Looking back at when petrol stations did the lot

The familiar ‘ding’ of the service station line as we pulled into the fueling station. Driving in to be greeted
Flashback

The familiar ‘ding’ of the service station line as we pulled into the fueling station. Driving in to be greeted by a friendly attendant with either a name badge or their name embroidered on their shirt. They’d greet you cheerily as you wound down your window and rattled off which sort of petrol and how much — usually either by dollar value or by “fill her up” instruction.

It’s easy to be nostalgic for full-service petrol stations.

If you were a regular the attendant might even remember your car and preferences like a seasoned barman would remember a regular’s drinking habits and beat you to the punch — “Fill her up with regular today?” with their hand already on the pump.

The shop would usually be a small attachment to a mechanical shop. The smells were all grease, grime and petrol fumes.

It was handy to have someone knowledgeable who would check your oil, water, and air in your tyres and top them up if needed, before cleaning your windscreen, collecting payment and waving you on your way.

You didn’t have to get out of the car, very handy on rainy days, or if you had children in the car.

Now you have to remember to lock your cars, or at least remove the key from the ignition so no one can drive off with it while you wait in line to pay for your fuel.

As with most things, there were positives and negatives, and some scary moments as the changes were brought in.

Until you got used to it, many spilt petrol over the car or driveway, or worse your shoes!

If you didn’t learn to add oil and water to your routine, your car would have to tell you, hopefully before you blew something crucial. Red lights on the dashboard, heart pumping and hoping the engine wouldn’t blow up before you got to an open petrol station to refill either of them.

While no one seemed to mind if an attendant was refilling your oil, water or tyres, once you started doing it yourself people either became impatient or self-conscious about taking that much time in the driveway.

The businesses learned that people behind you at the petrol pumps didn’t want to wait while you fiddled with oil, water or air and eventually dedicated water and air ‘stations’ were provided away from the petrol pumps. With people more likely checking their oil and water at home, petrol stations probably don’t sell very much oil at all anymore. At one time it would been their second biggest seller behind petrol.

But then again, they do now sell grocery items, lollies and coffees that you would have only seen at the bigger ‘roadhouses’ on the highway.

It’s another completely different service, shopping and smelling experience that we’ve all grown used to.

Do you prefer self-service or driveway service? Share your thoughts with us.

  1. Mary Claridge  

    I was recently in Denmark (down South WA) and had the pleasure of being served my petrol, also the windscreen washed. A family business with plenty of servo’s it just felt nice.

  2. John Dods  

    The best remaining one is in our nearest town St Arnaud in Western Victoria, Australia. It is the BP Apex, owned for generations by the Esmore family. It’s a beautiful trip back in time to fill up there…..And they certainly don’t spill anything. Just a smiling driveway attendant in monogrammed shirt to do it all for you.

  3. Janice  

    I wish they still had full driveway service. Self service is good if you are able bodied but if you have a disability of kind. I can check my oil & water but unable because of a disability to check my tyres.

  4. Guy Flavell  

    Yeah, I remember working part-time at service stations as a driveway attendant in the 60’s and 70’s.
    A sod of a job. 10 shillings worth of petrol and “check the tyres, radiator and oil please” WHEN I
    had a line-up of six cars waiting too … happened about every third customer sadly.
    Pouring rain or extreme heat gave no response as the customers just sat there and smirked at
    my ‘slave labour’. All this for about $1.50 an hour !!! Thank heavens for the introduction of
    self-serve petrol stations where the ignorant patrons now have to get off their own asses and
    look after their own cars.

    • Barry  

      Why didn’t you get another job, if it was as bad as you describe?

      • Guy Flavell  

        I did Barry. As well as working two petrol stations, I also worked full time for Combank, pulled
        beer at the soccer and stacked shelves at Arnott Brockoff Guests one night a week.
        My wage at the Bank was around $120 pw and I was battling … every little bit of extra money
        was bloody helpful.

    • Ray  

      Decimal Currency came into being here 14/2/1966, so you would’ve been asked for ‘two dollars’ worth of petrol’.

      • Guy Flavell  

        No Ray, even after 14/2/66 people asked for 10 bob’s worth or a quid’s worth of petrol.
        This went on for about 3-4 years after the change.

    • ted partridge  

      with respect.sounds like you would have been right at home ,working in one of the major outlets prevailing now..you might have been two generations too early happy new year.

      • Guy Flavell  

        And Ted, you would have been no doubt one of the rotten smirkers. HNY.

  5. David Pagan  

    In South Africa we only have full-service petrol stations. This is to preserve jobs in a country where unemployment is probably 20%. They no longer (officially) repair punctures, but everything else is done for you. And what a pleasure it is especially when the’pump-jockey’ is smiling and friendly, as is usually the case.

  6. Joy Anne Bourke  

    This was the perfect way especially for customer service and would alleviate DRIVE OFFS like today. This would not happen if we returned to driveway attendance. I use to do this in Cairns back in 1997-99 and it was so great attending customers needs.

  7. David Williams  

    Here in New Zealand one chain Z (formerly Shell) have brought forecourt attendants back and it is paying dividends for them.

  8. Denise  

    Yes, bring back the driveway service – it was great! Although I can imagine that people would now use it as a chance to get on their phone and ignore the attendent serving them – rude! It never hurts to smile and say ‘thank you’. Many people are very surprised when you do that.

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