanges. Because these facilities are not directly connected to the freeway, they usually have huge signs on poles several hundred feet high. This way, travelers will be able to spot them several minutes in advance and exit accordingly. Sometimes, the state will also post small official signs indicating what types of gas stations or restaurants are available at an upcoming exit, and businesses can add their logo for a fee.
See the petrol article for an explanation.
In the United States, all gasoline is unleaded and is available in several grades, which are differentiated by "Octane" content: 87 (Regular), 89 (Super Unleaded), 91 (Premium) are typical grades. In certain regions, fuels rated at 92 and 93 Octane can also be found.
Fuels in the U.S. are described in terms of their "Pump Octane", which is the average of "RON" (Research Octane Number) and "Motor Octane Number". Labels on gasoline pumps in the U.S. typically describe this as the "(R+M)/2 Method".
Some nations describe fuels according to the traditional "RON" or "MON" ratings, so Octane ratings cannot always be compared with the equivalent U.S. rating by the "(R+M)/2 method".
In most of Europe, petrol is unleaded and available in 95 (Eurosuper) and 98 (Super Plus) octanes; in some countries 91 octane petrol is offered as well. Some stations offer 98 RON with lead substitute. In the UK, leaded 99/100 RON petrol has been reintroduced (legally) on a very limited basis for use by classic car enthusiasts and racers by the independent oil company Bayford Thrust (also the UK licensees of the famous Gulf Oil brand).
Gas/Petrol Station Management
Modern Petrol Stations are offering various services like dispensing fuel / gas, servicing vehicles, selling fast moving consumer goods and selling beverages through vending machines, letting customer withdraw money using ATM centres, Surf the Internet, make phone calls, accepting plastic currency and previledge cards and so on. All above activities to be managed using the limited semi-skilled / unskilled manpower requires great amount of planning and management. On top of it maintaining records, accounts and inventory at perol-pumps requires a smart software (http://www.quicksoftservices.com/software-management-solutions-mumbai-india/retail-management-pos-software/petrol-pump-management-software/index.htm) to take care of all the tasks with meter/nozzle reading, dip reading, Invoicing, Sales, Purchase, Servicing, Inventory Management, Financial Accounting, CRM, Shift Management, etc., preferably with localized features and configurator.
Differences in gas/petrol pumps
In Europe, the customer selects one of several color coded nozzles depending on the type of fuel required. The filler pipe of unleaded fuel is smaller than the one for leaded (substitute) ones. The tank filler opening has a corresponding diameter. This is to prevent filling the tank with the wrong fuel. Leaded fuel damages the catalytic converter. In some European countries, leaded fuel is no longer generally available, or LRP (lead replacement fuel) may be the only such fuel available.
In most stations in the USA and Canada, the pump usually has a single nozzle and the customer selects the desired octane grade by pushing a button. Some pumps require the customer to first pick up the nozzle, then lift a lever underneath it. Others are designed so that lifting the nozzle automatically releases a switch.
Some older stations do still have separate nozzles for different types of fuel. Also, where diesel fuel is provided, it is usually dispensed from a separate nozzle even if the various types of gasoline share the same nozzle.
Smoking and mobile phone use
It is forbidden to use open flames and, in some places, to use a mobile phone on the forecourt of a gas station, this is because of the risk of igniting gasoline vapour. Nobody can argue that smoking near gasoline is dangerous, but there is disagreement with the idea that sparks from a mobile phone could cause gasoline to catch fire.
Gas station maps
Gas stations were known to offer free oil company road maps as a strategy to build brand loyalty. However, the oil companies discontinued distributing free maps in the 1970s to concentrate on their gasoline products. Nowadays, the stations sell maps produced by Rand McNally, the AAA (American Automobile Association), CAA (Canadian Aile Association), and other auto clubs in the world, as well as professional mapmaking firms like Rand McNally and tiremakers like Michelin.
The common stereotype in the United States include a gas station being the only one in the desert for miles around. They have been labeled "Last chance gas". This has been shown in numerous films and television shows.
Gas stations in film and TV
- Back to the Future & Back to the Future Part II - Three versions of Texaco stations (i.e., product placement) are shown, such as a contemporary self-serve station (1980s), 1950s version with full-serve, and a futuristic version where the station is fully-automated to serve flying cars.
- Breakdown - Kurt Russell's character is adding oil to his Jeep at a Texaco station when he meets his "redneck" antagonist.
- Christine - a service station is the setting where the villains who smash Arnie Cunningham's Plymouth Fury meet their demise.
- Nothing to Lose - Tim Robbins' character daydreams while pumping gas before realizing he's overfilled too much gas in his SUV. In other scenes, several gas stations are robbed.
- RoboCop - A bookish Shell gas station attendant is robbed at gunpoint. Robocop appears on the scene. Later, the station ends up in a fiery explosion.
- The Andy Griffith Show - In the show, Gomer Pyle and his cousin Goober Pyle are gas station attendants and mechanics.
- Corner Gas - A Canadian sitcom set primarily around the only gas station in a small town in Saskatchewan.
- South Park uses a Starvin' Marvin's character Starvin' Marvin.
Well-known gasoline/petrol station brands
- GasPriceWatch (http://www.gaspricewatch.com) - Latest gasoline prices in the United States and Canada
- GasBuddy (http://www.gasbuddy.com) - Portal to a network of local gas price sites
- Fuel Me Up (http://www.fuelmeup.com) - Gas prices site
- Gasoline Signs (http://www.gassigns.org) - Signs and logos of gas stations in the United States
- U.S. Department of Energy's Gas Price Watch Hotline (http://gaswatch.energy.gov) - A US government site to report alleged gas price gouging in the United States.
- Gasoline Station Photographs (http://www.coolstock.com/public/images_pub.php?sectionid=-2&pagenum=1&picsperpage=12&bool_search=Y&query=gas+station) - Vintage gas station and fuel dispenser photography, link courtesy of Coolstock (http://www.coolstock.com)
- Petrol Station Management Software (http://http://www.prweb.com/releases/2005/1/prweb199394.htm) - Future Trends in Petrol Retail Outlet Automation and Software solution for Petrol Pump with Services Station and Convenience stores.