By on November 7, 2009

No clip joint here. (courtesy

I have no idea when someone somewhere decided that there was some kind of safety problem with gas pumps offering a locking clip at the end of the nozzle. You know, the little metal doo-hickey that lets you take your hand off the pump while the car fills with gas, then kicks back to let you know it’s done. I suppose someone somewhere experienced a clip failure. I imagine gas poured onto the ground. I have a hard time believing that the result was a lethal conflagration, but a million monkeys and all that. Perhaps it was the idea of an inferno that led to their ban; the relevant bureaucrat having seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as a kid. Meanwhile, here in the Ocean State, we have to physically squeeze the trigger on the nozzle until the tank’s full. As fellow SUV owners will attest, that can be a long time. Anyone who doesn’t live in the desert or the Deep South will also tell you that pumping gas in sub-zero weather is painful enough to make an Antarctic explorer nostalgic. Tall people have to stoop. Weak people have to strain. Nervous people have to stand still. All for the lack of a single piece of metal. If we can put a man on the moon (and I know you and I were deeply involved in that venture), why can’t we (and now I’m talking about you rather than me) design a gas pump that doesn’t require so much human effort?

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57 Comments on “What Really Grinds My Gears: Gas Pumps Without A Locking Feature...”

  • avatar

    With a lot of cars, you can just jam your gas cap in the handle and achieve the same effect.

    Of course, I imagine most folks with a Mercedes GL have the attendant do the manual labor whilst they direct Jeeves to arrange dinner for 8.

  • avatar

    I usually stay away from these “grinding” pieces – channeling Andy Rooney (and I don’t think he’s even dead, but then, it’s sort of hard to tell) – but I have to agree with you. I don’t like like having to stand there and squeeze the handle. I could be washing my own windshield or checking my own oil or providing other forms of self-service. Maybe I’ll move to Oregon.

  • avatar

    I’ve wondered that too, though here in the Sunshine State some have them and some don’t. I don’t know whether it’s a prohibition only being partially obeyed or just pump nozzles in various state of disrepair.

    I did actually use one in Palm Coast that refused to shut off automatically once the tank was full, while I was washing the windshield no less, and ended up with a pretty substantial fuel spill. Hardly the Exxon Valdez, but it made me nervous.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    For a long time I wondered what the warning on the fuel pump meant, the one that said “Do Not Put In Gas Cap!” Well, where the hell else am I going to put the fuel nozzle?

    So one day I asked the attendant sitting behind the bulletproof glass in her pillbox, and she explained, “It means don’t put the gas cap in the fuel nozzle to hold the handle open.”

    Aha! Been doing exactly that ever since.

    “Of course, I imagine most folks with a Mercedes GL have the attendant do the manual labor whilst they direct Jeeves to arrange dinner for 8.”

    Where on earth do you have gas stations with attendants, other than New Jersey and Oregon, where they’re mandated? In New York, gas stations are run by one person. Or, occasionally, none.

  • avatar

    One of the esoteric joys of operating a derv is the availability of larger high-flow pumps.

    A 15 gallon torrent is unleashed with such rapidity you soon forget the bitter February days watching your breath, being stung by the cold wind and shivering pathetically as you wait interminably for that metal coffee-stirrer to tinkle your tank full.

    Instead, it’s chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-click!-thud., and you’re clambering back into the calm warmth of your driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    There are two states I know of which prohibit self-serve fueling: Oregon and New Jersey. Both have lower fuel prices than do their neighboring states AND someone pumps the gas. New York state, on the other hand, allows self-serve and prohibits locking fill handles.

    Oregon and New Jersey have got it right on this one.

  • avatar

    Yep, I live in NY now and this drives me batty. No coincidence, I don’t imagine, that these are states where nanny-state politicians find a haven.

  • avatar

    My gears are also thoroughly ground by this issue. Every gas station I’ve ever seen in New York has the little ratchet part in the handle obviously removed.

    The interesting exception is the Reservations (I frequent a nearby Seneca reservation, since it’s between me and that thriving metropolis that is Buffalo)– not only do I get to save $.20/gallon (while they make $1/gallon or more over wholesale, with no tax liability), I don’t even have to hold the handle!

  • avatar

    Holly hell this is a huge pet peeve of mine. I swear places in PA in my area purposely remove these for some inane reason.

  • avatar

    Google “Static Electricity Gas Pump Fire”. Better still, look on you tube.

    You’re not allowed to pump gas with your hand off the pump because people go and sit on their nylon car seats while it pumps, they come back with a large potential difference between them and the pump handle, reach for the earthed pump handle and the ensuing spark causes a fire to start burning around the filler neck — not an explosion, a fire.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    Uh, if drivers are blaming manufacturers about something as dirt simple as an accelerator pedal, then why don’t you think they’ll trust you with an automatic shutoff dispensing an explosive fluid? There’s no upside in it for the manufacturers or the oil companies – they’ll just get blamed anyway when something goes wrong.

  • avatar

    A gas cap. A Velcro strap. A heavy duty clamp. One end of a jumper cable. Your wallet. A teenager. A shoe. A worn-out computer mouse. An empty 20oz. Coke bottle. A rolled-up Road & Track.

    There are so many handy solutions to this problem that I hesitate to even call it a problem.


  • avatar

    It’s because the general populace is not smart enough to use this feature responsibly. Here are some examples.

    Gas Station Fire
    Blast Caused By Gas Station Drive-Off

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    Here in WA there is no specific law governing the fuel filler lock. Most stations have them but AM/PM-Arco never does. Arco also has those spring loaded vapor seals on the end of the nozzles.

    So if the lock is removed to prevent spills why then install a high pressure spring on the end that tries to push the nozzle out of the car.

  • avatar

    Removing the locking clip apparently, only encourages people to shove weird stuff in the pump to keep it pumping. That probably makes things worse as far as having gasoline on the ground, possibly exploding.

  • avatar

    I’m with Chuck, I’ve been circumventing the absence of that little locking tab for years with a variety of objects that I just stuff under the handle.

    I too have noticed that Pennsylvania seems to be particularly onerous towards those little pump handle locks. I’m not really sure why.

    A third useless comment; I’ve noticed that almost no one locks their pump handles while dispensing gas. I rarely (never, really) see anyone but me start the pump and go perform some other fuel stop activity while their car is fueling. Not sure if the general populous just isn’t aware of the locking feature, they choose not to use it (why?), they’re afraid of an incident or they just don’t care. Ah, I love idle speculation.

  • avatar

    In Ontario there are no lockup devices. I am surprised it wasn’t mentioned but grasping that nozzle in cold weather makes me just want to race like a piss horse and I end up doing the hurry up tippy toe dance. When your pushing 70 and the plumbing isn’t all that well sealed you can have some close moments……

  • avatar

    In California, we still have the locking feature on gas pumps. I always take the time to wash the windshield while waiting for the tank to fill.

    A couple of other states prohibit that feature? Amazing. I’d have thought our state would have taken the lead in banning them. We do lead the nation in so many other things of similar importance.

  • avatar

    I saw this article, and the first thing I thought of was TTAC.

    Apparently, grumpy people actually *do* see things more clearly:

  • avatar

    Right on, Farago! This one’s bugged me for years. I don’t know what the reason is for doing this, but one time I was screamed at by a station attendant claiming I was going to get him fired because I used my cap to keep the pump running while I went about some task (I think I was cleaning my windshield). I was pumping Diesel at the time so there wasn’t that much of a fire hazard.

  • avatar

    Here is a valid, scientific reason why automatic shut-offs are being removed: The good stuff starts at Page 9. Given that some high-performance tires are notorious static electricity generators, some of you might want to rethink your refueling methods.
    FWIW- I live in NY and a lot of stations still have fully-functioning auto shuft-off nozzles.

  • avatar

    Colinpolyps: “In Ontario there are no lockup devices. I am surprised it wasn’t mentioned but grasping that nozzle in cold weather makes me just want to race like a piss horse and I end up doing the hurry up tippy toe dance. When your pushing 70 and the plumbing isn’t all that well sealed you can have some close moments……”Take the lever retainers off to indirectly force customers inside to take a whiz, and on the way out of the convenience store, there’s more of chance they’ll buy something else besides gas. Everyone knows that it’s the marked-up products inside the store where the station owners profit lies.

    Falls into the same category of ‘free air’ for customers, so long as they come inside the store and have the clerk turn the compressor on. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well, so now, while the air is no longer free, you still have to come inside to find out.

    It’s all about getting the customer into the store. Makes sense to me.

    FWIW, I used to carry a round, plastic dispenser used for pipe-fitter’s white-tape for just this purpose. It was the correct size and the light-weight plastic construction allowed it bend slightly to fit inside the handle.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I use my cell phone

  • avatar

    I miss those things too. However here in the Bay State you can still find them at one pump at some Hess stations.

  • avatar

    One of the few pleasures of driving in Japan is the service at service stations. You drive in a gas station and at least two people come running out to welcome you. The pump lines hang down from above. They pump the gas, clean your windshield, charge your card, and send you on your way in a flash. Even go out in the street and stop traffic in the nearest lane so you can pull out quickly. No worry about the locking feature on gas pumps there.

  • avatar

    criminalenterprise: One of the esoteric joys of operating a derv is the availability of larger high-flow pumps. A 15 gallon torrent is unleashed with such rapidity you soon forget the bitter February days watching your breath…

    The Truth about Refueling

    Refuel at the newest stations or look for newer concrete at older stations indicating the tanks have been replaced. Older tanks are notorious for flaking off material and leaking water into the fuel. Look for raised tanker connections. They are a pain to drive over but they keep the water out of the storage tank.

    Do not refuel if the tanker truck is unloading or has just unloaded. All the debris on the bottom of the storage tank has just been stirred up and is now available for you to pump into your tank.

    Refuel as slowly as possible to keep from picking up crap off the bottom of the storage tank and scouring clean all the nooks and crannies of the fuel delivery piping and measuring apparatus. However, an ultra-slow pump rate increases the chances the nozzle will not automatically shut off.

    If someone on the opposite side of the pump is pumping the same grade as you, both of you are sucking on the same straw. Great for leaving the station plumbing whistle clean with disposal in your tanks.

  • avatar

    Their fire hazards

    that said both the station I used to work at and the station I frequent have them despite them being against our state Fire code, but I just engage it and shove my hands in my pockets I’ll never get back into my car after reading about what can happen if I pick up a static charge in a NYT article

    If your that miffed about standing out in the cold you could always get full service although it does cost alot more.

  • avatar

    I moved to RI from Ohio over the summer, and I’ve also found it very annoying that gas stations here and in MA don’t have the locking feature. I have a long commute and fill up twice a week- I’m really not looking forward to a long winter of frozen hands or gloves that smell like gasoline.

  • avatar

    I have noticed that the chances of the pump having no or a disabled lock feature seem to be in direct correlation with the surrounding neighborhood – the better the area, the more likely the locking feature will work. Therefor, I always thought this had to do with some sort of fraud prevention… although I have no idea how such scam might work.

  • avatar

    In New Jersey, we pump our fists. Not our gas.

  • avatar

    If there are mandates in the various states some have mentioned, they might be only in force during upgrades or new station constructions. We live outside of Boston and it’s fairly easy to find older stations with locks and new ones without. In fact, we’ve noticed this same pattern in many places we visit or have family – western PA, all over NY, MD, DE, WA, and MT.

    An exception, though, was in Arlington, VA, where we lived for 6 years: regardless of station age (and because of population, Arlington builds/rebuilds lots of stations), there was *almost* always at least one pump nozzle that offered a lock – strange, but true. And most, if not all, of the places we went from King ST down to Springfield, Quantico, and Woodbridge offered locks on all pumps (we haven’t lived in Shirlington/near Route 7 for 15 months now – perhaps someone else could comment if the situation has changed).

    Prior to that, we were in Cola, SC where nearly every station had locks – and almost as many pumped for you without charging more. I bet that’s changed within 8 years…

  • avatar

    As a person who worked at a full/self serve gas station as a “gas jockey” for 4 years here is my insight:

    People are too damn stupid to run them. I have seen people drop them, get a phone call and forget it was clipped “on” and pulled it out, drive off while it was filling their tank, try and lock it on before putting in the car not realizing that gas would come out too etc etc.

    The solution is not to mandate full serve. I can testify that many of my co-workers were quite stupid. I have an excuse for working there, I was a teenager. They were 50. And now as a gown up who owns a very beautiful fuel picky car (bi-turbo, need ultra-mega-supper-premium), there is no way I would let some stranger, who is most likely stupid, touch let alone put gas in my car.

    My solution is to suck it up princess and hold the trigger down. Such an American thing to complain about :)

  • avatar

    As an Oregonian, I can state from personal experience that not being able to pump your own gas is a PAIN.

    In most states, refueling goes like this:

    – pull up and turn off car
    – put card in pump station
    – fuel
    – leave

    Take about 5 minutes.

    In Oregon:

    – try to pull up and instead wait for 20 minutes because there is a huge line due to all the incompetent gas monkeys

    – finally pull up and turn off car

    – wait

    – wait

    – wait

    – honk horn and then be put on the “ignore that impatient dude” list, so wait some more

    – finally make eye contact with minimum-wage worker who saunters over to your car with all the urgency of a government official

    – say something like “fill it up with regular, please”

    – deal with confused looks. You’d think that even a Spanish-speaking immigrant would learn the few phrases vital to the gas-pumping trade, but then, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the same gas station attendant for more than one visit. Turnover is apparently daily.

    – finally convey what you want

    – watch gas monkey struggle with station, and finally insert pump

    – honk because he’s walked off with your card

    – listen as the gas pump “kerchunks” after 20 seconds and stops pumping

    – realize you’re going to wait 5-10 minutes for the gas monkey to return because he assumes it’s still filling

    – honk

    – be ignored

    – finally watch gas monkey come over and remove pump and put in station and press YES for receipt

    – listen to gas monkey say “hajaniday” as he hands you the receipt

    – explain that you wanted more than 50 cents worth of gas

    – listen to joke in Spanish or Farsi

    – watch gas monkey shuffle back to station

    – watch him come back and ask you to open the gas cap again

    – shuffle back

    – card back in, pump started

    – repeat the kerchunk/50-cent/retry a few times

    – wait for manager to come over and retrain while you wait

    …etcetera…eventually you realize it’d be faster to genetically engineer dinosaurs, grow them, kill them, recover the fossil fuels, and refine your own gas than to visit a typical Oregon gas station.

    And if you want to get gas for your lawn mower, maybe at the same time you want to get gas for your car, take all of the above aggrevation and multiply by 10.

  • avatar

    Never had the pleasure of these in the UK; I don’t think the absence of them is something that people even think about.

    If they were to come about certain sections of society would be pumping out fuel all over the floor/themselves then asking not to pay for whatever it was they wasted.

  • avatar

    Take your gas cap, and wedge it sideways between the gas trigger and the outside. Learned that trick as a kid.

  • avatar

    “One of the esoteric joys of operating a derv is the availability of larger high-flow pumps”

    Amen, I drive 18 wheelers for a living and we use two high-flow pumps they tick off at about 1gal per second, its the best thing in the world. It pains me when I have to use my car when im home, and fill up, it takes an eternity to pump just 11 gallons.

    And as it relates to the article, the gas cap trick works (almost) everytime.

  • avatar

    @ afabbro

    You nailed it! Same deal on the New Jersey Turnpike! But you must deal with it to avoid the higher prices in Delaware or the MUCH higher prices in NYC.

    The lines are especially long during holiday travel.

    Where I live in central VA, just about all pumps have locks, but I’ve noticed there are now signs saying you must stay next to the gas pump when refueling. I usually do a quick walkaround the car to look over the tires.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    my last 2 work vans have tethered gas caps that wont allow to jam them in the nozzle. The 528e cap is perfect. I can clean the windshield whilst the tank fills.

  • avatar

    A Chap-Stick works perfectly for this. Not all NY stations have removed the lock, by the way. Most “gas jockeys’ don’t care if you tell them that you will pump it yourself. I do this all the time. I find pumps in other states that don’t have vapor recovery annoying – a lot of gas is wasted as vapor, gas that you just paid for…

  • avatar

    I’ve always used the gas cap. To all the static sissies…live a little.

    My newest car though has a tether on the gas cap that’s just a few millimeters too short. Damn.

  • avatar

    Here in MA there are no locking gas dispensers. But just over the state line in NH, voilà, nozzle locks.

    Yeah, I don’t get it either, but thanks for the reminder about the gas cap as I only fill the old bitch up maybe twice a month and I forget such obvious things.

  • avatar

    Empty plastic coke bottles are best for circumventing this idiocy.

    One more annoyance for living in the state of confusion known as NY.

    Are there really more accidents/spill/fires/explosions in states that permit nozzle locks???

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern


    You’re wrong.


    You’re right.

  • avatar


    Driving around in a 8 passenger GL retailing for some 80-90g… and you are complaining about the.. “metal doo-hickey” that keeps the handle pressed at gas is flowing.

    I’m sure ya didn’t even turn the MONSTER off to refuel..

    Wouldn’t driving gloves help with that… or maybe just holding the handle in…

    Or if ya worried about the SHEER amount of gas ya putting in… ya could buy a smaller MORE EFFICIENT car.

    Just have a pump installed at your mansion.. so it can be done remotely..

  • avatar

    RF, is this your way of saying that you fill your car too often and it uses it too quickly?

    SUV drivers inevitably become whiners, especially about fuel …… Harden up princess (as they say).

  • avatar

    One of the few pleasures of driving in Japan is the service at service stations

    +1 on that. Getting gas in Japan was delightful, especially when hot women in tight uniforms would clean the windshield, over and over again.

    Then off to the street to stop traffic and bow as you pulled away. Charged a fortune for the gas but worth it.

    Compare that to the scruffy hoodlum filling your tank in NJ who picks his nose while ogling your wife’s legs.

  • avatar

    afabbro, I suggest you drive over the Columbia into self-serv paradise, aka “Washington.”

    Despite the savings of 3¢ a gallon in Oregon I always fill up on the Washington side of the river while driving south. Buying gas in Oregon is exactly as afabbro describes… a painful time waster.

    When driving the oil-burners to visit relatives in central Oregon I always strap 2 five gallon cans of homebrew to the roof rack for range extension, though buying Diesel in Madras, OR somehow avoids the lines and waits experienced elsewhere.

  • avatar

    I have my girlfriend pump my gas, unless I’m with my wife, then she does it.

  • avatar

    These still exist in california, thankfully.

    I’ve only had one situation where the trigger didn’t automatically disengage. The nozzle pumped extra 2-3 gallons out of the side of the car onto the ground. I told the clueless gas station attendant and she told her assistant, who I thought was a hobo because he was dumpster diving and wearing scraggly clothes, to clean up the spill. It had evaporated by the time he hobbled over. That’s what I get for going to the creaky looking gas station 1 cent cheaper than the Arco across the street.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I went to a nearby gas station that I rarely frequent, and the damn auto shutoff didn’t work at all–totally nonfunctional. Griped it to the attendant, who basically said, “Yeah, so what? It’s been that way for awhile.”

    So I called the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the DEC cop I talked to was sympathetic and said the problem is painfully easy to fix–simple mechanism, as you can see from the diagram at the head of this thread–and took down the name and location of the station.

    “But ya know,” he said, “if you spilled any gas on the ground, YOU are by law liable, not the station owner…”

  • avatar

    Here in Pennsylvania, we are still free. Gas stations have pump handles with locking clips and no in state tolls or ez-pass. Hell, here, you can even ride a motorcycle without a helmet and … *gasp* smoke in a bar.

    I know, it’s like … anarchy. Or the way the country was before 1990, pick one.

    Ya know, it being the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and considering the impending government takeover of the health care industry with all of the above-mentioned changes … ya got wonder, did we *really* win the Cold War? Or did we just just become more like the communists and the communists more like us?

    You would think that with the Cold War won, we’d be *more* free, not less. But it really isn’t working out that way, is it.

  • avatar

    Here in Pennsylvania, we are still free …. Hell, here, you can even ride a motorcycle without a helmet and … *gasp* smoke in a bar.

    What a quaint but strangely distorted idea of “freedom” people in the USofA have at times. Freedom doesn’t mean just doing whatever you want whenever you want, it’s a reciprocal relationship with others.

    No motorcycle helmet – no problems – individual choice, essentially no effect on anyone else. Those people can feel “free” to have their own head injury. Good luck to the “less free” head injury victim’s family.

    Smoking in bars? How ’bout cars as an easier to understand example; we’re having the debate in Australia at the moment.

    If the Government says smoking in cars with children is banned, has your “freedom” suffered? What about the children’s “freedom”?

    Same for Bars. As a significant minority you’re still free to smoke outside. Cough to it.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “No motorcycle helmet – no problems – individual choice, essentially no effect on anyone else.”

    So who do you think pays for these guys who end up on ventilators for the rest of their lives because they’re vegetables?

    We do, in the passed-along cost via increased health-insurance premiums and increased hospital costs for everybody else, since the hospital ends up eating the expense of maintaining an artificial life. Not many Warren Buffetts out there riding sickles without helmets.

  • avatar

    @ Stephan Wilkinson

    It’s OK. I agree with you. See the other parts of my comment.

  • avatar

    In Saskatchewan, some have the locking feature, some don’t.  I only regularly buy gas at places that do.  Superstore is usually good.

  • avatar

    Please look at my solution…just don’t tell “the man”

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