Why Can't I Pump My Own Gas in Oregon?

In Uncategorized by Matty Byloos9 Comments

Do Full Service Gas Stations in Oregon Have to Do With the Environment?

gas station attendant oregon

If a drive through the state of Oregon, or a recent move to the city of Portland or Eugene, for instance, has ever found you amazed at the return of the quaint and old-tyme gas station attendant, who in many cases, won’t even let you exit your vehicle unless it is to pay inside, then perhaps you’ve been curious about why. Why are all gas stations in the state of Oregon full service? It is true. Only the two states of Oregon and New Jersey have this law in effect, and it is indeed a legislated reality, that all gas stations are full service state-wide. But why? A recent road trip down to California had me wondering, as I realized it’d been a while since I did my own work at the gas station, and I kind of missed it!

I wondered about natives in the state of Oregon. I remembered associating so much pleasure with my first year’s worth of fill-up trips down to the gas station when I finally turned 16 and started driving. It was part of the rite-of-passage element that inevitably goes along with driving a car by yourself.

So did Oregon and New Jersey residents just fore-go the pleasure? Did they literally never realize what it was like to pump your own gas? Had some of them, indeed quite a lot of them, never ever pumped gasoline into their car ever? Ever ever? I wanted to know why you can’t pump your own gasoline in the state of Oregon, and so I did the research.Reasons Why You Can’t Pump Your Own Gas in Oregon or New Jersey

Map of OregonThere are some difficulties involved with doing the research on this. Proponents in New Jersey are on the records as stating that they had the foresight to see how potentially dangerous it can be to have motorists with little experience, out there in the gas station trying to operate a fuel pump. To which I say to myself, really?! What about the 48 other states? Are they the idiots? Bill Dressler is the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association. He has said that among the advantages for his state with regard to full-service gas stations, he counts:

  • Gasoline dealers in New Jersey enjoy lower vehicle insurance premiums
  • Motorists pay less for gas
  • Motorists are spared “the inconvenience of getting out in all kinds of weather”

And indeed, it is quite rainy in Oregon, so that much is nice — but it’s also rainy in Washington, and motorists there are allowed to get out in the rain to pump their own gas. So what else?

Apparently, not everyone is happy with the law, as there have been recent unsuccessful efforts in Oregon to overturn the ban on self-service gas stations. But Oregon newspaper editorialists countered the failed actions with the following other advantages of living in a state with all full-service gas stations:

  • Self-serve doesn’t save time since customers still have to go into the convenience store to pay for the purchase
  • There’s the problem of frequent topping-off spills
  • The annoyance of getting gas on your hands and clothes
  • And what about the 7,600 gas-station attendants’ jobs?

I Love Oregon Sticker ImageSurely, these are all valid points to consider, but are we really not allowed to pump our own gas in the state of Oregon because someone is looking out for us at the legislative level, ensuring that our hands don’t end up smelling like gas on the way to work in the morning? That seems weird. I’m not satisfied. Historically speaking, self-service gas was only introduced as late as 1947 in the state of California. Spiking gas prices in subsequent decades proved the spread of self-serve, and the break it offered in the cost of fuel, to make some sense.

So why are Oregon and New Jersey the remaining, sole holdouts? When asked in 1982 if they wanted self-serve, Oregon voters resoundingly said no. So really — does this just come down to the potential quirks that distinguish one state from any other in the Union? That may be the case. This is the way it’s always been done in Oregon, so that’s the way we’ll continue to do it.

It’s written into the code of the state. Not the DNA code, silly. Oregon State Code includes the following: “only trained employees of service stations are allowed to put so-called ‘Class 1 Flammable Liquids’ into cars.” Loosely quoted but you get the point. Here are more reasons why, according to the state legislature (quoted from KTVB News):

  • People with training in pumping are better at keeping down fire risk
  • It is nearly impossible to enforce safety standards on the driving public
  • Seniors and disabled drivers can’t get adequate help at self-serve stations, and are instead forced to find a full-service outlet and pay a higher price
  • Oregon’s rainy climate leads to more slick spots at gas stations, meaning higher liability insurance rates
  • Decreased maintenance of pumps because they aren’t regularly monitored
  • Self-service contributes to unemployment – especially among young people
  • Exposure to toxic fumes is a health hazard
  • Toxic fume exposure is heightened for pregnant women
  • Gas drive-off thefts are cut down with the law
  • Children are sometimes left unattended when customers go to make payment

Further quoting the news station’s commentary and reporting, “Reference is made to ‘other states’ four separate times in the law – including notes on the inability to enforce safety standards, lack of support for senior citizens and even the disappearance of auto-repair shops at gas stations.” Hmmmm…. so why do I still feel that little detective voice inside saying, I still don’t get why and where and how it all started, regardless of the validity or logic of the reasons we’re being given.

It’s typically a safe play to guess that somewhere at the bottom of this, money is the root. Not to get too Chinatown on everyone. “It’s one of those things where I think tradition plays a huge role,” Marie Dodds with Oregon’s AAA said. “Keeping prices down was the original reason.” Even though times have changed in the intervening decades since the law was voted in. “Our gas is no more expensive than Washington or California,” she continues.

That, my friends, will have to suffice as the answer. Enjoy the courtesy and the pleasure of having the work done for you when you live in or pass through Oregon, and don’t be baffled when you’re told to get back in your car at the gas station — it’s just how it is in the state of Oregon.

(Photo Via: Bike Snob NYC, Maps Statemaster, Pretty Pineapple)


  1. Wow, this was interesting! where i live very few stations offer service, mostly self serve. this was a lot of information on a subject that has always intrigued me. The thought of not being able to fill up my own tank is really weird to think of…

  2. I think one of the foremost reasons why self-service is not allowed in New Jersey is safety. Yes, it is safer to entrust the fuel filling job to trained service personnels. Many motorists particularly elderly and/or young drivers don’t know how to handle the gas pump. They can make a lot of mess from spilled fuel. They could dirty their hands, car, shirt, dress, the ground. They may also breathe in the toxic fumes. In bad weathers, I don’t have to brave the cold or rain to pump gas.

    Also, what if a mentally-deranged or suicidal person would instead pump gas on himself and ignite it? Thanks for the law prohibiting self-serviced gas stations in my state of New Jersey. I feel safer.

  3. I think what makes all the arguments hard to validate is knowing that 48 other states have had no problems with self serve. So yeah, there is probably an “invisible” force controlling things such as unions or nolstalgia.

  4. Being someone that was born and raised in Oregon I can personally tell you that it has nothing to do with employment. Oregon has always had higher than average unemployment rates and having full service gas stations obviously hasnt helped that. I couldnt find a good paying full time job in this state to save my ass. And the bit about it being safer. Can you honestly tell me that it takes someone “trained” in gas pumping to do it safely? It doesnt take a genius to pump gas. FYI..Ive worked at gas stations and they dont “train” you on how to pump safely. You take the nozzle out and stick it in the hole. Its all beaurocracy. Next they will be charging people money to get “gas pumping certification”. Lmfao!

  5. ” People with training in pumping are better at keeping down fire risk”

    I’ve worked at a gas station and I know directly that they don’t really teach you how to keep down fire risk at all. At most they only teach you how to program the machines to pump gas.

    “Oregon’s rainy climate leads to more slick spots at gas stations, meaning higher liability insurance rates”
    at the gas station I worked out, they had customers go inside to pay so this concept is irreverent. people are gonna leave the vehicles already to go pay inside or just to purchase items inside. Either way, they’ll still be exposed to slippery conditions.
    “Exposure to toxic fumes is a health hazard
    Toxic fume exposure is heightened for pregnant women”
    this may be true that people are exposed to these toxic fumes and that the fumes even contain something in it that’s believed to increase cancer but the gas attendants themselves have to tolerate that exposure all day long. Either way, someone is gonna get exposed to it so this condition is pointless to state. Also, both men and women work as gas attendants so it’s actually even worse for women if they worked as gas attendants all day long while pregnant and being exposed to such toxic fumes.

    “Gas drive-off thefts are cut down with the law
    Children are sometimes left unattended when customers go to make payment”
    This is not very accurate. At the gas station I worked at, customers had the choice to pay after their gas is done and than go inside to pay. In one situation, many people let me put gas in their vehicle and as soon as it was done, they drove off fast without paying. In other states like California, they require that you prepay first so it eliminates people being able to get gas without paying and driving off.

  6. Wow thought I knew everything what other random laws can be out there amazed if all the states would do this lot of jobs created an the gas is no higher who pays for all the attendants wages seems like gas stations are ripping folks off in other 48 states they have no attendants an charge just as much as full service people in these two states getting sweet deal what other bothersome chores are used not allowed to do in these states sign me up

  7. My wife and I stopped in Portland, Or. for a gas fill up on the way from Houston, Tx. to Anchorage, Ak. we were greatly surprised when the female attendant said She would do it for us because it is the law and gave us a brief description of the law . She was very polite and friendly super nice I would say very good memory from the Beaver state.
    Yes it was raining

  8. As a wheelchair bound driver I wish more states trained attendees about disabled drivers, held the same law and/or were at least required to have a decent ratio of full to self serve stations. I’m originally from OR, though moved away before being able to drive. Since it’s almost impossible to find a full-serve station in the rest of the country, most of the time I have to attempt to get the attention of the attendee, or if that’s not possible, trust a random stranger to do the job. (which also means I have to trust that they’ll help me pay as well) I’ve been told that by law, attendees must pump gas for a disabled driver. Whether this is true or not I’m not sure, but 99% of them haven’t a clue about it if so & you still have to find a way to notify them of your shituation. (getting in/out of one’s vehicle can be quite a hassle if disabled) So far I’ve only had a couple people flat out refuse to help, but it’s still added strain & can be overwhelming if you want to go somewhere farther than one tank will reach. Thumbs up to OR & NJ! (didn’t know NJ had the same law until reading this)

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