Petrol Stations Are Tricking Us

17th December 2020

Fixed prices are a cultural norm across every industry. We wouldn’t allow a barista to change up the price of coffee day-to-day, so why fuel? Since when was this commodity exempt from such capitalist expectations?

Until now, I’ve never even questioned these petrol stations' erratic evaluations. They’re like phone software updates. I've never investigated the fine print. I just press the agree button, hoping I'm not signing away everything I own.

At least the software person notifies us, though. Petrol Stations will advertise 99c a litre. Then, BAM, $1.55. They are always so mysterious too. Catching a station in the act of changing the price is like catching Santa Claus in a chimney. We know this happens, right under our noses, but when?

Well, I know when, for I have perfected the timing of rocking up in the morning as the prices double. “$1.05,” I say. “You beaut.” I inch toward the petrol pump, get out of the car, then get back in again, realising my fuel hole is on the other side. Once on the right side, I exit and literally watch the price jump 50c.

The first time this happened I just went home. If your day starts off like that, you better just lock yourself in a white room and put bubble wrap on sharp corners. The next time, though, I got suspicious.

Do fuel prices actually vary? Or do petrol station managers have a nightly meeting and decide to collectively stitch up the masses, as a laugh? “Okay, who’s turn?” the leader of the union might say as he looks around the crowded room. “Ah yes, Jeremy, the owner of Shell in Baldivis. What should the price be tomorrow?”

“80c,” Jeremy says and everyone falls silent, aghast. “Just kidding!” Jeremy shouts. “Make the suckers pay $1.52!” he screams and everyone erupts into laughter.

This is what I was imagining as I went up to pay. At the counter, the server nodded at me and I squinted my eyes at him. “What number?” he said, even though my car was the only one in the station.

“That one,” I said pointing.

“Any Flybuys?”


“Just $72.23.”

Just? I thought as I paid.


What? I thought again. So I can have a paper trail of your corruption?

“Yes,” I said.

“Have a nice day,” he said and grinned.

Obviously, he didn’t know that I knew, and I wasn’t going to let him sway me with his charm. “Whatever,” I said, squirting hand sanitiser on my palm.

His expression turned downcast as I turned my back to him and left, the receipt in my pocket, feeling triumphant.

. . .


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