Pumping Gas

Volume 11, Issue 26; 25 Feb 2008; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Do step A then step B. Or, there's a bug in that pump. Or, pump gas FAIL.

On the way to the airport this morning, I stopped to get gas. Most stations are self-service these days and the procedure is always about the same: swipe card, select grade, pump gas, collect receipt.

Except, I'm in a hurry this morning, so I'm prefetching. I swiped my card and immediately selected a grade while it was still authorizing my card, then turned to get my gas cap off.

Once the card was authorized, the pump asked me to…select a grade.

No amount of pushing, pressing, or mashing the selected grade button had any effect. Clearly two software systems in that pump had experienced a communications breakdown. After I swiped my card, the “grade selection” buttons were all illuminated and flashing. After I pushed one, it stopped flashing and remained illuminated while the others went out. So that part was working. But some other part didn't.

From this, I learned that if you ignore the beeping “select grade” prompt for about 30 seconds, the pump resets itself. And I learned to follow the instructions with more deliberate care.

I'm sure I've selected the grade during authorization at other pumps, I'll have to try filling my tank again on the way home to see if the condition is reproducible.


"I'm sure I've selected the grade during authorization at other pumps[...]."

Ah, but that's the trick. Presumably the pumps are all roughly similar, maybe even very close in terms of physical appearance and functionality, but it's the subtleties that will get you every time.

I haven't noticed an issue with gasoline pumps (probably because we almost always go to the same station), but I get caught out all the time by the various credit card machines at grocery and other stores, some of which need a signature, some of which want you to press a large, obvious OK button, some of which want you to press a tiny button up near the screen, and so on.

Also fun -- self-checkout systems! A grocery store and a hardware store we shop at have the very same model of machine. But one wants your ZIP code (which is easy as pretty much everyone knows that off the top of their head), whereas the other wants the last four digits of your credit card, which, of course, you probably just swiped and then put away....

—Posted by Claire on 03 Mar 2008 @ 06:26 UTC #