Boycott Gasoline? Why Gas Urban Legends Won't Affect Prices

man with gas pump to his head - gas urban legendsThe email chain letter or Facebook invitations wading their way through the Internet this week are enticing to anyone who has had to fill up their car with gas lately: "Join a national protest by not buying gas on March 14!" Or, "Send a message to Big Oil by boycotting gasoline for a day."

But like every urban legend, it sounds good until you look at the details and realize it's the same misinformation that has been passed around for years. There are plenty of legitimate ways to save on gas, but these myths won't do it.

The gas boycott that has been called for in some form of a chain letter since 1999 is based on a flawed premise. The "gas out" doesn't ask people to use less gas, only to change their date of purchase and buy it a day earlier or later than they normally would, according to a analysis of the rumor.It's not a boycott if you're using the product a day later. Or at least not much of a boycott. It won't affect retail prices and will hurt the gas station owner much more than the oil company that provided the gas, according to Snopes. Changing driving patterns and using public transportation more, or not using a car for a week, would affect oil companies more over the long-term.

Another angry but misplaced plea is to boycott selected oil companies, which will then lower gas prices. It's a misconception because an oil company doesn't only sell its gas to its branded service stations. Exxon, for example, can sell its gas to non-boycotted companies. Again, buying less gas, not boycotting a particular brand or location, might cause prices to drop.

The recirculated tips on pumping gas from someone who worked in the petroleum business for 31 years are more outlandish. Here are a few, and the arguments against them:

Claim: Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline. When it gets warmer, gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening means your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.

Fact: Underground storage tanks are so well insulated that it's hard to say if the gasoline will be at its coolest in the morning. But even if it equated to a 1% savings and based on a driver buying 15 gallons of gas per week at $4 a gallon, it would only add up to $31 a year in savings, Snopes calculated. Is it worth it to rise with the dawn just to fill your tank?

Claim: When you're filling up, do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. You should be pumping on low mode, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some of the liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money.

Fact: Critics such as state regulators say that gas lost in vapors while pumping gas is economically insignificant. And is the slow pumping worth the time?

Claim: Fill up when your gas tank is half full. The reason for this is the more gas you have in your tank the less air is occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine.

Fact:Snopes estimates that a typical consumer could save $62 a year on gas if they could eliminate losses from evaporation. Filling up every time your car is half full would reduce evaporation, not eliminate it. Is it worth the time to fill up your car twice as often as you already do?

Claim: if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, do not fill up; most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

Fact: Gas stations must have filters to trap dirt and sludge, and fuel filters in modern cars should prevent any stirred-up dirt from harming your car.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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