As if sky-high gasoline prices weren't frustrating enough, many owners of thirsty SUVs, pickups and motor homes who use a credit card at the pump are being blocked from getting a full tank.
That's because many station operators have a $75 limit on Visa or MasterCard transactions at the pump.
If motorists hit the limit, they must do a second transaction at the pump to finish filling. Another solution, though inconvenient: Go see the attendant to have the card swiped inside. But this information often is not on the pump, and it can be aggravating even if it is, so customers are venting their ire.
"It's frustrating to them, and they let us know," says Tom Robinson, president of Rotten Robbie, a 34-station chain based in Northern California. "There's always an adjective associated with the pump, and it's like 'stupid' or worse."
Station owners say they simply are passing through policies of Visa and MasterCard, which won't reimburse them more than $75 per transaction at the pump if there's a disputed charge or a fraudulent card is used.
The card issuers say they aren't the bad guys.
"It's the merchants' decision to limit purchases," says Visa spokesman Paul Wilke. He adds: "Customers always have the option of paying with the card at the cash register" where its policy differs from the pump.
The $75 limit "ensures merchants and customers are protected from fraud," says MasterCard spokesman Tristan Jordan.
Visa and MasterCard have no immediate plans to go higher. "It's something we always look at," Wilke says.
Visa raised its pump limit from $50 in April, but $75 isn't keeping up with gas prices. At $4 a gallon, $75 buys 18 3/4 gallons. A 2008 Toyota Sequoia SUV's tank holds more than 26 gallons, a Chevy Avalanche sport pickup totes up to 31 1/2 gallons, and a 33-foot or longer Winnebago Adventurer RV hauls 75 gallons.
"It's a little hassle because you can't just pump and get on your way," says Phoenix retiree Fay Iles, who says she and husband Bruce found a station coming back from New Mexico that still had a $50 limit.
Tulsa-based QuikTrip, which runs stations across the Midwest, raised its pump limit to $100. But Vice President Paula Cotten says there are many customers, especially small-business owners, who want more.
Station owners say they don't like the limits. If customers reswipe their card to fill up, it forces retailers to pay the card issuers more transaction fees. If they drive off without a full tank, the station lost revenue.
"Retailers -- are frustrated, if not downright angry," says Jeff Lenard, vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores. Customers "come in and scream at the poor guy behind the counter."