How much cash am I supposed to prepay at gas station in the US?

  • In the US (and probably Canada as well), it is possible to pay at a gas station either with a credit card often with a fee (in the US) or cash. If I pay cash, gas stations often require to prepay for the gas.

    However, I always wonder how much I should prepay. I suppose that people owning a car know how much filling the tank is worth. But I do not own a car and sometimes rent a car to visit the US, and each car has different fuel consumption. I usually estimate how much 100km is worth in terms of fuel and prepay close to the estimated amount and it just works.

    But what is the expected behaviour? Am I supposed not to fill my tank entirely every time? Can I prepay a large amount and ask for the difference between what I prepaid and what I filled? Could I pay a way larger amount when i don't know (when the oil price is low, prepaying 40 or 60 USD might be seen as way too much). This question might sound a bit weird or obvious to some, but every time I rent a car I am wondering what the etiquette is.

    If you prepay and it turns out you prepaid way too much, you might feel a bit silly, but no harm is done and you're not being rude. It isn't really any more work for the cashier to give you $38.40 in change than $1.37.

    Don't feel silly, I never know the answer to this question when I find a station like this (e.g. doesn't take credit cards and have to prepay).

    This is so strange, in europe you pay after you fill the tank so you know how much to pay!

    @AndreasBonini It used to be like that in the United States as well but I guess too many people would fill up their tank, then just drive away and not pay. So now most places in the US make you pay first. I just use my bank debit card and there are no fees.

    @AndreasBonini Here in the Netherlands there are also gas stations where you enter your PIN code upfront, and the precise amount is determined after you finish. You don't need to do anything else.

    Also if you're from out of the US the card machines built in to the pumps don't always work. We had them demand not a pin but a zip code, and our post codes are alphanumeric and not recognised anyway.

    @ChrisH: I have used a Canadian Visa card at many gas stations in many states in the US. All you have to do when required to enter the zip code, is to use the three numbers from your postal code, followed by two zeroes.

    @AndreasBonini: I definitely remember gas stations in Belgium where it was not possible to start the pump without prepaying. So I wouldn't say "in Europe" with that ease.

    @MartinArgerami I can't remember whether that was on the list of workarounds we had. None of them worked though (all zeroes, just the digits from the postcode etc.)

    Some gas stations, especially at night limit the cash on hand and regularly transfer the cash to a time locked safe. If they put the cash in the safe immediately after prepaying, and you way over estimated, they may not be able to give you the change.

    @StrongBad Is this a hypothetical or did this happen? I would expect that the cashier would put the money aside and not in a safe or the register, to prevent an argument where the customer says he gave a 20 and the cashier a 10.

    @Andy more of a question/comment. I don't know what they do with the cash.

    @Andy: The usual way to avoid such arguments is to give the customer a receipt for the amount they prepaid, at which point there is no problem with putting the money in the register.

  • So, you should prepay for however much gas you intend to buy. In most cases, you'll probably want to either fill the gas tank, or just buy an amount of gas that corresponds to a nice round dollar amount like 20 dollars, to make the transaction quick and easy.

    If you want to top off the tank, just prepay for an amount that you know exceeds the amount required to fill it, and then request change after the tank is topped off.

    As to determining the amount required to fill the tank, well, you can generally guesstimate that with a fair degree of confidence just by looking at the gas gauge in your car. If it's at the halfway mark, you have room for half a tank of gas. The vast majority of cars in the US have gas tanks with a capacity between 12 and 20 gallons. (You'll see still higher capacities on trucks and SUV's). While you can get the exact number by checking the owners manual (on a rental, this can usually be found in the glove compartment), you can also figure this out pretty quickly the first time you fill up the car when it's low on gas. After that, it's a simple matter of multiplication of the gas price, times your (rough estimate) of the number of empty gallons you need filled. It's helpful to overestimate in this case, as, again, you can easily ask for change.

    the size of your gas tank depends heavily on what kind of car you have; 12-15 gallons is right for compact cars, but sedans often have ~20 and SUVs ~30.

    Whoa, tanks are that big? My Honda Accord holds ~17 gallons and it feels huge. My wife's Hyundai Accent is ~11 gallons.

    @MooingDuck Ford Bronco is the first example I can think of. My uncle's Bronco had 2 11-gallon tanks and a 13-gallon tank, but that 3rd tank wasn't stock. Others I've seen have tanks ranging up to 33 gallons based on a quick Google search.

    Until I bought my Scion, every car (SUV) I'd owned had a 20+ gallon tank

    In my experience, actually, when the gas gauge is at the halfway mark, you've got closer to 1/3 of a tank left, not 1/2.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM