Why Can’t You Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey?

Living in Manhattan as one of the crazy people who have a car in this city, means I will inevitably have to drive into New Jersey. Unlike many New Yorkers, I don’t harbor the ill will toward Jersey; in fact, I even kind of like it. But I try to avoid Jersey as much as possible because it’s against the law to pump your own gas there. Bizarre, right? Well, if you’ve ever wondered why you can’t pump your own gasoline in New Jersey, wonder no more. 

A white SUV pumping gas on their own unlike the poor folks in Jersey who have it have their gas pumped for them.
Freedom at the gas pump | LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

Why can’t I pump my gas in New Jersey? 

According to How Stuff Works, New Jersey banned the sale of self-serve gas in 1949. The Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act said the law was an act of public safety given the dangerous nature of gasoline. However, seeing as nearly every other state in the Union allows its citizens to pump their own gasoline, this is Jersey, after all. This reasoning is not why we can’t pump gas in New Jersey over 70 years later.  

The real reason is exactly what you might have thought at first glance; this law was only passed to fix gas prices and strong-arm one small business owner from undercutting other bigger gas stations. 

According to HSW, Irving Reingold opened a 24-pump gas station on Route 17 in Hackensack, NJ, in 1949. While his competition was charging 21.9 cents per gallon, Reingold only charged 18.9 cents per gallon. How could he afford to sell his fuel so much cheaper? He figured, why pay people to pump gas? Customers could pump it themselves, and he could pass the savings on to the customers. But would customers go for it? 

They took to it like flies on a hog. However, his tough-guy competitors didn’t love this innovation or his newfound success. Reingold was clearly an enterprising individual. This was probably not his first rodeo. We know this because his competitors sprayed his gas station with a torrent of bullets. However, Reingold’s courage (and having already installed bulletproof glass) allowed him to take the hit on the chin and persist in his new business venture. 

Selling gas in New Jersey is dangerous

After the shooting failed, his competitors – let’s call them a family of competitors – weren’t going to let it go down like that, so they racked the Tommy guns and went to the law. As absurd as it sounds, the Jersey boys someone (very quickly) convinced state lawmakers to outlaw the sale of self-serve gas. Not only did this work putting Reingold out of business, but it worked quickly. 

This isn’t to say that some New Jersey lawmakers haven’t tried to fix the stupid law. The first attempt to overturn the law failed in 1951. By the 1970s, everywhere else in the US except Oregon and Jersey were pumping their gas themselves. 

Pumping your own gasoline in New Jersey is still illegal for some reason 

A gas pump fueling a car
Gas pump | Getty images

In 1981, New Jersey Assembly member Gerald Cardinale introduced new legislation to overturn the state’s prohibition on self-serve stations. This attempt also failed. In 1988, the Kirschner Brothers Oil Company filed suit against the state claiming “the law is antiquated and that customers ought to have a choice between full service and self-service.” According to How Stuff Works, a Superior Court judge took the oil company’s side. However, it was quickly overturned in the appeals court, citing the court ruling from 1951. 

Today, you can still get ticketed in New Jersey if you are caught pumping your own fuel. This absurdity is all because some dudes wanted to make slightly more money over 70 years ago.

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