Old gas pumps prove problematic as prices rise

| 5/15/2008

Some of the older mom-and-pop gas stations are facing a potentially costly dilemma. Their old-fashioned pumps with the spinning mechanical dials can’t register a sale above $3.99 per gallon or a fill-up of more than $99.99.

As many as 8,500 of the nation’s 170,000 service stations have old-style meters that need to be fixed – or about 17,000 individual pumps, Bob Renkes, executive vice president of the Petroleum Equipment Institute of Tulsa, OK, told The Associated Press.

Many of those pumps are in rural areas where owners are barely scraping by and there’s not much business. Owners will have to either evolve or get out of the business.

So, if gas breaks the $4 barrier – and it’s almost there – those station owners, many of whom are barely scraping by, are faced with spending upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 for each new pump. Station owners can buy less expensive upgrade kits, but there’s a backlog of at least four months in obtaining the parts.

Some states such as North Dakota and Georgia will allow stations to display half the price at the pump so long as it’s clear to consumers that they’ll pay twice that amount inside.

And The Associated Press reported that in Minnesota, rural service station owners whose pumps cannot display the right price are being told to cover up the incorrect numbers. Customers there might want to carry a calculator because they’ll have to multiply the gas they pump by the price per gallon and just settle up at the cash register.