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Service Station FAQs

How many service stations are there in the United States?

The NACS, the association for convenience and fuel retailing, reports that there are more than 145,000 fueling stations across the United States. 127,588 of these stations are convenience stores selling fuel. The rest are gas-only stations, grocery stores selling fuel, marinas, etc.    

Do the major oil companies own all the service stations in this country?

No. According to the latest information, the refiners own less than 5% of the 145,000 retail stations. When a station bears a particular refiner’s brand, it does not mean that the refiner owns or operates the station. The vast majority of branded stations are owned and operated by independent retailers licensed to represent that brand. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), more than 60% of the retail stations in the US are owned by an individual or family that owns a single store. Through various branding agreements, approximately 36% of the retail stations in the US sell fuel under API members’ brands. See U.S. Service Station Outlets Summary.

Who owns the rest of the stations?

Independent owners. They may own just one station, or they could own several stations, or they could own hundreds of stations.

Can these independent owners also sell the major brands of gasoline?

Yes. Independents and jobbers can sell gasoline under the brand of one major company or multiple major companies, as well as have their own brand of fuel.

Why is the price of gasoline so much higher in other countries?

Many countries assess higher tax rates and use the revenue for their general fund budget. For example, ten countries in Europe, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom assess more than $3 in taxes on every gallon of gasoline, according to the Tax Foundation.

What’s the single best thing I can do to save gasoline?

Combine trips. Plan well and be sensible about how much you drive. Conserve by avoiding unnecessary trips, combining errands, and carpooling.

When I am behind the wheel, how can I get more miles per gallon?

Accelerate smoothly. Jackrabbit starts consume twice the fuel as gradual starts. Also, pace your driving. Staying at a constant speed is better than continuously speeding up and slowing down. Slow down. The faster you drive, the more gasoline your car uses. Driving at 65 miles per hour instead of 55 miles per hour reduces fuel economy by about two miles per gallon.

Besides changing driving habits, what can I do to improve vehicle fuel efficiency?

Maintain your vehicle. Have your car tuned regularly, keep air filters clean, and make sure tires are properly inflated. An engine tune-up can improve car fuel economy by an average of one mile per gallon; under-inflated tires can reduce it by that amount. Don’t warm up your car for too long on cold mornings. Experts say that your car only needs a 30 second warm-up before you can start driving in winter. Cool your car responsibly on hot days. Less use of your air conditioner can improve fuel economy by as much as two miles per gallon, but today’s air conditioners create less drag on your engine than driving with the windows down. Also, you should clean out your car—not only will it make it look nicer, but reducing weight can increase fuel efficiency. 

Does it make a difference what car I drive?

More fuel-efficient vehicles can save gasoline. A highly fuel-efficient vehicle could potentially cut gasoline use in half or more. How much depends on the vehicle and driving habits and needs. If a less fuel-efficient car requires 20 gallons of gasoline a week compared with 10 gallons for a highly fuel-efficient vehicle, more than 500 gallons of gasoline could be saved annually.

What about ethanol?

Ethanol contains less energy per gallon than gasoline. According to the Energy Information Administration, the energy content of ethanol is about 33% less than pure gasoline. Most gasoline contains about 10% ethanol, but some higher blends can be problematic for engines and potentially void your warranty. Be sure to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual before filling up.

Can I avoid fuel evaporation and loss by keeping my tank almost full?

It shouldn't be a concern. Technical changes to vehicle fuel systems have virtually eliminated fuel evaporation losses.

Does it help to fill up in the morning when fuel is cool?

Very little. While it’s true that gasoline expands as it gets hotter (reducing the energy content in a given volume), the expansion is only about one percent for every 15 degrees F. Moreover, storage tanks at gasoline stations are buried several feet underground, helping to insulate fuel and keep temperature relatively constant. The benefits, if any, of filling up in the morning versus the evening would be hard to notice.

How much tax do we pay on a gallon of gasoline?

Federal, state, and local government taxes also contribute to the retail price of gasoline. The federal excise tax is currently 18.3¢ per gallon, and there is an additional Leaking Underground Storage Tank fee of 0.1¢ per gallon. As of July 1, 2017, state taxes on gasoline, including state and local government taxes and fees, averaged 27.3¢ per gallon. County and city taxes can have a significant impact on the price of gasoline in some locations. See the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Gasoline Explained: Factors Affecting Gasoline Prices.

What Does the Government Do with the Money?

Traditionally the bulk of the money is used for building and repairing road and bridges.

Do most customers pump their own gasoline?

Yes. The first self-serve station opened in 1947 in California. Self-serve really grew in popularity in the 1970s. By 1993, the most recent year for which data are available, self-serve accounted for 88 percent of all sales in states where it was legal.

Why are prices posted in fractions?

The idea of posting the prices in fractions began back in the 1930s, when "discount" service stations opened and owners promoted their price on their signs out front. To emphasize the discount, these independents priced their product in fractions, sometimes at 1/2 cent intervals, but often at 9/10.

May you pump your own gas in all 50 states?

No. New Jersey and Oregon have laws that allow only an attendant to pump gasoline. Customers in all other 48 states may pump their own gasoline.

I see gasoline trucks traveling on the road daily. Are they delivering product right from the refinery?

Sometimes, but most often they are delivering fuel to a service station from a bulk terminal that has been supplied by pipeline or marine terminal. As of January 1, 2017, there are 137 refineries operating in the United States. From the refineries, the products are transported to the terminals by barge, truck or pipeline. The majority of the product is moved by underground pipelines and stored in large above-ground storage tanks at 1,303 locations around the country. These locations are called terminals. Transport trucks, especially designed to safely carry petroleum products, pick up product at the terminal and deliver it to the underground storage tanks at service stations.

When was the first service station established?

API’s historical files note that the first "filling" station was opened in Seattle in 1907 by Standard Oil of California, which is now Chevron Co. USA. The "filling" station included a hose that dispensed gasoline directly into the vehicle from an elevated tank. Charles Duryea had invented the gasoline-powered horseless carriage in 1893, but there were few owners in those early years. They purchased gasoline from bulk depots, often in five gallon containers. The industry was transformed in 1908 when Henry Ford mass- produced the first Model T, and many retail locations began selling gasoline at the curb. The first "drive-in" service station opened on December 1, 1913 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I sometimes notice stations closing temporarily and digging up the site. What were they doing?

They were likely making improvements to protect the environment, especially against potential leaks from underground storage tanks. By law, older tanks had to be replaced, but newer tanks can be "upgraded" to include improved leak detection systems and protection against future corrosion.

Does this apply only to service stations?

No, the law covers all underground tanks containing petroleum products. Police department, school districts, automobile dealers and many other facilities have underground storage tanks on their property. The only exemptions are farm or residential tanks of 1,100 gallons or less capacity; and residential commercial or industrial heating oil tanks used for consumptive use on the premise where the heating oil is stored.

How do I get more information on this requirement?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Underground Storage Tanks has produced a number of documents explaining the requirements.

How long has this law been on the books?

Congress passed Subtitle I of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1984, which required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a comprehensive program to protect, detect and correct releases from underground storage tanks. The EPA Office of Underground Tanks was organized to develop the technical standards, and those regulations were issue 4 in September 1988. The low provided for a 10-year phase-in of the requirement, so the work had to be completed by December 1998. The EPA published revised Underground Storage Tank Regulations in 2015.

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