Q I've noticed that many gas stations have security stickers that are supposed to indicate malicious tampering if broken. But I looked at more stations; the Alum Rock Shell station and Rotten Robbie, for example, have every single sticker broken. The Shell station attendant said his manager checks every day but didn't know why stickers had not been replaced.
If those are true indicators that the gas pump has been tampered with, does that mean my credit card information and identity is being sold to the highest bidder as I type this? Can you shed some light on this?
A There is reason to worry. When you pay at the pump with your debit or credit card, you run a risk that thieves may have doctored the machine and are trying to skim information off your bank card and steal money out of your account. These "skimmers" favor gas stations.
The stickers are an inexpensive way for retailers to monitor dispenser card readers for tampering. Tom-the-Rotten-Robbie-Man says a broker sticker does not mean the pump has been tampered with, but it does mean that someone should be checking just in case.
His stations and others are in the process of upgrading their card readers to new versions that are more fraud-resistant. You may see them coming soon to a station near you (they'll have video displays).
Q When Bill Clinton was president (the good ol' days, I call it), a national and temporary gas tax was levied to help reduce the federal budget deficit. And it worked. Any chance of this being tried again?
A Very unlikely. Ken-the-Energy-Analyst said "rather than hoping for an increase in the gas tax, expect greater financial participation by state and local taxpayers (in the form of county sales taxes and state bond measures) as the most likely response to inadequate federal infrastructure funding in the 113th Congress -- and perhaps beyond."
In 1993, Clinton led the effort to raise the gas tax 4.3 cents a gallon. A few years later Republicans wanted to repeal the tax after prices soared (ahem) to $1.31 a gallon nationwide.
Q Could you explain the differences between our summer blend and winter blend of gas? I get lower mileage in the winter than in the summer, and think it must be the gas. No AC in the winter should mean slightly higher mileage.
A California uses a special blend of gas in the summer that evaporates at a slower rate and helps reduce the amount of smog-forming particles that easily mix with warmer air. The original standard was ordered in 1971 by Gov. Ronald Reagan to meet the federal Clean Air Act.
Though the summer blend was adopted nationally in 1989, California still had too much smog. In 1996, Gov. Pete Wilson called for a summer blend with a slower evaporation rate. This higher standard for California gas dramatically lowered smog levels, and sent prices soaring.
Q A friend says all vehicles purchased in California must be able to run on regular gas. I bought a 2008 Mini Cooper S and I was told to use premium. I'm guessing I could use regular, but performance would be hindered. My friend says that doesn't follow the law. Do you know?
A This is a road myth. There is no requirement that all cars must be able to run on regular. Most cars where premium is recommended can run on regular, although there are a few whose engine requires premium. Edmunds.com says those vehicles "will still run on regular fuel in a pinch -- but you shouldn't make a habit out of it. The fuel's lower octane can result in elevated exhaust-gas temperatures and possible knocking, both of which can adversely affect the long-term engine's health."