The Blanco Republic
Comments and opinions on just about anything!

Pain At The Pumps


by Ernest O’Dell

For the past three weeks, I’ve attempted to find some answers to your questions about high gas prices – and when are they coming back down. My answers, or those that I’ve found after research, haven’t always been the ones you want, nor I. Talking with various readers around town, I get the sense that you are more than disappointed because I have left you with more questions than answers. But, nevertheless, I don’t imagine you would find anything too far divergent than what I’ve already found.

To add insult to injury, not only is gasoline (and diesel) prices not coming down, you are also faced with the annoying prospect of “capping” by your credit card. What is “capping” you ask? That’s where your credit card company sets a dollar limit on your gas purchase, and that’s why you have to use three different credit cards to fill up your SUV.

Yes, I know you just want to fill up on one card, but it’s not the gas station imposing limits on your purchase. And, no, we have not gone back to WWII gas rationing. So when your pumps stops, and your tank isn’t full, don’t go into the store and unload your frustrations on the hapless clerk behind the counter, because they’re liable to be totally clueless as to why it happened.

So you’re at the gas station filling up your vehicle, and without warning the gas pump shuts off. What? The tank isn’t full, and you know your credit card isn’t over its limit.

Here’s the scenario: you’ve just started a fill-up on your credit card at the pump because you are in a hurry and don’t have time to go inside the store (even though most stations have signs that say “Pre-Pay” anyway). You’ve got a gas-guzzling 32 gallon SUV that runs on premium, and it stops on $50. You’ve become accustomed to paying $100 or more, and you look at the pump wondering what just happened. You’re getting frustrated now, because your vehicle is only half-full, and now you’re going to go into the store and vent your anger on the kid behind the counter. Don’t do it.

Most people will assume it is the gas station setting a limit on how much gas you can purchase, which leads you to think it’s a ration scenario. But it’s not. It’s your credit card company. Not the tall fat guy behind the counter.

As the price of gasoline continues to rise (and will most likely continue to rise during the summer), rules to prevent credit card fraud at the nation’s pumps are confusing consumers who just want a full tank of gas.

Caps on transaction amounts — or the total dollar amount of gas a customer can pump into their car — are limiting some drivers from filling up on one transaction. Sometimes you have to use two, sometimes three, credit cards just to get one tank of gas. (Don’t worry… I don’t “share” your pain.)

Yes, it defeats the convenience of pay-at-the-pump, but there’s a way to get around the frustration: go inside and leave your card with the cashier, or have someone riding with you go in and inform the clerk that you’re there to pay for whoever is pumping out on the lane.

Credit card companies say the policies – which aren’t new, by the way – are designed to prevent fraudulent transactions that could occur at a gas pump. That fraud protective measure is designed to protect YOU and the merchant.

Computers are dumber than rocks, and when a customer uses their credit card at a cardholder-activated terminal, such as a gas pump, the transaction is authorized without knowing the final bill of sale. Most credit card companies have a clause in your credit contract that provides you with a certain amount of protection against fraudulent use of your card. The same protection – by default – is extended to gas merchants, thus relieving them of liability.

But credit card companies have established a protective layer by setting caps on how much gas a consumer can pump at any one given time. And it is set “programmatically” into the computer logic level, and it is NOT singling you out because you’re having a “bad day” or because your kid just got sick in the back seat.

In the event of fraud, the credit card companies are taking the “hit” on this event, and that’s probably why you see 24.24% interest on your balances. They may bear the expense of the loss up front, but on the “back end” of the month, you’re going to be the one paying the bill. All of us are.

Another way to avoid the frustration of having your credit card transaction cut off early: go inside and pre-pay. Leave a couple of Grants with the cashier on a pre-pay and come back and get your change. Or worse, leave one or two Franklins. (In this case, the computer operated cash register isn’t too dumb… it DOES know how to make change – even if the “fat man” doesn’t!) I know that’s not much consolation to you, but there ARE options. Which one you choose is up to you.

Some credit card companies have a $50 limit, others – such as MasterCard might have it set at $75. Discover users have a $50 pay-at-the-pump limit. Transaction limits vary for corporate card holders and American Express users.

Not all gas stations have to abide by the cap. And there are no limits if a customer goes inside and pre-pays with their credit card at the counter (there’s another option).

When gas prices were low, most caps went unnoticed. But not so at today’s prices. With the average price of regular at $3 a gallon, your daily – or weekly – routine at the pump will be fraught with this inconvenience. You could say it’s a necessary inconvenience for more secure transactions.

In closing, perhaps we should take a look at what most other people around the world have done: adjust. Make sure your vehicle is tuned up and your tires properly inflated so that you get the best gas mileage possible. You might also set up a car-pool if you have other people in your community going in the same direction. You can also plan your routes to reduce your driving time and mileage.

Back when I was working in Austin several years ago, I made it a point to stop by the grocery store on the way home from the office to get my supplies. I planned my route to include all the shopping I needed to do, then I headed home for the day. Sort of like running a bread route.

Ernest O’Dell is an free-lance contributor to the Blanco County News. You can find online resources at the following links:

Gasoline Prices and the Consumer: Perceptions and Realities

Gas Prices in Europe – European Gasoline and Diesel Prices

Gas prices too high? Try Europe.

What does gasoline cost in other countries?

A Primer on Gasoline Prices from the Energy Information Administration

Current Gas Prices and Price History

Why Do Gas Stations Hate Us? (They don’t… but you can read what this site has to say about it.)

Gas Price Watch at

The Truth Behind High Fuel Prices

Why Gas Prices Will Stay High

Google Searches:

Gas Prices In Europe

Liter To Gallon Calculation

World Wide Fuel Prices


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