I’ve already written about the folly of trying to save a few cents per gallon when shopping for gas. But did you know there are times when you don’t get exactly what you pay for when you fill up your gasoline tank at the local station? It’s not that the gas stations are doing anything illegal. But they are taking advantage of the laws of physics in a way that permits them to make a little extra money at your expense.
Now, for those of you who regularly ditched your high school physics class, let me give you a quick primer on why this is so.
Gasoline expands when temperatures rise, but the energy content of gasoline is directly related to its weight, not its volume. The end result of this expansion results is less energy per gallon.
Now, it’s absolutely true that gasoline retailers adjust for hotter weather when they buy fuel at the wholesale level. But it’s also true that the very same retailers (at least in the United States), knowingly refuse to make the same warm-weather adjustments when they sell their gasoline to the public on hot days. As a result, consumers end up paying a “hot fuel premium” every summer in the neighborhood of $4 billion.
This tends to get a lot of nerds who actually enjoyed their physics classes really spun up. But should they really be that upset?
There are roughly 340 million people in the United States. Assuming that about half of them drive, the $4 billion hot fuel premium costs each driver about $23 per year. That probably doesn’t amount to even a half tank of gas per year for the average driver. Then again, that ultimately depends on the type of car you drive, and the cost of fuel.
Still, if you want to ensure you avoid the summertime hot fuel premium you can move to Hawaii. That’s because the Aloha State already requires retail stations to install automatic compensation devices on all its gas pumps.
Then again, if moving to Hawaii is either impractical or a non-option, the effects of the hot fuel premium can be minimized by filling up in the early morning when temperatures are coolest.
True, waiting until the outside air temperature is as cool as possible will not result in any significant gasoline savings. But at least you can be assured when you pull up to the pump you’ll get what you paid for.
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