1. There's a lot going on underneath gas stations.
According to Ed Weglarz, the Director of Petroleum at Associated Food & Petroleum Dealers (AFPD), there can be as many as five underground tanks, storing tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. "In addition, the system will have submerged pumps on top of the tanks, automatic line leak detectors, probes in each tank that provide real-time automatic tank gauging monitoring, alarm systems to prevent overfilling and sacrificial anodes on steel tanks to prevent corrosion," adds Weglarz.
2. Gas stations don't make that much money off gas.
They get only pennies per gallon after taxes and operating costs. In fact, gas station owners hate high gas prices just as much as you do. As the National Association of Convenience Stores (), explains, "Fuel retailers typically see profitability decrease as prices rise, and increase when prices fall." Instead, most of their profit come from convenience items sold in the stores. In fact, Jeff Lenard, Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives for NACS, says items such as sunglasses, snacks and medicine account for more than 60% of total earnings.
3. Gas pumps aren't always accurate.
There are over 127,000 convenience stores selling gas in the country, and each state's Bureau of Weights and Measures is responsible for checking you're getting what you pay for. Since years can pass between inspections in some states, make sure the screen says $0.00 before you start pumping, so you don't get charged extra. In many states, you can also see a sticker with the inspection month and year right on the pump. If you suspect it's been ripped off, you might be getting ripped off, too, according to a former inspector for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).
4. Most gas stations are owned independently.
While most people are familiar with the big brands, like Shell, ExxonMobil and BP, only .4% of the gas stations in the country are owned by one of the five major oil companies, according to the NACS. The rest of them are "owned and operated by independent business people who set their own price," says Elizabeth Hudson, Shell Oil Products U.S. Fuels Category Manager.
5. There's a science behind gas station locations.
For starters, the size of the lot, traffic and the kind of people that live in the area. In general though, "If there is a 4-way intersection, you want the corner on the right after the light [for a station]," says Lenard. "Drivers don't want to make left-hand turns, and they want to get past the light before they fuel."
6. There's a reason gas attendants can walk away while pumping and you can't.
A spill can cause gasoline to seep into ground water or cause a fire if there's a spark. "An attendant is less likely to spill than a person filling up their car who just wants to get in and get out," says the former DCA inspector. So nozzles that attendants use have clips that allow the gas to flow even if they leave the car. But at stations that permit self-service, the clip on the nozzle has been removed so you're forced to hold the nozzle while you fill up.
7. Gas station pumps are really dirty.
In a 2011 study, Kimberly-Clark researchers tested for bacteria on hundreds of surfaces, from ATMs to elevator buttons, in six major U.S. cities. The dirtiest of them all? Gas pumps. They looked for "adenosine triphosphate, which signals the presence of animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast or mold cells, and the high levels found suggest they can be transmitting illness." To avoid spreading bacteria after filling up, thoroughly wash your hands as soon as you arrive at your destination.
8. A well-known fast food chain first started out as a gas station.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, started off by owning gas stations that also sold chicken dinners. His stations suffered after the construction of the interstate highway system, so he went into franchising his chicken restaurant instead.
9. There are two states in the country where you can't pump your own gas.
In Oregon and New Jersey, there's no self-service option at the pump. Gas attendants have to assist you, but according to Lenard, there's legislation moving to change that. "It could take a while, if it ever were to happen."
10. Turning on your cell phone isn't the only thing that can start a gas station fire.
Yes, you really can cause a spark—and then a blaze—by switching on your phone while at the pump, according to the former DCA inspector. While training for his old job, he also learned he shouldn't wear certain fabrics while walking around gas stations. "There's potential for clothing made with synthetic materials to cause static electricity" and then a fire, so his uniform was made from a cotton blend. Plus, he was instructed not to use flashlights near the tanks.