The Gasoline Pump "Y2K" Problem

by Xin Lu on 3 May 2008 4 comments

Here in San Mateo County, many gas stations are starting to sport prices above $4.00 per gallon. The trusty Gas and Shop down the street is still holding on to $3.93 per gallon but it seems inevitable that gas will cross that $4.00 mark. Funnily enough, some of the older gas pumps around the country in rural areas are experiencing a technical issue similar to the Y2K problem. Basically, these pumps were not designed to charge more than $4.00 a gallon.

In this article from the Seattle PI , we find a garage owner who has pumps that only charge up to $3.99 9/10. He bought them brand new in 1995 and it would cost him thousands of dollars to upgrade so for now he is informing his customers that the pump price is incorrect. The article also points out that it is illegal to operate pumps that do not display and tally the correct price, but the government understands the situation now and is giving the pump owners ample time to fix the situation.

Now you may be thinking, wow those pump makers are dumb! However, the fact is in 1995 noone expected to charge $4.00 for a gallon of gas. The average price of a gallon of gas was around $1.20 in California in 1995 and the people who made the pump probably figured their pumps would not be in service long enough for gasoline to climb to $4.00. Since the pump uses mechanical computers, adding a number is more difficult than it looks.

So the next time you drive down a dusty highway in the middle of nowhere and find one of these older pumps, make sure you find out what the real price of gas is.

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Mike 2

Funny how what we think of as common sense has changed so drastically. If only it was 1995!

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Blake

It kind of reminds me of the old cars whose odometers only go up to 99,999. That was a pleasant surprise though, as cars began lasting longer. This isn't a pleasant surprise, and goes to show how fast this run-up in fuel prices have been. That was only 13 years ago; where will we be in another 13 years?

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Guest

The oil companies have been subsidized and allowed billions to get by over the years and the public never truly taxed on the costs of rampant driving on roads needing maintenance.

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Guest

Same think happened here in the UK, there wasn't enough space on most of the forecourt displays to put 100.00p as opposed to 99.99p. Anyways 'petrol' over here is now about the the equivalent of $10 per gallon, and you think $4 is bad!