Thursday, October 8, 2009

Air-free or free-air; taking the service out of service stations

They used to call them service stations, even when all they offered was fuel, water and air.

Today, at an increasing number of stations, even that's a stretch. Air is among the first to go.

(Image: Stacked tires. Credit: EIA, U.S. Department of Energy.)

These days, many gas stations will have a convenience store, selling candy bars, beer and pretzels, but they won't have even the basics when it comes to keeping your car on the road.

This is a disturbing trend. If a gas station doesn't have compressed air, who will? It's understood that a pharmacy sells bandages, and not just Viagra.

I stopped at one Kauai station to get gas and to fill up my tires. The compressor was out of order. No air. And it had been out of order for some time.

At another station, there was no compressor at all. You couldn't put air in your tires there, even if you were willing to pay for it. They referred me to a tire repair shop.

At a third, you had to feed coins into the compressor. (In some states, that coin box has become a target for vandals and thieves.)

Checking the air in your tires is something a driver ought to do every few times the car is filled up, at least a visual check and frequently a check with a tire gauge.

Low air pressure increases rolling resistance and makes you use more fuel. Differences in air pressure between tires can affect the car's performance, a safety issue. Tires are expensive, and low air can make a tire wear out quicker, and can cause tire damage. (Overinflated tires can also cause problems, reducing traction.)

But gas stations increasingly are saving money by refusing to install air compressors, or are charging for air. Some folks strongly feel that air should be free, but we are less concerned about the price than that air should at least be available.

In some states, free air is required by law. In others, a station can charge, but must provide free air service to fuel customers. (In some cases, attendants will give these folks tokens for pay compressors; in others, attendants remotely can allow free access to the compressed air.)

In California, for instance, “law requires every service station in this state to provide, during operating hours, water, compressed air, and a gauge for measuring air pressure, to the public for use in servicing any passenger or commercial vehicle, as defined.”

In Connecticut, the air must not only be free, but you legally must post a sign saying it's both available and free.

Our prediction is that if air-free (as opposed to free-air) stations continue to proliferate in Hawai'i, consumer demand will lead to legislation making it mandatory.

In the meantime, one of our energy-interested correspondents suggests stations with free air take advantage of the potential competitive boost by posting signs that they have air available.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

1 comment:

zzzzzz said...

I gave up on getting air at gas stations a long time ago. I just use my bicycle pump as needed.