The Many Ways Gas Stations Can (and Do) Take Your Money

View of Valero gas station sign showing the day's prices

Consumers should keep an eye out for honest mistakes and ripoffs alike at the pump. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you take the prices and routine at gas stations for granted, join the club. Most people have more to worry about than the global price of oil and how that affects the cost you pay at your local pump. After all, these things all pass through federal and state regulations, right?

As we’ve seen over the years, the government also has its hands full. No matter how much we’d like them to police pump operators, regulators can’t cover the ground necessary to see which station owners are honest and which aren’t. Once again, the consumer has to watch his or her own back when filling up the car.

Those who never gave it a thought have been taken for money, shortchanged on gas, fell prey to the bait-and-switch, and more. Here are the many gas station ripoffs tried on consumers over the years.

1. The posted price is actually the ‘cash only’ price.

While you need gas and have a few options, most people pull into the station with the lower price. However, once you maneuver your car in and fill up the tank, you end up with a higher price because you paid with a credit card. This tactic, which New York Weights and Measures inspectors found at a Long Island station during an investigation, amounts to a serious violation. Yet consumers usually don’t even notice.

2. ‘Pump jumping’

TEANECK, NJ - OCTOBER 06: A service station attendant pumps gasoline at $2.97 a gallon October 6, 2008 in Teaneck, New Jersey. Gasoline prices are falling in many parts of the nation.

The practice of pump jumping sucks money out of unsuspecting consumers’ pockets. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

In a CBS Austin report on Texas stations, investigators came across a Texaco with 17 violations of “pump jumping.” That phrase refers to the policy of stations keeping money on the pump before you start pumping. When you go to pay, you end up covering the gas you bought plus whatever dollar amount already existed on the meter. To avoid this scam, make sure gauges start at zero before you begin. When someone else fills you up, keep an eye on it.

3. Your car has less fuel than the gauge reads.

A man watches a fuel pump as he fills his car at a gas station.

Sometimes, you’ll receive less gas than the gauge says you pumped. | Adam Berry/Getty Images

In some cases, the numbers add up on the gauge but not inside your gas tank. Put another way, you may have paid for 10 gallons but only drove away with 9.1 or 9.2 gallons. New Jersey inspectors told the Bergen Daily Record they often find broken gauges doing this to commuters. Over the course of a year, they found 153 violations in 3,010 pumps tested. That’s about 5% of the ones they were able to measure, which we find surprisingly high.

4. 87 octane gas at 93 octane prices

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 28: A sign for an Exxon gas station stands in a Brooklyn neighborhood on October 28, 2016 in New York City. As lower gas prices continue to do damage to oil companies, the world's largest publicly traded oil producer reported a 38% decline in quarterly profit. Exxon shares were down 1% to $86.04 late Friday morning.

Some people pay for high octane gas but get the cheap stuff. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Some gas station ripoffs border on criminal offenses. For example, investigators in New York and many other states found station operators labeling 89 octane gasoline as 93 octane. This scam hurts consumers in several ways. Obviously, charging customers several dollars more for cheap is outrageous. However, this practice could also hurt your vehicle’s performance. Luxury cars and other high-powered models need high-octane gasoline to operate at peak levels.

5. Changing the price according to the hour

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 30: Empty pumps are covered with plastic bags at a BP gas station at the corner of Independence and Idlewild September 30, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina. A hurricane induced gas shortage in the area has left many service stations dry, and motorists scrambling to find gas for their vehicles. This gas station received a shipment of gas last night, opened for business at 6 a.m., and were out of fuel by 11:30 a.m.

Prices often rise and fall at the owner’s whim. | Davis Turner/Getty Images

While you might chalk this one up as good ol’ American capitalism, it’s easy to see why consumers feel ripped off when station owners do it. Quite simply, they raise the price based on their whims or what they think they can get from customers. According to consumer reporter Matt Granite, gas stations may raise their prices several cents every day during daylight hours and holidays. Then, from late at night until the early hours of dawn, they lower them back to normal.

6. 91 octane gas when you ask for 89

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 21: Consumers fill up their tanks at a Sunoco gas station on April 21, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Believe it or not, gas stations sometimes disregard requests and pump higher-priced gas | Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

As far as dishonest tactics go, this one might take the cake. A gas station attendant hears a customer ask for 89 octane gas and begins pumping the 91 octane. When the driver glances back at the gauge, all the numbers add up — except the octane on the pump. Again, consumers need to watch the person pumping the gas when you aren’t doing it yourself.

7. Broken LED displays

People fill their cars at a Chevron service station

People fill their cars at a Chevron service station. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sometimes, a worn (i.e., broken) LED display will keep drivers in the dark when they fill their tank. Usually, people don’t pay it any mind and assume the machine is counting correctly. However, as we have seen, tanks may be broken and owners may not do anything about it. Of course, there is a possibility that gas pumps give out more gas than they charge for, but those instances are less likely.

8. Genuinely honest mistakes

SAN RAFAEL, CA - FEBRUARY 22: A sign displays gasoline prices well over $3.00 per gallon at a Union 76 gas station February 22, 2008 in San Rafael, California. Gas prices surged to their highest level since June 2007 with the price of a gallon af regular unleaded increasing 2.9 cents in the past day to bring the national average of $3.115 a gallon. Despite oil trading above $101 a barrel this week, gas supplies are at their highest levels in 14 years.

Honest mistakes can rip you off, too. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Even honest mistakes end up ripping off consumers at the pump. State weights and measures inspectors find faulty calibrations, broken shut-off meters, and other issues that led to shortchanged customers. Gas station owners almost always have no ideas these things are happening. Nonetheless, they end up sending you back on the road with less money that you should have.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!