/ Motoring

Should petrol stations provide forecourt assistance?

The news that Shell is to reintroduce forecourt attendants to assist you with filling up with fuel has divided opinion in the office. So why is cars expert Lewis against the idea and Conversation’s Charlotte in favour?

Lewis would like cheaper fuel

Not so long ago, forecourt attendants were a common sight in British petrol stations. But cost cutting measures have meant these roles were phased out and customers had to get to grips with the pump themselves – a challenge many passed with flying colours.

Personally, I believe all motorists should be able to carry out basic car care. By this I mean tasks such as checking oil levels, topping up screen wash and checking tyre pressures. These are fundamental checks which should be undertaken regularly. Shell claim that its new forecourt attendants will do all of this for you – great if motorists take their advice on board, but I just can’t see that happening in the majority of cases.

A key principle behind the scheme is to save the customers’ time, the idea being that customers are in the kiosk paying for their fuel while the checks are being made. By speeding up the process, Shell will be able to get more vehicles through the pumps – not to mention more cash through the tills – so how much time these attendants actually spend with the customers remains to be seen.

I also see this as an attempt to justify higher fuel prices. With motoring costs increasing, many customers have turned to supermarkets in an attempt to keep their fuel bill down. The latest figures from the AA show that average supermarket prices for unleaded petrol are 2.9 pence per litre less than the UK average. So if Shell were to match these supermarket prices, it’d be a far greater incentive for me to use them then adding on extra services which are not needed.

Charlotte would appreciate the help

Lewis has a bit of a head-start on me being a ‘cars’ man. But, as someone who passed their driving test a little later in life, I think many forget the nervousness felt by many individuals who didn’t learn to drive in their teens.

I’m pretty good at doing my under-the-bonnet checks. In fact, I’d go as far as saying I enjoy it. But when it comes to filling up my car at the petrol station, I go into melt down. The petrol cap on my car is fiddly. By the time I’ve lined up the cap at the correct angle and twisted it off, I’ve developed a queue of cars behind me.

Next is the tricky technique of getting the nozzle in. I either neglect to get it in far enough, or have forced it in too far, meaning the mechanism continually ‘clicks’ out. This results in one of two things – the drivers in the car pointing and laughing, or some poor person getting out their car to come to my rescue.

The prospect of someone who works at the petrol station assisting me with this humiliating ritual would really restore my confidence in driving – and save me having to take a chaperone with me when it’s time to fill up. If the service meant I had to pay a little more, I’d be happy to do this for the extra peace of mind.

Do you welcome Shell’s decision to bring forecourt attendants back to our petrol stations? Or would prefer to see cheaper prices instead of this extra customer service?

Would you like petrol stations to provide forecourt assistance?

No - I agree with Lewis, I'd rather do it myself (69%, 333 Votes)

Yes - I agree with Charlotte, forecourt assistants would be helpful (31%, 151 Votes)

Total Voters: 489

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“A key principle behind the scheme is to save the customers’ time”
If they really wanted to help they’d have more people on the tills during busy times, so you don’t have to queue for ages. This would also improve throughput through the garage

And shouldn’t they be called forecourt salespeople ? As I’m sure they’re not going to pass up the opportunity to try and flog stuff to the motorist.

And why do they not pass on price reductions as quickly as they do price rises? Can Which not investigate that ?

It would be a nice gesture to have help available for the elderly and disabled, but everyone else should be able to do this for themselves.

I expect the attendants would soon start cadging tips!

Gavin says:
22 June 2012

This service is already offered at the Shell Stations on the A12 near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The problem I have with it is that as my car is an older model I have to leave the keys with the attendant in the fuel filler cap. I normally prefer to lock the car and take the keys with me into the kiosk. Even if you don’t have to use the key to unlock the filler cap you still may not be able to lock the car when you leave it.
I’m not a fan of handing over my car keys to a total stranger and then walking away…

Good point, and that is something the car designer could have thought about.

If you are able drive, you can fill your car up and do the maintenance checks yourself.

2 things I would rather have than expensive “assistants” that appear right across the board in Germany.

1 – Re-activate the catch on the handle of the petrol pump so that you can just put the nozzle in, press it, lock it, and when your car is full, it flicks off, leaving you to perform your checks in the time that it has filled up.
2 – Provide more sponge and squeegy buckets at each pump island so that whilst your car is filling itself up, you can clean the flys off your windscreen.

Is there a token British health and safety reason why the catches are not active?

I presume that the reason is the risk of fuel spillage. I have never had a problem with my own car but I once had a lot of problems with a Citroen hire car. The pump kept cutting out (as happens with some cars) and then overflowed without warning. I have seen other spillages too.

Better designed cars and fuel pumps might make it practical to reinstate the useful catch but at least the amount of fuel spilled is limited if someone is wielding the nozzle.

It is annoying that designers have not achieved what seems to be simple and it beggars belief that car fuel gauges seem no more accurate than they were 50 years ago.

Perhaps the forecourt attendants can help deal with fuel spillages. Petrol is obviously a fire risk, and diesel can make a forecourt slippy.

Interesting, and I agree, I think car companies have been making them long enough now so as to ensure they all work properly.

When I lived in Germany though, I drove all sorts of hire cars (as I didn’t have one myself) and every time I filled up, I just flicked the catch and the car filled itself up as I cleaned the flies of my windscreen.

But I suppose people in Europe take more responsibility for their actions than we do here

Chas says:
22 June 2012

On occasions, I have used the Shell garage at Burgh Heath and have been greeted by a young man offering to fill up for me and carry out a quick check of my vehicle. Although I do welcome the service, I am sceptical as to whether it is a public relations exercise or an opportunity to push the Shell Club Card, the application forms he has conveniently on his clipboard.

Whay are people so impatient at the filling station? They’ll fiddle about with their cars all Sunday morning [not a bad thing if it means it’s properly maintained] and then expect to get in and out of the forecourt in three minutes flat. And heaven help it if there’s someone else’s car stuck in front of the pump they want – their blood pressure must become almost explosive. I must admit I do get annoyed when people spend ages going round the shop buying sweets and magazines before paying for their fuel and clearing the way. But that’s how life is. Driving a car saves so much time – a few minutes lost at the filling station is not the end of the world [and there are quieter times with no hold-ups].

As with so many other things in life, it is just a case of patience and considering other people. Sometimes I would like to give people a bit of their own medicine, but avoiding busy times – as you suggest – is a better approach.

At least my local filling station has plenty of room to reverse and drive off, even if the person in front is away from their car and in a world of their own.

More banknote and debit/credit card payment pumps would reduce the kiosk delays, but only if people moved their cars off the stand.

Paul Fogarty says:
22 June 2012

I would love to have forecourt attendants who not only fill my car but also checked my car over.
Why – because I am disabled, Yes I can drive a car but I cannot bend down to check tyre pressures. I had to give up changing a headlight bulb last week because the pain became too bad.
What would be great if garages used pay booths as you left the forecourt. I also think that the pay at the pump facility is great as it cuts down on a painfully walk to
I say a great big yes to forecourt attendants.

This is a bit of a strange one, as I sit between the two sides.

On one hand, I’m quite happy to fill up my own tank and don’t particularly need help to do it. But on the other hand, I’m not very good at checking my tyre pressures. In fact, I tried it once and was so convinced that I’d done it wrong that I spent the rest of the journey convinced that my car wasn’t handling properly (it was fine.)

The simple fact is, numerous people own cars who can’t do basic car care – and there’s little point in saying that everyone ‘should’ know how to do it. A car is an expensive and intimidating piece of equipment, and I for one like to know that if I’m doing anything to it – that I’m not going to break it.

Long story short – I think it’d be great to have attendants available for those who want them, but I wouldn’t be happy to pay more for my petrol in order to have access to the service. So I want to have my cake AND eat it, it would seem!

The easiest solution is to get your own pressure gauge and check your tyres at home, when no-one is watching or waiting. If your tyres are under-inflated the consequences could be serious. Many years ago I was in a friend’s car and a nearly new tyre started to disintegrate due to under-inflation. If he had not stopped for petrol he would have had a blowout at high speed and I might not have been here to write this message.

For a minority of drivers, such as the elderly, for whom placing a sometimes awkward pump to the filler cap can be difficult, this could be useful, but for the vast majority it’s unnecessary. I suspect the major concern is the additional cost on the fuel which, surely, will have to be charged?

Phil says:
23 June 2012

The petrol station is not the best place to check your tyre pressures – the tyres will be warm after driving. Pressures should be checked with the tyres cold.

Sophie Gilbert says:
25 June 2012

In an ideal world I’d have forecourt attendants again, and bus collectors, and more people at the till in supermarkets, etc, and get rid of awful self-service machines everywhere. More jobs going around and generally better, human, service.

frances says:
26 June 2012

I can remember “attendants” who always seemed to be on a bad day,
banging the hose into the filler hole chipping paint on the way, and finishing off the
wonderful service by dribbling petrol down the side of the car.
What can you do with these boneheads ?

Much better to serve yourself.

“Personally, I believe all motorists should be able to carry out basic car care. By this I mean tasks such as checking oil levels, topping up screen wash and checking tyre pressures.”

I presume you’d like to get rid of all disabled and elderly drivers then?

I have all the equipment in my own garage but as my spinal arthritis has taken hold I can’t even bend to take tyre pressures anymore (I’m only 32), I now have to talk my wife through how to do it!

Attendants doing these checks would be a godsend for me, and others in a similar situation.

I can however still fill the car with fuel, I also do my wife’s car as she isn’t confident doing it herself.

Maybe it should be included on the driving test as well as all the new “basic” maintenance checks you have to do?

Roy williams says:
15 August 2012

Unless something has changed, my understanding of the demise of attendants years ago was due to health and safety- exposure limits to benzene thresholds over a working day meant nobody could be put at risk. I work offshore and this is recogised hazard in certain processes.

m m devitt says:
2 August 2015

I believe that attendants must be used at petrol stations ,as if u pore petrol over yourself U CAN CLAIM, although you do need pictures and as much information as possible

As one of “the disabled” (I’m in leg callipers and on crutches) I’ve found this a fantastic service – it’s an exhausting haul to the till for me at my local garage. Plus, with attendant service, I’m out of the way of the impatient able-bodied! 🙂