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I filled the gas tank in my truck today, and when I was done, I noticed I had purchased 14.491 gallons of gasoline.

Let's run this through our heads, shall we?

A gallon is 124 fluid ounces. So four-tenths of a gallon would be 12.4 ounces times four, or 49.6 ounces—one sip beyond three pints of beer, to use another common liquid for perspective.

Moving on: a hundredth of a gallon is 1.24 ounces. So nine hundredths would be 11.16 ounces—a sip short of a full can of Diet Mountain Dew. This assumes the gas pump can regulate the flow of gasoline an ounce at a time.

But now we come to a thousandth of a gallon: the "1" in point-four-nine-one gallons of gasoline. A thousandth of a gallon is .124 ounces of gasoline—a little over a tenth of an ounce.

Think for a moment, if you please, about the typical gasoline pump. People use it hundreds of times a day. It pumps gasoline from big underground tanks through long, fat hoses that lead to a nozzle that you stick in the gas tank opening. The nozzle's construction doesn't exactly suggest it's a precision measuring device. We're supposed to believe this nozzle, this pump and these hoses make up an instrument capable of measuring gasoline in tenths of an ounce?

Let's put it in perspective: a teaspoon holds one-sixth of a fluid ounce, or 0.167 ounces (rounded up a thousandth). So we're saying a hulking gas pump can measure fluids in smaller increments than teaspoons? You be the judge.

I suppose it could be argued that the three numbers to the right of the decimal point reflect the way gasoline is priced on the stations' signs. Where I live, gasoline costs $3.749 a gallon. The signs, of course, display the "9" much smaller and tuck it up at the top right of the penny in the price. Why don't they just drop the tenth of a penny and list it as $3.75 a gallon? No one I've ever met has carried coins worth a tenth of a penny.

Like so many things in life, it's a mystery.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
These numbers make my head hurt. Enough that I want get a pair of pliers and a blow torch and get medieval on a gas pump ... to install an accurate counting mechanism, of course.

In addition, I'd like to mention I recently read an article that stated the cost of a barel of crude oil has gone down approximately 30 percent in recent weeks. The price of a gallon of gas has only gone down 9 percent in that same time period.

Aug. 24th, 2011 12:57 pm (UTC)
I never could figure that out. When oil spikes, gas prices go up overnight—and there have been times when I've watched them rise more than once during the same day. But when the cost of oil goes down, there's no such reaction the other way. I'm sure it's mostly due to our addiction to oil: We'll pay what we're charged.
Aug. 24th, 2011 04:32 am (UTC)
Re: tenth of an ounce> I expect that the measuring goes on by some mechanism attached to the underground tank, rather than the nozzle.

Re: price> Psychologically, people see $3.74 and not $3.75, just like when stores price things at $5.99 rather than $6 ("it's only five dollars and a bit more!"), or $599.99 rather than $600. Which is why Albert and I quote the "real" price of things at each other, to put things in context. (Sometimes for extra context, we quote prices in terms of Chipotle burritos, such as "this $24 item could buy 4 burritos!")

Also, people didn't pay in tenths of pennies back in your day? :P
Aug. 24th, 2011 12:43 pm (UTC)
"Also, people didn't pay in tenths of pennies back in your day?"

No. Once we got beyond pennies, we used muskrat pelts.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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