The simple solution to petrol driveoffs.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 10-Dec-2008 21:35

Anybody who has a car will know that petrol driveoffs have become a real issue over the past year as fuel prices have increased. Go to fill up these days and it's not uncommon to find the pumps on prepay forcing you to pay for your fuel first to stop people filling up and driving off without paying.

The issue of prepaying for fuel was discussed earlier this week on Campbell Live, it seems that many stations are wanting to hold your credit card inside at the till if you choose to fill your tank, since they have no way of knowing exactly how much this will cost. This causes significant customer inconvenience while you stand in line, hand over your card, go outside, fill your own car (since chains like BP don't have forecourt staff), join the queue again and pay for your gas. Not only does this take time it exposes you to the risk of fraud due to the ability of staff to capture your credit card details or duplicate a card. Under no circumstances should you do this - never let your card out of your sight.

So how do we fix this problem? Simple. We go back 10 years.

Remember all those fancy EFTPOS at pump terminals that the service stations trialled everywhere? They are in use today at Pak 'N Save and New World Fuel sites and many truck stops but have virtually disappeared from forecourts everywhere else.

Why you may ask? They made life so simple for the customer, infact they made life so simple they were bad for business.

Every time a customer paid for their fuel using one of these they didn't enter the premises to pay the cashier. Get annoyed every time the cashier at Shell tries to upsell you to the special of the week on the counter? This is because the profit margins on goods in service stations is exceptionally high. As fuel margins have declined it's become a significant revenue source however if people don't walk in the door to pay for their fuel they can't be upsold overpriced drinks or snacks.

A source tells me over 85% of fuel transactions these days are card based, this figure is fairly typical for most retail outlets as we move towards a cashless society. Reintroducing EFTPOS at pump obvious has significant costs but can virtually eliminate driveoffs and speed up the whole process of buying fuel. But will it ever happen? I have a feeling the answer is no..

The next time you are inconvenienced standing in line just remember the reason you have to do this. Life could be so much easier if you were able to pay for your fuel at the pump but it's those damn greedy fuel companies intent on selling you snacks you don't need that are intent on not only ripping us all off with their fuel pricing, but making life as difficult as they can because the simple solution is a threat to their business model.

Go figure..

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Comment by AJ, on 10-Dec-2008 22:12

Mobil still has EFTPOS at pump at every store I've visted, except there are a few problems: 1) They don't seem to take Amex at the pump any more due to the lack of PIN option. This is somewhat annoying (especially if you have a corporate amex that you're supposed to use). 2) The EFTPOS at pump service tends to have a limit of $100 per transaction, which at $2/litre was not enough to fill many tanks up. 3) They seemed to only allow one card transaction per day - so if you tried to do one $100 txn + a $20 txn, it wouldn't permit the second one. 4) They don't handle chip-and-PIN cards, but give the helpful error to "insert card". That said, I don't mind leaving my CC inside while I fill up... of course, I will prefer to patronise a station where I don't *have* to go inside, either via EFTPOS-at-pump or because they don't mandate prepay, but it is much less common these days.

Comment by manhinli, on 10-Dec-2008 22:39

Ahh.... so that's why they cover the EFTPOS terminals with "Do not use" signs!

It's so good what Pak n' Save do - you insert the card in, and they hold onto the card information and when you've finished filling in, they automatically end the transaction, and print the receipt. You can't possibly steal from that.

Prepaid fuelling is so annoying sometimes because you must prepay a fixed amount, which you can only estimate the amount you're filling up - especially annoying when you need a "FILL" button.

Comment by bigal_nz, on 11-Dec-2008 07:09

I went to a Caltex where I said I wanted to fill. They said I would have to do a $120 cash out and then they would give me the change.

I told them to piss off and I went to another service station. I mean I dont look like a theif after all :-)

Comment by Mattnzl, on 11-Dec-2008 07:37

Re the Mobil eftpos at pump - my local Mobil has turned the eftpos at pump into accepting only Fleetcard type cards, no longer a general eftpos machine!

Untill this happened, I only went there. Now I go elsewhere - stupid.

Comment by cisconz, on 11-Dec-2008 08:39

I have a Mobil and a Caltex card.
I still have to drop my card into the cashier when it is on prepay, even though it is virtually impossible for the card to decline.

Comment by nate, on 11-Dec-2008 12:28

I don't see this ever happening with EFTPOS at pump - as you mentioned the gas stations make margin on the goods sold in store.  If people pay at pump, they don't come in store and peruse the goods.

My solution would be to have a physical barrier such as a spike strip or rising pole guard (as seen in the UK).  When the nozzle for the pump is lifted, the vehicle is essentially locked in until payment is received. People won't drive off if it causes significant damage to their vehicle.

This really is all unfortunate; a few dishonest people cause inconvenience for the rest of us.

Comment by Jama, on 11-Dec-2008 16:53

Even simpler solution

Buy an electric car, then you will never, ever have to visit a petrol station again.

Coming to a car dealer near you in 2009!

Comment by wmoore, on 12-Dec-2008 05:55

Nate said
"My solution would be to have a physical barrier such as a spike strip or rising pole guard (as seen in the UK).  When the nozzle for the pump is lifted, the vehicle is essentially locked in until payment is received. People won't drive off if it causes significant damage to their vehicle."

I would have to agree. I have noticed here in the UK that the forecourt
lighting is a lot dimmer (studies suggest that with bright lights people can be 'blinded' with glare and create dark shadows so it's easy for people to hide. The other thing I noticed was that the CCTV cameras where placed at about head height near the pumps. A lot of problems with CCTV is that they are placed too high up and all the capture is a persons bald spot.

Here is another idea re prepay and filling up. Wouldn't it be good if your car told you how many litres you needed to fill your tank and all you had to do was enter the number of litres at the pump and then it would tell you how much you would have to prepay.

Comment by TinyTim, on 12-Dec-2008 07:45

Consumer says don't let your c/c leave your sight

Prepay petrol advice


It's your card, and you're responsible for looking after it and ensuring as far as practical there's no unauthorised use of it. We recommend you never leave it with a stranger. We've reported on fraud from double-swiping eftpos cards, so it could happen at any time - even in Foxton.

We say

- If service stations need to protect themselves against the increasing number of drive-offs, they should install pre-pay eftpos pumps like the ones at Pak'n Save supermarkets.

- We think Mobil Foxton is encouraging insecure card-use by expecting customers to leave cards in its care while you fill your tank.

- If you run into this tactic, we suggest you get your next fill at a gas station that has better card-handling practices.

Comment by AJ, on 12-Dec-2008 15:02

I agree that they *should* have EFTPOS at pump (and useful EFTPOS, not EFTPOS that suffers from the problems I posted above), or they should make use of the authorisation feature that credit transactions allow. Swipe the card, authorise $x, and then hand the card back -- the same as what hotels do when you check in. However, in the grand scheme of things, the risk of fraud is pretty low with leaving your CC behind the counter for a few minutes while filling up, and at the end of the day it's only a credit card and the usual liability indemnities to the customer do apply. [How many people leave cards at the bar when opening a tab? Quite a lot in my experience, and also a far more likely place for fraud or card misuse to occur than a gas station. I have had my card handed back to the wrong person when closing tabs at a bar before.]

Comment by freitasm, on 14-Dec-2008 08:23

Another reason why you shouldn't leave your credit card with anyone:

"Scutariu was identified from CCTV footage and connected to another fraud investigation which saw him convicted of skimming credit cards while working at a Shell petrol station in Auckland."

Comment by Antzzz, on 14-Dec-2008 16:27

From one who works in the Eftpos industry the reason that most of the current eftpos-at-pump systems are switched off is that they are broken... No conspiracy here!

The systems were never particularly reliable apparently when they were working, so over the years they have fallen into disuse, only reason they are still on the forecourt is because they are built into the pump island.

I also believe the security certs on most of them have expired which is why those that are still working are only being used for fuel cards - Paymark won't let them on the Eftpos network anymore.

It does seem rather insane that there hasn't been a push to develop new ones however - but this is likely because the technology wheels in the big oil companies turn veeery slowly.

Comment by Antzzz, on 14-Dec-2008 16:33

Oh, and on the topic of leaving cards behind as security when filling up - don't do it!

If someone skims the card you will be liable for any transactions resulting from this - the banks and credit card schemes specifically mention that you are liable for any transactions resulting from you letting your card out of your sight.

Just remind the station staff that the agreement they sign with their bank allowing them to accept eftpos and credit cards specifically prevents them from retaining a customer card for any reason - the bank and/or Visa/Mastercard could pull their authorisation to perform transactions if they persistently do this... And I rather suspect the station would be a bit stuck without an eftpos terminal!

Comment by CYaBro, on 16-Dec-2008 11:14

Yea I wouldn't be leaving my credit card with anyone who is not going be in sight at all times.

We had an OE a couple of years ago and were very careful about this especially in countries like Greece.
We got a bit slack and when back in the UK handed over the credit card at a restaurant for payment and didn't think anything of it.
The day after getting back to NZ I got a call from the bank saying that someone had just tried to use our credit card in Brazil!
Not sure how the bank picked it up but anyway, good on them.

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Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at