/ 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