Call them cheap or call them trend setters, but Utahns, more than any other people in the country, prefer to pump gasoline themselves rather than pay more for full service.
A survey by Amoco Corp. said 96 percent of Utah motorists used self-service pumps in 1990. Massachusetts has the lowest self-serve market share at 57 percent."That's not only last year. We've topped the list for years," said Gerry Tedrow, executive director of the Western Petroleum Marketers Association, based in Salt Lake City.
Asked why, Tedrow said, "I suspect one reason is we are quite conservative in this area and happy to pump our own gas to save a few cents."
That's a polite way of saying Utahns are tightwads.
Utahns, bent on getting a bargain for gasoline, also contribute to pump prices being more than 10 cents below the national average. AAA reported the national average this week at $1.09 a gallon for unleaded regular, while a survey of 10 stations in Salt Lake County indicated an average price of 96 cents a gallon.
The Utah Petroleum Retailers Organization said local motorists will drive several miles out of their way to save one penny a gallon, resulting in stiff competition among service stations to keep prices as low as possible and not lose customers.
But the Beehive state isn't the only place motorists pinch pennies for fuel. According to Amoco, most states surrounding Utah have a high proportion of self-serve use and it is increasing in popularity every year in other states.
Following close behind Utah were Arizona and Colorado with a 95 percent share of self-serve business, and Nevada and Washington had 94 percent.
"It's a fairly strong trend throughout the West," Tedrow said.
Amoco found 83 percent of motorists nationwide pumping gasoline themselves last year - up 2 percent since 1989 and contributing to a 600 percent increase in the past 15 years.
"Amoco's research indicates that self-serve facilities continue to gain cause of competitive prices, quick service and the ever-increasing availability of self-serve, 24-hour service stations," said David F. Tatterson, the oil company's director of marketing research.
The survey shows that in 1990, self-serve purchases increased in 44 states and the District of Columbia, stayed the same in two states and declined in one state. Self-service remains illegal in New Jersey and Oregon.
Tatterson expects the popularity of self-service stations to continue as the industry updates stations to meet motorists' needs.
There will always be those, however, who want someone to pump gas, wash the windows and check the oil for 20 cents more a gallon.
"They are the student who has dad's credit card and is on a date and doesn't want his hands to smell like gas," said service stations owner Paul Ashton. "A good portion of them are women and older people who want their car checked" along with a fill-up.
He said full-service accounts for less than 5 percent of his business.
Gas prices leveling off
While the popularity of self-service may continue, the trend of falling gasoline prices is likely to end soon, said Gerry Tedrow, executive director of the Western Petroleum Marketers Association.
He said service stations can't operate for long on the 4- to 5-cent-per-gallon margin earned with wholesale costs around 90 cents a gallon.
Convenience store giant 7-11 increased its price of unleaded regular this week to 99 cents a gallon, and a few others along the Wasatch Front have followed. Tedrow didn't say when a widespread surge would take place, but he predicted prices rising as much as 15 cents a gallon by summer.
Here's a sampling of prices for regular unleaded gas in Salt Lake and Davis counties as of Friday morning.
SALT LAKE COUNTY
309 E. 400 South .999
1689 S. 900 East .939
1310 E. 3300 South .949
2670 W. 4700 South .959
4820 S. Highland Drive .949
4326 W. 5415 South .949
4783 W. 6200 South .959
2687 W. 7800 South .999
2095 E. 9400 South .949
12573 S. Redwood Road .949
465 S. State, Clearfield .959
16 N. 100 East, Farmington .959
1011 S. Main, Centerville .969
280 W. 500 South, Btfl. .969
1095 N. Highway 89 .979
Salt Lake County Average Price last week: .972
Average Price this week: .960
Davis County Average Price last week: .981
Average Price this week: .967