How New Jersey's Self-Serve Gas Pumps Boost Business

Oct. 9, 2023
I’m uncertain of the goal with regard to preventing drivers from adding fuel to their own vehicles. Perhaps it’s a concern about “safety” and to prevent over-filling which could result in fuel being spilled onto the ground.

Many of you probably already know that two states have long had a law that prevented drivers from pumping their own fuel (Oregon and New Jersey). Just recently, Oregon changed their law to allow self-serve (as I understand, half of a station’s pumps would remain full-service while the other half would allow self-service). Finally, a bit of common sense prevailed in Oregon. However, New Jersey remains the sole holdout.

I’m uncertain of the goal with regard to preventing drivers from adding fuel to their own vehicles. Perhaps it’s a concern about “safety” and to prevent over-filling which could result in fuel being spilled onto the ground. If that’s the reason, I assume that the New Jersey “brain trust” figured that if they allowed only “professionals” to perform the task, the situation would result in greater safety and would help to protect the environment. I also candidly wonder if an underlying reason for this is to help boost the state’s automotive repair business.

Why do I say this? Let me relate a true story. A few years back, my shop had performed a total restoration of a 1968 Plymouth Satellite convertible. (It was a horrible job — one of those cars you’re happy to be done with and forget.) Once the job was completed, the owner, who resided in New Jersey, requested to have the car delivered to his house. Since it was difficult for me at the time to be out of the shop for about two days, one of my technicians volunteered to make the drive, using my Ford F-350 dually crew cab turbo diesel truck and one of my trailers. After delivering the car, he decided to top off the tank before heading home. He stopped at a New Jersey gas station only to discover that he was not allowed to pump the fuel himself. He told the attendant to fill the tank with diesel fuel. He repeated his request several times — “diesel fuel.”

While my driver sat in the truck playing with his phone and studying a map, he noticed the unmistakable odor of gasoline. Out of curiosity, he exited the truck and walked around to the pump, only to discover, to his horror, that the “professional” was filling the diesel tank with gasoline. I don’t think I need to tell you that this is not a good thing. He immediately ordered the “professional” to stop. I’m certain that a slew of totally justified expletives were used, as you might imagine. He demanded that the station pump the gasoline out of my truck’s tank, to no avail. Out of sheer frustration and desperation, my driver drove the truck to an automotive repair shop (luckily the shop was directly across the street from the gas station). We ended up paying about $600 to have the tank removed and flushed, and for a fuel system flush. The shop sent a tech to the gas station to buy 10 gallons of diesel fuel to finish flushing the system, and to leave enough in the tank to get into Pennsylvania for a proper fill-up. The repair shop’s owner noted this was not an uncommon situation, telling my driver that it “happens a lot.” Luckily, my truck’s engine suffered no permanent damage. Imagine if my driver hadn’t caught the mistake and continued on his return trip. I can only guess how many miles would have been driven before the engine said, “I’ve had enough.”

As a result of New Jersey’s fuel service laws, the New Jersey-based repair shop gained more business. Coincidence? Obviously, the repair shop wasn’t to blame. Based on our experience, I began to wonder how many similar scenarios have occurred where gasoline was added to diesel engines and/or diesel was added to gasoline engines. Either case would immediately or eventually result in more repair business by the state’s repair shops. Again, no blame is placed on the shops. Thanks to what I consider an idiotic law, an unknown percentage of vehicle owners have been forced to pay for repairs that were avoidable.

On the good side, the state’s repair shops benefit from the added business. It’s an example of how some laws result in both negative and positive results. In this instance, we have those well-meaning New Jersey politicians to thank for that.

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