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Local Column

Olson: Self-service gas station pet peeves

Gas station owners don’t compete only on the price they charge for gasoline.

I had that thought after reading Drew Zimmerman’s story this week about the consternation at the prospect of a 2-cents-a-gallon increase in the city of DeKalb’s gas tax.

Naturally, any business owner will be concerned about something that could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Whether an extra 30 to 40 cents a fill-up is really enough to influence consumer behavior, I don’t know. What I do know is that there are other ways that gas station owners can keep loyal customers other than rock-bottom gas prices.

It’s now been so long since the demise of full-service pumps in Illinois that some station owners show little regard for basic services customers used to expect at a service station.

Here are a few pet peeves that I – and I’ll bet a lot of other drivers – have encountered at self-serve gas stations I’ve visited around the country.

Broken window squeegees: Too often, window squeegees are bowed, the spongy end is all shredded, or the squeegee blade is worn. When the thing’s broken, replace it.

Frozen/missing washing solution: Nothing is more annoying than going to pull the squeegee out and it’s stuck or bone dry. Now I’m $5 into a fill-up and I can’t clean my windshield? Not coming back.

Missing paper towels: A gas station that doesn’t provide paper towels is like a restaurant without napkins. Without towels to wipe the squeegee blade, you get dirty streaks on the windshield, and sometimes there are stains that need some elbow grease. Some people even check their oil at service stations. This is a necessity, not something extra.

Broken gas pump handles: The pump handles should be able to be set to dispense fuel without having to squeeze them continuously. The more time your hand spends on the pump handle, the more you’re going to smell like gas afterward. Plus, I have to clean the windshield. I can’t be standing there the whole time.

Dirty hands: Gas pump handles also are one of the most common means of spreading germs. One test of gas-pump handles from 2015 found that 71 percent of them were “highly contaminated” with the microbes that cause illness and disease. Put some hand sanitizer on your pumps and I won’t leave feeling dirty – I’ll feel like you care about me.

No air: Tires get low on air, especially in the wintertime. A place that doesn’t make me hunt around for quarters or charge $1 on my credit card will have my gratitude and my gasoline business. The thing should actually work, too. The disappearing number of air stations are why you see so many people driving around on tires that clearly are low on air.

No vacuum: Kids can make a huge mess in the backseat without warning. Make a vacuum available.

Bad coffee: If you’re going to sell coffee – and you should – keep it fresh, don’t let it get all brackish and burned. And people like the flavored creamers. Have the big three – Irish creme, hazelnut and French vanilla.

A station owner who addresses these issues should succeed, even if customers have to pay a few cents more for a fill-up.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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