A phenomenon at the petrol pumps dubbed ‘the ghost penny’ has caused a stir on the Montrose Review’s Facebook page.
The question which was asked by most was “are the petrol pumps pinching pennies from our pockets?”
It is particularly noticeable if you fill a car up to round amounts such as £20, maybe because this is how you watch your spending or to do with work expenses. Either way, it seems that nearly every transaction will have an extra penny or two added to it, but how does it get there?
Research on the internet reveals blogs, videos referring to it as ‘the ghost penny’, groups on a social networking site entitled ‘I hate going over by 1p at the petrol station!’ and some interesting theories and reasons behind the penny.
One website claimed that the one pence was to encourage customers to put in more fuel to try and get to a round amount again and therefore spending more money.
Trading Standards often receive complaints from customers who find that on replacing the nozzle in the pump that the price indicator adds on an additional 1p. The measurement of fuel in a petrol pump causes a ‘pulser’ to rotate and send a signal to a computer. The customer display shows the quantity delivered and the price as calculated by the computer. Because the price of petrol is high, a very small movement in the pulser can be enough to trip the price indication on the pump by a penny.
This represents only a very small quantity of fuel, roughly a teaspoonful. Trading Standards told us that the pump uses a meter which physically measures the amount of fuel passing through. A device attached to the meter converts the movement of the meter into a digital signal, which drives the quantity indication – i.e. the litres.
That indication is then converted into an amount of money, based upon the price programmed in, which often ends in .9 of a penny. This means the price to quantity calculation is not as straightforward as if it were in straight pence.