"Help, I've Been Ripped Off By A Gas Station!"

Reader Dave thinks he’s been purposefully ripped off by a gas station in CT:

Just wanted to let some of the folks living in or traveling in Southeast CT to avoid any of the Sunoco Stations that are owned by “Chucky’s”.

My wife and I stopped at the Sunoco that is located on Route 1 in Stonington the other night, because they had their lighted sign showing a price of $3.35 a gallon for premium fuel. It was night time and we did not notice until we were halfway thru pumping that the digital readout on the pump read $3.47 a gallon, which is obviously $.12 cents a gallon different.

When we went to complain to the person in the Kiosk, we encountered a very belligerent clerk who basically tried to tell us he knew nothing about the price that was on the huge, lighted sign.

Just another example of someone price gouging, but with definitive, and pre-calculated actions to insure he can rip off the most number of people possible.

We will never purchase anything from any of the gas stations owned by the “Chucky’s” group again!!!

Thanks

Dave

Not to discourage you from patronizing another gas station, but you might want to consider reporting the station to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. They have a hotline set up for complaints like yours.

Governor Rell’s Gasoline Price Hotline: 1-800-842-2649.

If you suspect shenanigans are going on, don’t just write to us! Tell the people who can really do something about it.

Energy Information [DCP]
(Photo:Ryan McFarland)

Comments

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  1. Alexander says:

    Sucks. Wasn’t there an article here on Consumerist last year about this practice? The article stated that gas stations in certain parts are allowed to post lower prices as long as at least one pump in the station does dispense gas at that price. The other pumps can dispense gas at higher prices. What a horrible practice.

  2. snoop-blog says:

    wish i could afford premium gas. i just end up getting bad gas.

  3. bigdirty says:

    Did the big lit sign say “Cash” in some small fine print? There’s some stations in Northern NJ that try to pull stuff like that, only displaying the cash price on the board, and have an inordinately jacked up price for paying with a credit card. I tend to avoid places like that, but legally, they can get away with raping you if this is the case.

  4. RogueSophist says:

    Sounds more like an accidental bait-and-switch to me. The price displayed on the pump was correct. Dave didn’t read it. That said, reporting it to the hotline is the right thing to do. At the very least the station will be pressured to get the prices right on the giant, glowing sign. Also consider writing a letter to the company regarding the rude clerk.

  5. Moosehawk says:

    @bigdirty: I’ve only seen one station like that here in Minnesota. The one time I saw it I was tricked by it.

    I was thinking the same thing for this story.

  6. Jon Mason says:

    @bigdirty: Yeah, on the way to Florida once we got stung by a place like that – but was the only gas station around so we had no choice. It sucks that the big highway sign was misleading, but was clearly stated on the actual pump and I decided to buy it anyway, so don’t think of it as a scam, just a “gotcha” piece of misleading advertising – however so many people these days don’t read things like that and then get pissed about it. When we went inside the station to get snacks, some guy was giving the clerk shit about it like he didnt know he was going to be charged extra – and I just wanted to punch him and tell him THERES A SIGN ON THE PUMP DOUCHEBAG.

    /that was in my case – this looks like a different situation.

  7. pepe prawn says:

    i wouldn’t go as far as calling it gouging. it’s possible that the attendant forgot to change the value on the large sign. and you should *always* check what the price at the pump is… because that’s what you’ll be paying.

  8. Maniacmous says:

    You have to be careful with Sunoco stations – they tend to list only 3 fuel types on the sign (Reg, Plus, Premium) – but they offer 4 – the other being their Ultra 94 octane. If you selected the highest octane by mistake, you would have paid an extra 10-12 cents (as you would by going up between the other grades) for that one extra octane point, made the mistake myself once.

  9. SkittleKicks says:

    @bigdirty: That happens here in Florida, too – at Sunoco, no less. Big sign saying “2.98/gal” and in tiny letters that take more investiagting than you can do at 45 mph, it says “CASH.”

  10. bdgbill says:

    Assuming the poster has an average size car and the tank was nearly empty, the total cost of this “rip off” is about $1.80.

    Take a breath…it was probably a mistake.

    Your better off clipping grocery coupons than trying to save money by shopping around for cheaper gas.

    I always make fun of my boss because he will wait in line for 10 minutes to buy gas at Cosco to save a grand total of 30-40 cents on a tank of gas.

    I choose my gas stations based on the english speaking skills of it’s employees.

  11. MBZ321 says:

    There is a new tricky “scam” new stations are doing. I filled up at a Lukoil (they took over Mobil in the northeast..and are still way overpriced, but I was below E) station and was almost fooled. On most stations, Regular is on the left, and the grades increase to the right. Not at Lukoil…they have the buttons reversed! I was a split second away from hitting the premium button! Not fully the stations’ fault of course, and actually, quite clever IMO. I wonder how many people hit premium when they really want regular.

  12. swalve says:

    @bdgbill: No kidding. People get entirely too bent out of shape about gas prices. What’s next, complaining about rounding errors?

    But I choose my gas stations on whether I get a good value on my money. Crap gas is not a savings. I don’t care what language the register people speak, as long as they can count.

  13. bdgbill says:

    @SkittleKicks:

    These are probably old signs. Visa and Mastercard will not give a merchant account to any business that charges different rates for cash vs. credit. This is why Arco (CA, NV) does not accept credit cards.

    In many cases (especially with AMEX) the percentage of the sale that the gas station has to pay to the credit card company is greater than their margin on the gasoline. This means if you fill up, pay with an Amex card and buy nothing else in the store, the station loses money on the transaction.

  14. swalve says:

    @MBZ321: Silly me, I never took the time to memorize what order the nozzles are in. I usually look for the GIANT 87, 89 or 93 on the pump.

  15. balthisar says:

    @bdgbill: Actually, they are allowed to give discounts for cash, but they’re still violating the contract because they’re supposed to advertise the non-discounted price.

    Here in Michigan, I think it’s illegal, since no one does it. I used to see it all the time in Indiana, though (and properly advertised).

    Here’s something: if you don’t like the price discrimination for credit cards, and you have time time on your hands, fill up a gallon at a time. Aside from the credit card commission, there’s also a flat rate for each transaction. Then you’ll definitely be costing the station money.

  16. Geoff says:

    @MBZ321: I’ve been to maybe 2 gas stations in my life that have the same order of the nozzles. Even the same company. It depends on the brand of pump (which is actually a dispenser… the pump is underground).

    The mismatched prices were probably an accident, but it’s still not right. My dad owns a gas station (almost 30 years) and when he changes prices, he changes the sign first if the price is going up. That way, if you see $3.19 on the sign and the pump says $3.10, no one would complain.

    There are some unscrupulous owners out there, but for the most part, they’re all good guys getting fucked by the gas prices more than we are.

  17. mgyqmb says:

    Do you work for Verizon?
    “$.12 cents”

  18. bdgbill says:

    @swalve:

    “Bad Gas” is mostly an urban legend. There are very few refineries in the US (this is one of the biggest reasons gas is so expensive) and all the stations pretty much get their gas from the same place.

    The terminals where the tanker trucks fill up are setup just like giant gas stations. You will see Mobil, Shell, BP etc tankers all waiting in the same line.

    The tankers all fill up from the same source, then the drivers climb to top of the truck and dump a can of that paticular brands additives and detergents into the tank. These additives only have an effect on your car after years of prolonged use. Many of them do nothing at all.

    Years ago there were old stations with leaky underground tanks that may have had water in their gas but every station in the country was forced to install new tanks by 1998.

    Other than that, you just want to try to avoid very slow stations that may have old gas.

  19. NightSteel says:

    I don’t believe there’s a law against posting a cash price and then charging a different price for plastic, BUT, I know at least Visa has merchant rules that define very specifically in what circumstances a merchant is allowed to charge a different price for using a credit card: [usa.visa.com]

    Look at the document’s page 10 (the pdf’s page 15). It says, ‘…you may not impose any surcharge on a Visa transaction. You may, however, offer a discount for cash transactions, provided that the offer is clearly disclosed to customers and the cash price is presented as a discount from the standard price charged for all other forms of payment.’

    Now, what Visa defines as compliant with those terms might be different from what you or I would think is compliant, but it sure seems to me like the lower price is NOT being presented as a discount in this case.

    Further, it says that convenience fees for ‘alternate payment channels’, meaning plastic, are allowable, but one of the stipulations of charging a convenience fee is: ‘must be a flat or fixed amount, regardless of the amount of the payment due.’ A per-gallon charge does not fall under this definition of a convenience fee.

    In short, if these gas stations take Visa cards, complain to Visa. If Visa decides that their pricing scheme doesn’t comply with the rules, they will force the merchant to change it on pain of losing the ability to process Visa cards.

    I don’t have any other credit cards myself, but I imagine the other major card services providers have similar merchant rules.

  20. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @bdgbill: You wrote, “These additives only have an effect on your car after years of prolonged use.”

    Au contraire, my friend. I had a Toyota that I drove for four years on the cheapest gas I could find in my neighborhood, based on the “knowledge” that all the gas came from the same refineries and that the additives were nothing but reasons to charge more. Then my car started to act weird, like it badly needed a tuneup. I took it to my mechanic, who listened to me and the car for a few minutes, then told me to give it nothing but Chevron gas from then on. Regular, premium, didn’t matter, so long as it was Chevron. Sent me on my way with a smile and a “No charge.”

    After just three or four tanks of the new Chevron formulation, my car started to lose the hesitations and weird noises, and within a few months was back to normal.

    I don’t work for Chevron. My mechanic doesn’t even work for Chevron. His associated service station is an Exxon.

  21. kc2idf says:

    @bigdirty:

    Did the big lit sign say “Cash” in some small fine print? There’s some stations in Northern NJ that try to pull stuff like that, only displaying the cash price on the board, and have an inordinately jacked up price for paying with a credit card. I tend to avoid places like that, but legally, they can get away with raping you if this is the case.

    Legally, perhaps, however, to my understanding, merchants are prohibited by their agreements with the major credit cards from price discrimination that favours cash customers.

  22. TheSeeker says:

    Don’t waste money on high octane gas unless your auto manufacturer recommends it.

    The idea that higher octane gas = more power is a complete myth that is spread by oil companies looking to sell you a more expensive product. They do it with their advertising and by giving the high octane fuels decieving names like Shell’s ‘V-Power’.

    The reality is, high octane gas has less potential energy than 87 gas because it contains proportionally less gas (energy) and more octane (filler). The sole purpose of octane is to make it harder to ignite the gas, which is required in some high performance engines with their crazy compression ratio’s etc because the gas can ignite too early and damage the engine. It is not some highly explosive additive that creates a bigger bang. You will get peak performance by using the lowest octane rating you can get away with. If you go too low then your fuel may start to pre-ignite (aka ‘ping’) which is very hard on your engine because the air/fuel mix ignites while the piston is still on it’s way up which can blow a hole through your piston. The only performance advantage of high octane gas is that it saves weight by lightening your pockets.

    Actually, the only advantage of premium fuels is that some high octane fuels also contain additional additives to keep your engine cleaner. I don’t know which high octane fuels do and which don’t and realistically this a very minor issue but this is the only logical reason people can give for using higher octane gas when it’s not required by the manufacturer.

    To sum it up: Some fast vehicles need high octane fuels but the high octane fuels aren’t what makes them fast. High octane fuels are just required to keep these cars from blowing up.

  23. arch05 says:

    @bdgbill: “english skills of it’s employees.”

    you gave me a good laugh there.

  24. pegr says:

    This happened to me (the posted prive was lower than the pump price). The cashier didn’t want to do anything about the 90 cents I was ripped off, so I grabbed a couple of candy bars and announced that they should cover the difference and walked out.

    I was hoping they would call the cops so I would have somebody to give my side of the story to, but they didn’t.

  25. Jean Naimard says:

    * The article stated that gas stations in certain parts are allowed to
    * post lower prices as long as at least one pump in the station does
    * dispense gas at that price. The other pumps can dispense gas
    * at higher prices. What a horrible practice.

    What is amazing is that the American public will put-up with laws that **SPECIFICALLY** allow businesses to blatanly screw people.

  26. BlondeGrlz says:

    Our Chucky’s (about 30 minutes from the one this guy is talking about) still has the cheapest gas in town. I try not to fill up in CT at all, since the price in Mass is 10-20 cents lower.

  27. swalve says:

    @bdgbill: The additives are what I’m talking about. And you know what? There’s a reason the local “Happy Power” generic station is cheaper, and that’s because they’re not getting fresh fuel to begin with. It smells different and drives different.

  28. MercuryPDX says:

    @swalve: and at the same time, I make a note of the price on the pump above each, because who knows how difficult it is to change the sign to the right price?

  29. getjustin says:

    @MBZ321: I think buttons not being in order is the norm. Just take a quick peek.

    Sure the sign was wrong, but you’re out what? $2? Call the manager and tell them you’ll never be back and be done with it. Look next time.

  30. psm321 says:

    @balthisar: I’ve seen a gas station in Michigan (admittedly only one) with different cash and credit prices, though both were very clearly marked on the giant numbers sign.

  31. Curiosity says:

    Obviously, this is when a camera (/phone) comes in handy along with a receipt. In some states the weights and measures department or the attorney general would be very interested in this.

  32. @MBZ321: I did that once, but in reverse – the car drove like total crap for about two weeks! I pay VERY close attention to what I’m doing now :)

  33. bohemian says:

    We caught the BP station by our place doing this. I went in to pay because the card swipe wasn’t working and pointed it out. The manager told me not to worry about it. I mentioned that I was pretty sure it was illegal then she mumbled something about changing the sign. They can get in trouble, some stations were fined for not having the output match the pump reading.

    We just decided it was better to quit doing business with them. But this wasn’t the only issue the place was having either.

  34. stubblyhead says:

    @bdgbill: Regardless of the rules, it’s a frequent practice for a merchant to charge a different price for cash customers than credit customers. There were a couple of gas stations in Seattle I used to drive by that had their cash price listed quite clearly on their signs; I think the credit rate was only about 5 cents more per gallon. I understand that when Visa or MC gets a complaint about different cash rates, the conversation goes something like this:
    “Hi, this is Visa calling, we have had reports of you charging a different price for cash customers. You’re not allowed to do that.”
    “Yeah, we’ll get right on that… *click*”

  35. Trauma_Hound says:

    You know, you could have just taken a picture, or video to prove it. I believe that’s fraud. And do like the editor said and called that hotline. I’d go one further and take the video to a local tv station.

  36. BlondeGrlz says:

    @Curiosity: Especially here in Connecticut, Blumenthal LOVES this kind of thing.

  37. snoop-blog says:

    @TheSeeker: sorry but you are wrong. if you were into racing motors, you would know that the higher the octane, the hotter it burns, and in return the increased performance. sure were only talking a small number in horsepower, but if you drive a muscle car, or sports car, you will notice a difference in what gas you put in your vehicle. hesitation is one of the biggest problems low octane gas can cause. there is a gas station in my town that sells 96 octane.

    oh and gas mileage DOES increase slightly with premium gasses.

  38. bdgbill says:

    @snoop-blog:

    Sorry but you are wrong. Octane is and indication of gasolines resistance to detonation. Detonation (or knocking) is the gas vapor exploding on it’s own before the spark plug lights. This causes the engine to work against itself.

    High performance engines have higher compression ratios than normal engines. High compression causes detonation. This is why high performance engines require high octane fuel. Detonation will eventually destroy an engine.

    Any car that is free of detonation on regular gas will not run any better, will not generate any additional power and will not operate any more efficiently on premium gas.

    Pouring premium gas into a Toyota Corolla is a complete waste of money and is probably only done by NASCAR fans.

  39. riverstyxxx says:

    Sane Route:
    Get out your calculator and add the total up manually. Pay that money, IN CASH. If he can speak and understand english, tell him to eat the difference and learn how to run a business. Then leave.

    Extremity Route:
    Take off without paying.
    The rule is that you pay the advertised price. End of story. Get out your cellphone and take a picture of the gauge on the tank, then a price of the sign. Then leave. If anything happens, claim false advertisement. The issue won’t go any further then that.

  40. sketchy says:

    Most fuel pumps I have seen have a disclaimer which indicates that if there is any discrepancy in price between the pump and anywhere else (signage, register, etc…) the pump price shall be considered correct.

    I would say this is an open and shut case of ‘caveat emptor’, and to those people who feel that stealing some candy bars or an entire tank of fuel is a right and just compensation for their own inability to read, consider that you are not just stealing from the gas station, but from every person who fills up after you and has to pay more to cover your pilferage.

  41. balthisar says:

    @TheSeeker: @snoop-blog: @bdgbill:
    If you have a car that’s designed for premium gas, but you can use it with regular gas anyway, it’s because you have a knock sensor. The engine management system with therefore retard your ignition timing to prevent knock, and you end up getting worse mileage with the cheap gas than you do with the gas your car is designed for. In the end, it’s all the compression ratio, as TheSeeker initially said.

  42. jarchie219 says:

    Here in suburban Chicago the scam is to post a low price, and add in small letters “with wash”.

  43. majortom1981 says:

    bdgbill so if you live in a state where ethanol is in the gas getting one grade up in gas wont help?(serious question) I get 5 mpg lower in ny then if I were to take an out of state trip to a state that doesnt put ethanol in their gas.

  44. ninjatales says:

    Bumped into a gas station in Orlando Florida on OBT near the Orlando Mall that only gave you the advertised gas rate if you paid in cash. And it wasn’t written anywhere on the outside.

  45. drjayphd says:

    @jarchie219: The only stations I’ve seen in CT that do that clearly state that it’s with a wash, and also the higher, unwashed price. Then again, the only one I can think of offhand is in Torrington, so it’s possible that stations within an hour of civilization (;)) do otherwise.

    And seeing the difference in price between CT and MA stations was a bit of a shock. Any chance it’s the same deal with CT and RI? Stonington’s right there, although maybe Chucky’s just enjoys screwing the troops (Groton being nearby as well and all)…

  46. TangDrinker says:

    “Very belligerent clerk”…. welcome to the armpit of New England, where customer service does not exist.

    But the AG (Blumenthal) is awesome. I’d advise sending him a letter about this.

    I grew up in this area – and when we tried to rent some tables and chairs from a rental place for our wedding reception picnic at the beach in 2001, the local owner said “we don’t take credit cards or checks from people not local.” Checks, I could understand. Citibank Visa? I was too annoyed to bother calling Visa on them, and fortunately, my dad, a “local” picked up the tab for us.

    It’s no surprise the educated youth are fleeing CT (esp this part) in droves.

  47. sarabadara says:

    I’m very sensitve to these gas-station stories. I spent my college years working as a gas-station clerk, so I’ve finally got something to say. This happened to me several times when I was working. Sometimes it was my mistake and I’d simply take off the overcharged amount and reset the pumps, as would any co-workers or managers who I worked with. Other times it was the customer’s mistake or misunderstanding, in which case there was nothing I could do about it.
    People are so angry about gas prices that they get extremely irate immediately and don’t give the (minimum wage) clerk a chance. I understand, really, it sucks.
    Maybe Dave truly got screwed (it does happen), but maybe he treated the clerk like a douche, and the guy’s so fed up with people bitching at him that he responds like a douche in return. I can relate.

  48. coan_net says:

    Without pictures of the sign and more information, I can see a few things that caused this.

    1. Station is ripping you off.

    2. Price on sign is “with cash” or “with wash” – a lower price if you pay with cash, or getting something like a car wash.

    3. The price on the sign was for “Plus”, but at the pump, you picked “Premium” instead – which is 1 step pricer then “Plus”. As a side note, the local Casey’s general stores (gas station) will sale their “plus” for cheaper then their regular – but since many people automatically pick “regular” when they start to pump, they make a little more.

    Anyway, pictures and/or more information is needed before knowing if this person was ripped off or just did not pay attention.

  49. forgottenpassword says:

    @bigdirty:

    Oh man, I hate gas stations that attempt to mislead you into buying something you are not. Its hard to be completely & constantly vigilant against such things.

    One thing I have noticed around here…. is that some gas station owners purposefully have their “cheap, midrange , premium” gas pump displays switched around to where it is “premium, cheap, midrange” …. making it to where if you arent paying close attention … you end up picking expensive premium gas thinking it was the cheap gas. Also they have their big signs in the regular order from cheap to premium”.

    Sneaky SOBs!

  50. edwardso says:

    @riverstyxxx: The person taking your money at the gas station is probably not running the business. And in many states not paying for your gas can get your license revoked

  51. forgottenpassword says:

    @bdgbill:

    There are still plenty of shitty gas stations that have leaky tanks. Around here…. pakistani families buy them up because they are cheap, then what eventually happens is someone’s engine gets completely ruined by water in the gas & it hits the news BIG time & the gas station (& the owner) is raked over the coals.

  52. Tank says:

    i thought it was illegal to charge a cash price and a credit price – the price is the price, and the discount the station pays to the credit card company is part of the cost of doing business.

  53. nonzenze says:

    “Any car that is free of detonation on regular gas will not run any better, will not generate any additional power and will not operate any more efficiently on premium gas.”

    No, most sporty cars (even those rated for 87) will advance the timings until doing so does not result in knocking. It’s a horribly expensive way to add 1/2 HP (at the very most) but it’s certainly non-negligible. Try it out for yourself on the dyno someday. . .

  54. bhall03 says:

    @mgyqmb: I am so glad I am not the only person who had this thought while reading Dave’s story.

  55. NellStreit says:

    I am a senior on a limited income, so a “few cents” per gallon is important to me. The huge sign that said $3.99 was cheaper than many others in the area. I had seen it reading that amount for several days. I gave the clerk $20 and went to pump my gas. Just as I was about to turn on the pump, I noticed the small amount on the pump read $4.09 per gallon. No there was no difference in cost if you paid cash (which I did) I went back inside where the clerk seem/acted bewildered at my problem. She had to ask another employee what to do. No one was apologetic about how I would have been overcharged had I started pumping. No one seemed interested in correcting the error for me or the rest of the customers. No one was moving in any direction to do anything about the situation. In fact the second clerk seemed annoyed that she was interupted from stacking the candy bars. When I told them I was not going to pay $.10 more per gallon than the price on the sign, she gave me the price difference of what it would be if the pump reflected the same price. Now…why all the fuss? The price brought many people into their station. At $.10 per gallon for several days and sold to how many people (maybe hundreds?) would amount to a lot of money for them. Perhaps all their pumps were wrong and they have a lot of pumps. Even the big rigs stop there for refueling. A mistake? I highly doubt it? People are usually embarrassed or sorry if they make a mistake and they usually try and fix it. They just seemed annoyed. I told the next customer who pulled in while I was getting my gas what happened so she could check her side of the pump.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Dave is not the only one to find rude jerks at Chucky’s.Try the third shift mgr at Chucky’s,School st.Putnam,CT. “Gary” would rather be on his cell phone flirting than doing his customers any favors. HIs breath smells like a distillery on a good day.Doesn’t Chucky’s fire anybody?