Topping off the tank

As the fossil fuel era comes to an end, gas station attendants (those few that remain, as well as the unpaid pumpers who are filling their own tanks) persist in topping off the tank.

After the automatic switch senses the tank is full, they add ten or twenty cents more gas, to reach a round number.


It’s not faster. It takes time to manually do this.

It’s not more profitable. The extra ten cents on a $40 tank is hardly worth the time.

It’s not more efficient. The number of miles before the next fill-up as a result is tiny.

It’s not even easier. Most people are paying with a credit card, so rounding up does no good.


It’s way more likely to damage the car (gas on the auto body) and hurt the health of the pumper (fumes).

So, why do it?

Three reasons:

  1. Tradition.
  2. Showing the boss and the customer that you’re working hard.
  3. The appearance of control.

It’s the third that’s the real lesson. Human beings trade enormous amounts of agency in exchange for convenience. But not too much agency. Too much agency makes us feel like automatons. Even (especially) when working with cars, those symbols of freedom and control.

What else are we busy topping off?