The first time I visited the US was in July 1999. I remember the month and year clearly because I was laying on the bed with my future wife in a Best Western near Atlanta airport watching television when news of JFK Jr’s plane crash broke. That evening a bartender looked at me like I had two heads when I asked him to explain something about the baseball game that was on. There was another thing I remember about that trip though. Petrol prices. A few days later when we were in North Carolina, I saw petrol priced at 89c a gallon. Eighty nine cents. Not even a round dollar. Welcome to America.
Like my marriage those days are long gone, but in general America still enjoys cheaper petrol prices than the rest of the world. One of the great pervading myths in the UK is that everything is cheaper in America. My completely unscientific research based on multiple visits is that really only ever held true for petrol and housing (and the latter is catching up) but almost everything else is comparatively more expensive stateside. A few different factors contribute to the discrepancy in petrol prices, but the overriding reason is the amount of tax paid.
In the UK petrol is sold in liters (but we measure distance and speed in miles. Liquids are sold in metric measurements except milk and pub sold beer. Welcome to the UK). At the moment, the average price near me is £1.36.9 per liter of regular unleaded. This works out to roughly £6.23 per imperial gallon (1 imperial gallon = 4.55 liters). But the US uses its own gallon which is smaller than an imperial gallon. This isn’t because when colonial settlers landed in America they damaged their weights throwing them at Native Americans but because America adopted the wine gallon as opposed to the gallon used for measuring ale like everyone else. You’d have thought it would have been the other way round, but this was probably the fault of the Germans because they have beer with breakfast. I’ve always considered them very civilized. Consequently an imperial gallon is 20% larger than a US one, so for you tea microwavers, taking into account the differing volumes and currency conversions that per liter price works out to about $6.58 per US gallon. Pictured below is a screenshot of prices local to me, filtered to show the cheapest first taken from PetrolPrices.com.
A Tale Of Two Tanks
What does all this mean in the real world? The tank capacity for my 2010 Cooper Clubman is quoted at 40 liters. I put about fifty quids worth of unleaded in about every three weeks, which the trip computer tells me should be good for some 350 miles or so; in reality I get about 320 and maybe a little more if I go right into the reserve, which I don’t because I’m not an idiot who likes introducing random elements of high jeopardy into my daily life. That works out to about 8 (imperial) gallons and just under 40 mpg, which is roughly what the car tells me I get. My driving mostly consists of short journeys running errands around town, and my regular RC racing on a Friday night. Depending on what motorways Highways England has randomly decided to shut down for roadworks to bugger up my journey, that can range from a sixty to an eighty mile round trip.
In the US you get three grades of unleaded – regular 87 Octane, which I’m pretty sure I can piss stronger than that after a couple of cups of decent coffee. Mid-grade 89 Octane, so middle of the road big oil couldn’t even come up with a decent name. And she needs premium dude! PREMIUM!’ that could be anywhere from 91 to 94 Octane. Something similar exists in the land of maple syrup, but in the UK, our regular unleaded that most normal cars run happily on is 95 Octane. Our super unleaded is 98. As regular readers know by now I have another, slightly more highly strung car. Take a wild guess which grade that one drinks. Accordingly, super unleaded which usually has a fancy name like Shell V Power, runs about 20p per liter more expensive than normal unleaded. With its continental touring sized tank, empty to brim the Ferrari swallows 103 liters (27 US gallons) of the stuff. My last receipt for the Mondial was £130.75 ($165.85) and because the fuel gauge is at best approximate, that was for a mere 81 liters. For those keeping score at home, 103 times 20 pence equals twenty quid ($25) extra per tank over regular unleaded. Bloody hell.
I Am Not Moaning About Owning A Ferrari, Honestly
I usually get the Ferrari out every couple of weeks or so, because they need to be driven and they don’t like sitting around. The first year I had it, because I was feeling my way in gently reliability wise, I didn’t stray too far from home, totaling only about 1500 miles or so. Last year I was determined to take it further. It repaid my trust on its first long distance trip by spectacularly shitting itself on the way to Brands Hatch. But once repaired, that June I took it to Le Mans Classic in France and last September I took it all the way across Europe for a once in a lifetime trip to the Italian Grand Prix. At the end of that pan-European sojourn I drove home, unpacked and repacked, had a cup of coffee and headed straight back down the motorway to meet up with a used car salesman and a blackjack dealer for an Autopian invasion of the Goodwood Revival. All told, the Mondial did over 2500 miles in nine days. I didn’t work out the total fuel bill on purpose. Sometimes you’ve just got flex the plastic and say fuck it.
It seems incongruous to own an old Ferrari and talk about running costs, but I’m not of means. If I was, would I be working here? I did a lot of research before buying the thing to make sure I wouldn’t be underwater as soon as the first annual service came due and I’ve been a bit clever with a couple of small issues. But seeing as I love driving it, and enjoy other people enjoying it, I’ll take any advantage in minimizing the operating expenses I can get. And when it comes to putting petrol in it, good old fashioned American capitalism as always has an answer.
If you were paying close attention to the price comparison screenshots earlier, you might have noticed an outlier significantly cheaper than the others: Costco. We’ve had Costco in the UK since 1993, although they’ve flown a bit under the radar a bit as that type of big-box membership retail fitted into our twee little island about as well as a full size pick-up. There are 29 locations up and down the country (for comparison at 93,000 square miles the UK is 5000 square miles smaller than Oregon, but a hell of a lot more crowded). Best of all there’s one up the road from me in Coventry. And their super unleaded is priced at £1.39.9, or the same price as normal unleaded at a local forecourt. Perfect. Brim the thing up to the neck and enjoy winding it out past 7000 rpm without a care in the wallet. Just one small snag.
I Don’t Want To Be A Member Of Any Club That Would Have Me
In the US to become a Costco member you have to be over 16 and able to fog a mirror. In the UK it’s more bureaucratic because in an apparent twist of irony it looks like they’re trying to exclude the type of person who would be shopping there; the riffraff. Maybe Costco membership is some sort of badge of honor amongst the great unwashed. Who knows? What I do know is that despite not being a current or retired member of local government, the emergency services, the armed forces (I have few regrets in life; not serving is one), a former airline pilot or a practicing lawyer, doctor or architect, I am in fact a tutor in higher education and a director of my own company. So I qualify for either an individual membership as an education employee or a trade membership as a director, although trust me neither of these are as prestigious as they sound.
Yesterday I filled in the joining form online and paid the annual fee – the princely sum of £33.60. And today I drove to the Costco in Coventry. As usually happens, as soon as I stopped the Ferrari was swarmed by onlookers (well three or four) wanting pictures and could I please rev it up? Membership has its privileges indeed. I took the opportunity to have a look around the aircraft hanger and if I ever want a set of off-brand golf clubs, a pallet of black hair dye or laundry appliances whose price is only revealed online well now I know where to come. Judging by the queues at the self service pumps Costco is a popular location for fill ups, but at £1.31.9 for regular unleaded is only 5p per liter cheaper than the supermarket down the road. At that little difference it would take 660 liters to break even on the cost of membership, or about 16 tanks for my Mini which hardly seems worth the effort. But as promised the super unleaded was £1.39.9, some 20p per liter cheaper than other places.
Unfortunately for me I only filled the Ferrari up last Sunday, so this time it only took 18 liters, saving me the grand total of £1.60. Which would have been enough to buy the famous Costco hot dog and soda for lunch, at £1.50. Except they didn’t fucking have any. So I went to McDonalds in a huff.
- How Low Do You Let Your Gas Gauge Needle Go? Autopian Asks
- Brooklyn Has The Highest Density Of Gas Stations While Having Among The Lowest Density Of Car Owners
- Trend Alert: Transparent Fuel Doors That Reveal Swanky Gas Caps Are Apparently ‘In’ In Southeast Asia
- This Truck Stop Brand Realized It’s Better To Build EV Charging Stations Like Gas Stations