Petrol pumps. US versus UK.

I notice on TV that in the US you can put the pump in the nozle and then leave it there, hands-free while it fills the car.

To the best of my knowledge I never see anyone in the UK do this which leads me to beleive it’s not possible.

However I have noticed a part of the pump that seems to be designed to hold the trigger in the open position.

Is it possible to set a pump in the UK to fill the car and take your hands away while it does so? And if not, how do the US pumps do it? And why the difference?

You need 2 things on the pump to do this - a notch to hold the handle so it keeps pumping. But more importantly you need a pump that can shut off automatically when the gas tank is full. In rare cases the pump does not cut off when the tank is full which leads to a spill of gas.

Maybe it’s not legal in the UK to have these type pumps?

In the US most pumps when you squeeze the handle it stays in that position. Gas continues to flow until the tank is full then the handle catch releases.

Do the pumps in the UK know when the tank is full and stop pumping gas?

The little part that locks it into place are called latch-open-devices and they aren’t legal everywhere in the U.S. They are technically illegal in Massachusetts but you can still find pumps with them enabled occasionally which I always take great joy in. There is a fear that the shut-off mechanism will fail completely when the tank is full and gas will just spill out everywhere until someone notices or the whole place explodes. I have never known anyone that has ever happened to but I guess it is possible. I say screw it. It gets cold here in the winter. I would rather just take my chances of going inside while the gas pumps than worry about large fires that may consume my vehicle and all other things around it. They are legal in other New England states like New Hampshire.

Cecil wrote a related column on this:

I’d like some Irish citizens to pass by on this one. Petrol in the Republic is a lot cheaper than in NI, so there’s booming business around the border. Which is why, I assumed, there were so many attended stations. I’m sure I’ve seen some of the attendants doing what you described, but I’d like someone to correct me on that if needs be.

Here is a link to a page with a cut-away diagram of a typical hold-open equipped nozzle:

The part labelled “hold open” can be pivoted toward the zig-zag shaped part to its immediate right, nestled in the trigger guard. It’s like a little staircase allowing the trigger to be propped open at low, medium, and high flow settings. When the auto shutoff mechanism is engaged, the trigger is bumped up (more on) briefly and a spring on the hold open paddle swings it back to the position shown in the diagram.

On nozzles where the hands free feature is disabled, either the hold open paddle or the zig zag part is removed.

Well, you can always use the gas cap to hold the trigger open, it fits in the handle perfect. I’m tall and I hate bending down for that long to hold it.

I have to believe that the UK pumps have auto shutoff that works very similar to the US auto shutoff. How else would a person filling up the car tank know that the tank is full?

They have auto shut-off, but you have to keep holding the lever while you fill the tank. I don’t think regulations allow the auto-fill feature.

I worked as a pump attendant in the UK the late '80s, and the pumps I used all had the “hold trigger” switch on them, that would snap off when the auto-shutoff kicked in.

When you’re filling a 200 gallon tank in a truck, they were a godsend. You could even wander away and have a cigarette or a bar of chocolate or whatever while the filling up was going on. Something happened legislatively in the 1990s to have them removed everywhere. Total pain in the arse.

Even if you use a hands-free device to keep the gas flowing while you aren’t holing the trigger down, the signs at the pump here in Michigan indicate the law says that someone should be keeping their eye on the pump at all times. It’s fine to clean your windshield or have a candy bar, but not to walk away completely and just hope that the auto-shutoff worked.

And having a cigarette anywhere near a gas station sounds like a very poor idea.

In my experience, petrol pumps in Ireland do not normally have a hold-open feature. However, as described by pabstist, some people use the cap of the petrol tank to jam the handle in the open position, relying on the automatic shut-off to operate when the tank is full.

Some pumps used to have (and maybe some still have) a control panel for petrol station attendants to dispense a fixed quantity. This panel would be accessed by the attendant using a key.

I note your observation that there are many attended stations in the Republic. That is not my experience - every station I know of in Dublin and the surrounding area is self-service. Maybe it’s different in the Border area.
This thread has shed light on another issue for me - it’s been mentioned in other threads that fires are occasionally caused by static sparks, resulting from people sliding into their car seats while their car is filling. In Ireland, the idea of sitting into the car while the petrol is dispensing, and leaving the nozzle unattended, literally would not occur to people. Partly because the weather doesn’t get very cold, so people can stand in the open for 5 minutes without freezing to death, and (as I now realise) partly because there is no hold-open feature on the nozzle handle.

Well yeah, we weren’t exactly rules or safety conscious. We smoked cigarettes and weed in the store in front of customers, then stole chocolate to feed our munchies. And set off the fire extinguishers “as a drill”. That’s the quality of service you get if you employ teenagers at £1.40 an hour.

I meant border areas, I’ve ventured far enough south (and west :p) to see the usual self service stations.

This is definitely one of our little annoyances with living in the UK! NZ has the hands-free thingee as you’ve described in the US.

One potentially relevant data point: I think the average car size/engine size/tank size might be smaller in the UK than the USA.

  • and the cost of fuel is certainly greater - and the average journey length is probably shorter (meaning that many people don’t run full-to-empty-to-full)

Holding the handle while the tank fills isn’t something I’ve ever heard a Brit describe as a burden or inconvenience.

I find it annoying, as while my tank is filling I will usually take the time to clean the windshield. That lets me get out of the gas station and on my way quicker.

It always rains here - my windscreen cleans itself.

But oddly enough, Australian petrol pumps don’t (at least, none I’ve seen). Which is odd because it’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect both countries to have identical systems for.

At one time it was possible to do this, but not for many years now. It may have coincided with the death of attended patrol stations. Now the cheapest one round here is fully automated and you can’t buy anything else but fuel.