Ethics at the gas pump

If you know the price of a gallon of gasoline at a pump is wrong — it’s too low — do you pump and run or do you tell the clerk that it’s wrong?

If it sounds familiar, you’ve probably been reading News Cut since we started it in 2007 because one of the first posts was about a gas station near Rhinelander, Wisconsin where the pump price was set at $.33, instead of $3.29. Let’s just say that a lot of Wisconsinites did not distinguish themselves.

It’s happened again, this time in California. A gas station operator incorrectly inputted the price into the computer, and the pump defaulted to $1.10 a gallon. People lined up quickly at the Los Angeles gas station and the operator lost $21,000.

The owner says he hopes people will come back and pay him the real price.

What would you do?

The price at the gas pump is wrong. Do you pump and run or tell the clerk it’s wrong?online surveys

  • bsimon

    I would like to think I would tell the seller they’re way below market. But since I typically pay at the pump odds are high I would not bother to go inside.

    And while it shouldn’t affect my behavior, I wonder if the owner has ever erred on the other side & spent time tracking down customers he accidentally overcharged?

  • Shane

    I agree with bsimon. I think I would go tell the owner because I know my conscience wouldn’t let me just leave. Also, I’ve found in prior experiences like this one that the owners are usually grateful for the heads up and will let you leave without paying the remainder.

  • Rick


    The other side of that is, if the price was too high on the pump, how long do you think it would be before the person at the cash register would have 10 angry people demanding their money back.

    Having worked at a gas station, if it is a few cents off, I would leave it be, they may have adjusted the price, but not the sign yet. If it is dramatic, I would go in prior to pumping and confirm that it is supposed to be $.33. Who knows, maybe the owner might wait till you are done to change it back 🙂

  • JackU

    While I have some sympathy for the gas station operator in the story, the “real” price is what his equipment charged. Since the attendant on duty was staffing the convenience store, I’m guessing that the pumps are all “pay at the pump”. If that’s the case he has made a business decision to be able to staff his store with fewer people. Since the $21,000 he lost is more than a part-time worker at minimum wage (16 hrs/week x 52 weeks/year x $8/hr = $6,656/year) maybe he should consider an extra pair of eyes at the station on the weekends during busy times.