Caveat Emptor!


I’m not one for hating on big business too much. In a different life, I just might have been a business tycoon; they’re obviously in it for the kill, and the kill equates to making substantial profit. But, I’ve been noticing something I want to explore. Lord knows anyone who is halfway awake should also notice this too. I’m referring to gas and the disparate prices you’ll pay depending on where you buy it.

In the Washington, DC metropolitan, area, it seems that what you pay is due in large measure to where you buy it. I imagine it isn’t an anomaly. Based on the results of my non-scientific, anecdotal study, I have found similar results in other metropolitan areas too, including New York, Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago. I suspect this is very common nationwide. Recently, I was driving down a stretch of road in Maryland that extended from Howard County, Prince George’s County, and part of Montgomery County, and there were several stations with elevated prices, much more than it was in other areas of town. Even if you focus on a specific chain, say Shell for instance, you’ll see varying prices.

Where I live in Maryland (there’s a station about ¼ mile from home), gas is about 15 -20 cents more (or greater) per gallon than it is 10 miles across town. If I drive a few miles across the bridge into Virginia, there are even greater savings. That’s crazy. I try to be cognizant and plan my driving trips so that I can swing past those cheaper spots and fill up while I’m near them rather than make a special trip. It is ridiculous for there to be such a difference.  Just for the record, I am not picking on Shell. I’ve noticed the same thing with Exon, BP, and other chain stations. There is no rhyme or reason for the varying prices.

Why is there such a big disparity between the stations? The gas is essentially the same. If I only buy Shell gas, it’s the same gas no matter whether I pay $2.04 per gallon for regular unleaded gas or $2.45 per gallon – or to break it down for you – $19.38 versus $22.28 for 9.5 gallons. If I buy a different type of product, such as a pair of Levi jeans from the Target near my house at the Rio Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland versus the Target on Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria, Virginia, the price is $24.98 at both locations as well it should be. Why is it different for gas? I know, this is a rhetorical question. Some people might argue the point that the gas station is independently owned and the owners set the prices. Perhaps. But look at McDonald’s and their Dollar Menu items. A cheeseburger is $1.00 no matter which McDonald’s you go to. Gas should be the same.

It makes me think about (I’m stuck on jeans today as my example, so bear with me.) buying a pair of Polo jeans versus buying those Levis I mentioned earlier. Are the Levis any different than the Polo jeans? Are they really? No, of course they aren’t. I own both so I can there’s no different.  Other than the Polo label, that’s it. Jeans are jeans. Jeans are jeans, and gas is gas.

I suppose as long as we are willing to pay the prices, they can basically do what they want. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the expression caveat emptor means “it’s the responsibility of the consumer to ensure he or she is getting the desired good or service at the best price available.”  Translated, the phrase really means, if you’re not awake, businesses will screw you!


About Will S.

A nouveau Taurus, writing about my view of the world around me. From politics, to social problem, to public corruption, music and movies to pretty much anything I feel inspired to write.
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