/ Money

The small charges that get on your nerves

Tyre pressure

The old saying goes that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, I don’t know about free lunches but it seems free air is rapidly becoming a thing of the past…

I refer, of course, not to the air we breathe but the air machines at petrol stations that check the air pressure on your car tyres.

It seems increasingly common for garages to charge 20p, 50p or even £1 to operate the air machine. Irritating as that may be, it’s even more irritating when they run out of air before you’ve checked all four wheels on your car and have to pay another fee to finish the job.

Even worse is to find, despite the fee being justified by the garage to pay for the machine to be there, the machine is out of order. This is surprisingly common in my experience, whether it’s a free one or not.

Air today, gone tomorrow

Do you think that charging for air is part of the trend to charge for extras, like low-cost airlines do? Or do you think the price is reasonable and justified? Perhaps it won’t be long before garages start to charge you to fill up your windscreen washer bottle with water… or to use their loos?

Charging for air is only a tiny example and it’s obviously a very small charge in the grand scheme of things, but surely there’s a benefit to providing services like these for free? That’s what good customer service should be about.

I’ll go out of my way for good customer service and, if I know a local petrol station provides free air, I would use it over one that does not. It’s why you’ll often find me in a supermarket petrol station – they generally do have free air and I think they know a thing or two about good customer service.

Are there any niggling charges like this that get on your wick?


Tyre pressures should be checked when the tyres are cold, so it’s better to do the job at home rather than at a filling station. I check mine on a Saturday, or on Sunday if it is raining, and inspect the tyres for any objects in the tread.

Around the start of each season I check the pressure in the spare tyre. Space-saver tyres deflate faster because the pressure is greater than in a normal tyre, and the last thing you need if you have a puncture is a soft spare tyre.

This is nothing new and is, in fact, celebrated in the innkeeper’s song in Les Miserables.

When analyzing conveyancing bills for Which? in 1969 I found that the item of costs that most annoyed home movers was the separate disbursement that frequently appeared on solicitors’ bills “Stamp on contract 6d” (2.5p!) The 1970 report on conveyancing included an item about lawyers addition of extras.

I avoid using The Trainline because of their small booking fee, which was £1 last time I used their service. Since it is unavoidable, it should be included in prices.

I appreciate that one booking fee can apply to multiple tickets, but there is nothing to prevent giving a discount on multiple purchases.

Garage forecourts IMO are not the place to do check tyres. You may already have driven enough miles to alter the tyre temperature, the pressure checker may not be working, it may be inaccurate.

Here is something from 2005 which is quite exhaustive:
A later report from South Africa reports dangerous air pumps and the worst was over-reading by 14psi!

Tyre pressures change with temperature and advanced TPMS has a temperature compensation factor built in. There is a change of around a pound plus per 10 F. and amusingly most tyre pressures quoted to us is based on the correct pressure at 71F. Obviously there is an element of fudge factors with tyres and best best pressures, and how laden the vehicle is etc so one can be forgiven for not being too fanatical about precision.

One area of concern is that if your car is parked out in sunshine the tyres on one side will read differently simple because black rubber absorbs heat and warms the air inside which expands.

TPMS does have an upside and a downside and that humans are generally lazy. Most of the public do not check their tyres at all so TPMS is an improvement. The downside is that more people will now not look at their tyres at all and spot other damage or bad wear.

Like wavechange I do my pressures at home. I have a couple of gauges and a pump in the car so not only can I check them at home but when away on holiday.

I get a little niggled by postage and packing charges in connexion with buying on-line. It strikes me that companies are saving a fortune in overheads if they do a significant amount of business on-line. Popular retailers are probably getting as much turnover on-line as they would expect to get from several major stores but with a fraction of the costs. A warehouse is much more efficient than a department store, can operate round the clock, doesn’t have town centre rates and charges, and doesn’t get messed up by hordes of grubby customers. Maintaining the website properly is a major exercise but much more remunerative than a lot of window-dressing and in-store merchandising. Fulfilment and logistics don’t come cheap and I can see the justification for an order value threshold before free delivery kicks in to deter an excessive number of tiny orders, but I think any order over £10 should be free of charge for standard [up to 5 days] delivery.

We support our local theatre in Norwich; we book on-line and pay in advance [just booked three separate shows, one of them in June] but it always peeves me when £1.20 is added to the bill for “postage and packing” to send two tickets in a small envelope. I am surprised this cannot be absorbed in the general running expenses – they’re always sending us unwanted flyers for unpopular productions – and they might gain aditional goodwill; as a charity, they solicit a donation every time you book but I never tick that box because of their mean “p&p” policy!

This is all a form of “drip pricing” – excluding items that a reasonable consumer would expect to be included at no extra charge in order to misleadingly advertise a lower price for the main product.

I’ll focus on airports as a common culprit:

One example is small airports charging £1/€1/$1 for the small resealable bags in which one must put one’s 100ml liquids. In large airports with free bags, I often take a few of them to keep in my hand luggage in case I have the misfortune in future to visit one of the airports which charges for them.

Another example is that some airports even have no available baggage trolleys so that arriving passengers are forced to pay a hefty charge for porter service. Fortunately I’ve never seen this in the UK or indeed in Europe. Barbados airport is such a culprit.

Some airports charge a fee to each passenger, payable directly by the passenger at the airport, rather than the conventional system of charging all per-passenger fees to the airline which in turn includes it in advertised fares. This was the downfall of Newquay airport when Ryanair pulled out as a result of this fee – one of the few occasions when I support Ryanair’s actions.

Some airports even charge a fee to drop off passengers, even if no parking is required. Luton is one of the worst culprits.

Irrespective of the type of additional fee (airports or elsewhere), when faced with such small additional fees, I often find that the best way to register my protest is to claim that I have no cash and to offer an American Express card for payment (even for small fees like £1/€1/$1). Often this willingness to pay, but which is uneconomic for the service provider to accept, causes the fee to be waived.

Yes, airports rip you off big time. You have to dump your water before going through security and then it costs you twice as much to get a replacement once airside. $5 for a baggage trolley at some US airports but an easy system and always plenty available. Norwich Airport charges a “development fee” of £10 per adult passenger; needless to say there are now fewer flights and those that remain are to unappealing places. On returning there last year on a cold wet night I wondered what we had paid for! We had to walk a long way across the apron from the plane and join a long queue in the open to get to the baggage reclaim hall.

We need European legislation mandating that all per-passenger airport fees are charged to the airline which in turn includes them in the total fare. Most per-passenger airport fees are already included in this way. Those airports which charge the passenger directly do so only so that passengers are given a misleading indication of the total price of the flight.

John says:
13 January 2014

Maybe this is no longer true but I was under the impression that forecourt air pressure machines where renowned for how inaccurate they were. Due to that I have never used one to test my tyres, instead doing it at home.

One of the most innovative addons I’ve seen recently was when booking airport parking before christmas. First I was offered for a small fee the chance to get parked closer to the airport terminal which I declined only for it to be offered at no extra cost on the next screen. Then I was offered my own special lounge away from the riffraff for a small fee of £12 and finally just when I thought they had nothing left to sell me I was offered a priority lane through airport security for the very reasonable price of £3! I would have been very peeved if I’d accepted as I’d allowed an hour for security and had made it through in just 5 minutes… if only I’d paid for that lounge upgrade…

Elizabeth says:
13 January 2014

I hate booking fees charges by theatres and cinemas. You have to have a ticket to go to the performance so a booking fee is an annoyance!

I wish I could say this about every problem, but in this case we have a campaign about ticket fees: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/ticket-fees/ We’d love your support 🙂

FYI, fixed your typo.

BT and their new charge for Caller ID. Not very large but when they are touting their wondrous powers with regard to blocking unwanted phonecalls I consider it insulting and hypocritical to start charging.

I totally agree. Even since the mobile networks introduced basic network features such as caller ID and call waiting in the 1990s, they didn’t surcharge for it; it was included as a basic feature of the service. Why has BT always thought it is acceptable to surcharge for such basic features which have a zero marginal cost to provide?

g hare says:
3 February 2014

Agree together with the other insidous charges such 1571, and £24 per year if pay a bill in cash
stillalternative is mobile or post office

Funkymonkey says:
17 January 2014

Charging for air is disgusting. I have mobility problems and find it really hard to use a foot pump so I have to use an air machine. Its difficult enough getting around for me but my local garage charges 50p for 4minutes air time and I can never get more than 3 tyre pressures checked before the time runs out. Its damned annoying as I then have to pay another 50p just to check the fourth tyre.
Are these garages and petrol suppliers really that hard up that they can’t offer free air as part of the ‘service’?. Isn’t it better to encourage/enable people to have the correct tyre pressures which can only contribute to road safety??

These ‘extra’ charges need to be stopped as they penalise people such as me.

The air machines do cost the forecourts a lot to install and maintenance and calibration must be accounted for so the charge really is quite reasonable. For the record there is very little profit in petrol for the forecourts, most of the cost is made up of fuel duty, VAT and the actual cost of the petrol. There is only a few pence a litre in it for the forecourt.

g hare says:
3 February 2014

BT Telephone bill payment

What rip off pay by cash or cheques and e charge ever increasing amounts for the priviledge of paying a bill IN FLL and on time.

How ? by BT opening another company t collect their bill payments and cynically saying its not us it is anothe rcompy that collect on our behalf
Well san fair reian im off to the post office atleast i will save £24 per year