The Cost of Driving Away With the Gas Pump
By JENNIFER SARANOW SCHULTZ NOVEMBER 10, 2010 1:34 PM November 10, 2010 1:34 pm
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
Driving off with a gas nozzle in your car can be costly.
After filling up her car’s tank with gas, a friend of Bucks recently started to drive away with the gas nozzle still in the car.
She made it about five feet and then the hose came off the pump. She stopped the car, put the hose back by the pump and started driving away. The gas station attendant then came after her and took her insurance information.
Nearly a week after the incident, our friend still hadn’t heard from the gas station about any possible charges, but she said she learned from a quick search online that such incidents are relatively common and that the charges can vary from nothing (when gas stations never follow up) to a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. “Apparently these ‘drive-offs’ happen at least once a month at any given station,” she said.
Intrigued, Bucks decided to investigate the costs of driving away with the gas nozzle in your car and who is responsible for them, checking with everyone from gas station representatives to insurance companies. Here’s what we found.
According to Paul Fiore, executive vice president of the service station association Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades, how the situation is handled often depends on the gas station. “The policies in place will be as varied as the owners’ and managers’ personalities,” he said. “Each company will have their own approach to this delicate situation. Is it a good customer? Did the customer get an ‘attitude’ right away as if it was the gas station’s fault? Every little thing is a factor in deciding how an owner or manager handles a customer that has damaged store property, and I would imagine it is no different across the retailing spectrum.”
A spokesman for BP, who said Arco stations contract with it to buy gasoline, similarly said each gas station operator or owner “would handle the situation as they deem appropriate.” Our friend’s incident occurred at an Arco station.
The manager of the gas station where our friend’s incident occurred, meanwhile, said the station’s policy is to ask the driver for contact and insurance information. Then, the station calls in someone who handles maintenance, who then checks the pump, replaces what is damaged and sends a bill to the station’s main office. The office would then file a claim with driver’s insurance company for the cost of the repairs. The station manager estimated that replacing a damaged nozzle would cost about $350.
Next, to find out if auto insurance covers the cost of such damages, I asked a number of insurers what their policy is on these claims. Their answer was that yes, auto insurance, and liability coverage, in particular, will generally cover damage to a gas pump.
“A person who drives off from a gas pump with the hose still attached to the vehicle is generally going to liable for the damages caused by their negligence,” said Kip Diggs, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance. “The damage to the pump would be covered under the liability portion of the driver’s auto policy. We would determine the damages through the normal claims process.”
The gas station would file a claim with the driver’s auto insurance company or with its own insurance company, which would then file a claim with the driver’s auto insurance company. After the claim is reported, the insurance company would investigate it, assess the damage and settle the claim, said Leah Knapp, a spokeswoman for Progressive. “The claims process is the same as any other claim,” she said.
According to Christina Tyler Loznicka, a spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance Company, liability coverage is usually required, “but policy limits may vary and if you just carry the minimum coverage limits, you could be left paying the difference, making it a very expensive fill-up.”
As for the exact amount of the claim, that varies. “It is hard to say how much damage is generally done to the pump,” said Rick Ward, director of auto claims for MetLife Auto & Home. “In addition to repairing the pump, a gas station may claim other damages, such as loss of revenue while the pump is out of service,” and “the operator of the vehicle is responsible for the damages.”
According to Mr. Ward, “If there is only damage to the pump itself, the average claim would likely be $1,000 to $2,000. However, if there is damage to the tank below the pump or loss of revenue, the claim cost can increase significantly.” He said the insurer sees less than a dozen such claims annually, probably because of new regulations that stop consumers from setting the pump to automatic and walking away from it, he said. Or there’s also the chance that drivers are paying the costs out of pocket.
Others estimate much lower costs. Mr. Fiore of the service station association estimated that the damage can run from $100 to $500, but generally is on the lower end. It seems that driving away with the nozzle may not necessarily cause any serious or expensive damage in some cases, especially if the hose is detachable and can easily be snapped back on. In this situation, consumers may just be charged the cost of labor. That’s why some consumers recommend asking to see the damaged parts.