Here’s a little thing about me: I used to be a pump jockey. Oh yeah. I know it’s hard to believe now, on account of my extraordinary eloquence and white-collar appearance, but when I was 18-20 years old, I worked at one of the two remaining full-service gas stations in my Kansas town. I’d repair tires and change water pumps and flush transmissions, but most importantly, every time an old lady would roll her Caprice Classic onto the drive, a little bell would ring, and I’d hop out there like Dwight Eisenhower was still the president.
To most of you, that makes me sound like I’m at least 50 years old, but to Oregonians, a pump jockey is as common as a barista, and even more necessary.
Because when it comes to pumping gas, Oregonians are scared as hell.
The topic is in the news today because of Oregon House Bill 2482, which allows people in counties with less than 40,000 people to pump their own gas, and Oregonians are positively terrified of their newfound freedom. Just look at the comments on this post.
“I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian…..I say NO THANKS!”
There are near-death experiences.
I had to do it once in California while visiting my brother and almost died doing it.
And there are concerns that Oregonians are simply too stupid to learn how to do this task.
“Many people are not capable of knowing how to pump gas and the hazards of not doing it correctly. Besides I don’t want to go to work smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes.”
Well, let me tell you something, Oregon. Any idiot can pump gas, and I am living proof. So I thought I’d help out with some step-by-step instructions.
How to Pump Gas All By Yourself
Step 1: Turn off your engine
You’re used to this part, but I want to make it clear, because there seems to be some chance you guys need to be told this by the pump jockey every time you pull up.
If you don’t turn off your engine before the gas starts going in, you’ll blow up your whole town.
But — this will be important later — leave the key in the “on” position.
Step 2: Locate your fuel door
On the side of your car, probably on the driver’s side near the back (BUT MAYBE ON THE PASSENGER’S SIDE) there will be a little round or square-ish shape cut into the body of the car, about the size of a hand.
This is not a design element. It is a flap which, when opened, allows access to a tube that runs from there to the fuel tank (this is where fuel — sometimes known as “gas” or “gasoline” or “petrol” if you’re in the UK, is stored).
But wait, you’re thinking, I don’t see how to open this thing. Well, I need you to keep your wits about you and trust me, because there is a solution. On some fuel doors, you can just push on one side and a little spring mechanism inside will pop it open. On others, you’ll need to look under your dash, probably right next to the lever you use to open the trunk.
This tube has on top of it something called a “gas cap.” Think of it like the cap on a soda bottle. Remember: Lefty-loosey, righty-tighty. Just twist that baby off. There may even be a handy little hook on the backside of your fuel door where you can hang the gas cap while you pump.
If there isn’t, get all up in the @ mentions of the manufacturer.
Step 3: Select your fuel
You will have three or four fuels to choose from. The only one you definitely, absolutely must avoid is diesel fuel, unless your car has a diesel engine, in which case that’s the only fuel you should ever give it, no matter how hard it tries to pretend it isn’t German.
If you don’t know whether or not your car runs on gasoline or diesel, surrender your driver’s license and sell your car. You are almost certainly one of those people who drives 10-under in the left lane. You’re not just annoying, you’re dangerous.
Gasoline is sorted by its octane level. It isn’t necessary for you to understand what octane means, but it is important to know that it is not a measure of how “good” the gasoline is. Because of some boring engineering stuff, different engines require gasoline that combusts at slightly different temperatures, but all you really need to know is that unless your car specifically requires “premium” (91 or 93 octane) fuel — it will say so on the inside of the fuel door and perhaps even on the gauges if this is the case — there is no benefit whatsoever to using it. You won’t have more power, you won’t get better mileage, and it won’t clean your engine. This is good news for you, as high-octane fuel costs more.
So set your sights on that 87 pump and prepare for the Moment of Truth, when you …
Step 4: Stick it in
Geez, dude, cars are industrial machines based on 19th century technology. Why is everything always about sex with you?
At this point, you’ve got the fuel door open, the gas cap off and resting on the gas-cap hook, and you’ve made the necessary arrangements for payment, meaning you either used your credit card right there at the pump, or you walked inside and said something like, “Gimme $10 on pump three, and a pack of yellow American Spirits.”
You’ve already found the hole where the gas goes, but did you notice there’s a smaller hole within that hole? Well, there is. There’s a little flap and if you push on it with the tip of the fuel nozzle, it will reveal a hole slightly bigger than the nozzle. Just slide that nozzle right in and squeeze the trigger.
Little known fact: This is what John Lennon was singing about in “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
Step 5: Remain absolutely still
It is imperative that you shut down as many bodily movements and functions as possible while the gasoline is entering your tank. Shifting your weight from one foot to the other, turning your head, speaking, breathing and even some internal bodily functions like digestion or a raging libido can create dangerous static electricity that will cause your entire town to explode.
But, you still must …
Step 6: Be on the lookout for packs of wild teenagers
Oregonians don’t know about this, because so far their government has protected them, but modern teens across the less noble parts of America like to stake out gas stations and dab on unsuspecting customers right when they’re distracted by sticking it in.
Be alert. Don’t be a statistic. This will all be over soon.
Step 7: Terry Time
Remember in Step 1, when I told you to shut off the engine but leave the key in the “on” position? You’re about to be really glad you did, because now, instead of enduring an existential crisis, your heart and mind are being massaged by the velvet voice of NPR’s Terry Gross, whose podcast you always make sure to have at the ready, for a situation just like this one.
For the next 70 to 90 seconds, allow Terry to wrap herself around you like a blanket just out of the dryer on a cold winter day.
Step 8: What the … it already clicked?
Yeah, it does that sometimes. Just jiggle the handle a little and try again.
Step 9: Look directly into the sun for as long as you can stand it
Step 10: The Final Click
It clicked for real this time! If you were at or near empty, you should be seeing anywhere from 12 to 20-plus gallons on counter, and that should be costing you anywhere from $25 to your whole life savings.
Put the pump back where you found it, and screw the gas cap back on. Screw it until you hear it click, then screw it two more clicks. You don’t actually need to do this, but it’s what every single person does, so you might as well. It’s nice to hear those clicks. It’s nice to hear most clicks in life, really. Clicks mean something is working (for now).
But please do remember these two steps. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. One time at the service station in Kansas, I filled up my ’75 Dodge Dart after work and got five minutes down the road before I realized I had the nozzle and half a hose hanging out my fuel door.
The hoses are built with a release mechanism in them for just such a situation. You probably won’t cause gas to go shooting all over the place, but you might get roasted by a pack of wild teenagers.
And that’s just the thing about pumping gas: Most people don’t make the same mistake twice.