It's easy - just lift the nozzle, flip the lever and you're good to go!

Well, if it's so easy, why is it that every time I pull into a gas station that offers both full-service and self serve, that there are so many paying an extra ten cents a gallon for full service. Pumping your own is really quite simple!

I pulled into a gas station last week and was waiting for the motorist ahead of me to fill his tank. As I waited I watched as a woman pull her car near the self service pump, look it over and then proceed to do a u-turn in the station and pull up to the full-service pump. Some scruffy looking kid, covered with oil and grease, dragged himself from underneath a car, sauntered over to the pumps and asked what the customer wanted. He then stuck the pump nozzle into the tank, flipped the lock lever into the slow position and sauntered back to the oil change from which he was so rudely interrupted and crawled back under the car. I was fascinated. The lady sat in her car, staring straight ahead, and the kid not only finished the oil change, the filter change and a quick lube job, but he also had time to drop the car from the lift and drive it out of the shop - right near the slowly filling Oldsmobile. Well, at least he didn't have to walk all the way back out to collect the money for the gas!

He walked to the rear of the car just in time for the automatic nozzle to clunk, signaling that it had indeed done as it had been asked, it had filled the tank with gasoline.

I watched, waiting to see just what was involved in this miracle called "full-service". Was he going to check the oil? Perhaps he would check the air pressure in the tires - or maybe wash the bugs and crud from the windshield, but no! He never even offered to open the hood. He reached into the car, took a clean, crisp twenty from the lady, stuck a filthy hand into a grubby pocket in a gray and black (once tan) pair of coveralls, and removed some change and a crumbled up single which he handed to the lady. He never even said "thanks". He appeared to be bothered that he had been disturbed and crawled back into that dirty dingy cave that he called home.

So, who took the "service" out of "full service" and why did that lady bypass a discount of ten cents a gallon to be treated so rudely?

I just had to ask, so I walked over to the car as she started it up and smiled at her as I said, "Excuse me, but I just have to ask you a question. Why don't you save some money and pump your own gas? You just paid ten cents a gallon more for your gas than you had to and all you got was a greasy old dollar bill in change."

"No I didn't," she smiled hesitatingly. "I gave him the dollar as a tip!"

"I always wanted to try pumping my own gas but I was always afraid to try - all those hoses and buttons and levers, and now there is even a place for a credit card. I just get so confused and nobody has ever shown me how to do it, so I just pay the extra. I don't really drive that much . . . . . so it really isn't a big difference anyway."

I was amazed. I asked her if she wanted to spend a few minutes with me and I would be happy to show her how simple the task really was. She asked if I worked there or what. I told her that I didn't believe that anyone should have to pay the extra money for gas and "full-service" if they didn't want to. She agreed and I pulled my truck into position.

"First thing you should know is where your gas tank filler cap is. Pull your car up to the pump so that it is closest to the pump. It makes it easier to reach the tank with the nozzle and you won't have to drag the hose over the trunk lid and possibly scratch it. Make sure that you turn the engine off - it's not only a good idea, it's the law!"

"Next, remove the cap from your gas tank. It twists off just like the top on a jelly jar - counter clockwise. Don't lay the cap down on the ground and absolutely don't put it on the deck or the top of the car. That is the best way to lose it. As a matter of fact if you ever do lose a gas cap just go down to your neighborhood gas station, pull down the road about a hundred feet and look along the shoulder. That is the best place to find 'em! Most newer cars have a place in the tank flap to store the gas cap while you are filling the tank. Look for it and use it."

"OK, now decide which gasoline you want to pump - this truck uses regular gas. So now you have to figure out which one is the regular pump hose and nozzle. It's pretty simple - regular gas is rated at 87 octane. Just look for the pump hose and nozzle that has the 87 written near it. Also, the regular gas is almost always the cheapest unless of course you are at a Sunoco station where they offer an "economy" gas which is 86 octane."

"Now, and this is becoming a feature at most gas pumps, you have to choose whether you want to pay by cash or credit card. Most gas stations offer that option and give you a few cents discount for cash since they have to pay the credit card company a few cents a gallon for their services. You will usually see two lights flashing - one for cash the other for credit. Just push the button you want. In this case I am going to pay by credit card."

"Next, just lift the nozzle out of its cradle. Hold it so that it is pointing straight up in the air just in case there may be some residual gas in the tube from the last customer. Look at the cradle where the nozzle was resting. Follow the instructions there - usually you just lift a lever or twist a handle to start the pump. Here, just lift this lever. But don't worry because no gas will flow out of the nozzle yet."

"Carefully put the nozzle into the filler neck of the gas tank. For the past twenty years or so all gas tanks on cars that use unleaded gasoline have to be equipped with a baffle that permits only an unleaded nozzle to enter the filler neck. The pump nozzle for leaded gasoline is much larger than the one for unleaded gas. That's why this small hole is in the inlet of the tank. Insert the end of the pump nozzle into the hole as far as it will go. Now grip the pump handle and pull up on the lever with all four fingers. At this point your will hear gas going into the tank. Notice that the gas flow is variable - the further I squeeze the handle the faster the gas flows. I can make gas flow very slowly or open it wide for rapid filling, like if the tank is empty. Some states still permit you to "lock" the handle into the "on" position so that you don't have to fight the spring force in the handle. Normally, if you let go of the pump handle the spring in the lever will cause the flow of gasoline to stop instantly. If you choose to, and if it is still functional, you can just slip the little lever into one of three or four positions so it will stay on without you squeezing the handle."

"But what if I forget?" she asked. "What happens when the tank fills up and the lever is locked in position? Won't gas spill out of the filler hole and go all over the place and my car will catch fire and we'll all be killed???"

"Well, the engineers down at the gas pump nozzle company have designed that worry out of the picture. There is this neat little sensing tube inside the nozzle that detects when the tiniest bit of gasoline backs up inside the filler tube. That's why it's a good idea to insert the nozzle as far as it will go into the tank. When gasoline reaches that point, six or eight inches from overflowing, the sensor instantly shuts the gas flow off - even if you have the handle locked or the lever squeezed. It's automatic! Sometimes the gasoline bubbles up inside the filler neck of the tank and turns the gas flow off prematurely - before the tank is completely filled. If you want to put a bit more gas in the tank, just wait until the bubbles settle down then squeeze the handle again and gas will flow until the gas reaches the sensor once again. "

"I should warn you that this pump nozzle is a mechanical device and sometimes, not very often, but sometimes the sensor doesn't work too well so you should watch and listen. If you hear or see gas bubbling out of the filler neck just release the handle and the flow will stop immediately. You can give a quick squeeze to the handle to see if the tank is full but watch for gas spillage out of the vent pipe near the filler hole. If you see it and the nozzle wants to continue pumping just release the handle. After you have filled up the tank, you can then release the lever, grip the nozzle tightly and withdraw it from the gas tank. Put the nozzle back into the cradle and you're finished. Well almost. Don't forget to pay.""

"Here's a tip - in hot weather, never fill the tank right to the top if you don't plan on using up a few gallons before parking the car in a hot parking lot. The gas is stored in an underground tank and is cold and it warms up in your gas tank causing it to expand. If you haven't used up some of the gasoline and the tank is very full, the expanded gasoline will spill out of the filler neck and onto the ground. If that happens in your driveway you will at a minimum damage your nice blacktop driveway."

"Of course there is a possibility that you only want to put a limited amount of gas in the tank, say five dollars worth. Follow all the same procedures as I have described but keep your eye on the cash meter. When it hits four eighty release the lever and then squeeze it very slightly so that the gas goes in a lot slower. When it gets to four ninety nine release it again. Then give it a quick squeeze and let go and it will stop at five dollars worth. Make sure you have an extra penny or two in case it overruns a bit."

"Speaking of paying, there is another feature offered at some pumps. You can pay by credit card at the pump. You don't even have to go inside and wait for six people to buy pizza or a gallon of milk or a six pack of Michelob. You just push the button next to the "swipe" machine, pass your credit card through the "swiper" and wait until the display tells you to start pumping your own."

The woman thanked me for revealing the mysteries of filling a gas tank. She smiled as she got back into her car and drove away. I smiled too knowing that the next time she needed gas she would not be afraid to try to pump her own.

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