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What is Gas Gouging?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gas gouging or price gouging is a practice which involves raising prices on gasoline at the pump dramatically, sometimes in collusion with other gas stations. As a general rule, in order to be considered gas gouging, the jump in price must be sudden, and there must be no clear reason for raising the price that much. Although the high price is seen at the pump, leading people to believe that it is the responsibility of the station owner, gas gouging often starts with the company which delivers fuel: if the price of fuel rises abruptly, the gas station's owner must raise prices to compensate.

In some regions, gas gouging is treated as a crime, and government agencies may investigate accusations of gouging. The concern is that gas companies and individual stations may be raising their prices to take advantage of consumers, since consumers are usually forced to purchase at least some gas every week in order to get to work, do errands, and perform other tasks. When gas prices are raised to a level which appears unreasonable, it can hurt consumers.

There are some perfectly logical and entirely legal reasons for gas prices to jump suddenly overnight. For example, refinery fires and other issues may create a shortage, in which case higher prices may be charged for gas to encourage people to conserve, ensuring that there is enough gas for everyone. Environmental issues such as storms preventing delivery may cause an elevation in price, or station owners may be obliged to offer hazard pay to station staff who work through a storm or emergency situation. Gas prices also do not necessarily move with crude oil prices, since they are influenced by a variety of factors.

In a classic example of gas gouging, a station owner might raise prices during a natural disaster, knowing that people will be willing to pay those prices so that they can fuel up to evacuate. In these instances, people are also usually unwilling to complain about the high prices, because they are in a hurry to evacuate and they don't want to lose their place in the gas station's lines. If that gas station owner reaches an agreement with other station owners to raise their prices too, this is considered collusion, and it can be grounds for serious legal penalties.

Consumers who suspect that a gas station is engaging in gas gouging can often report it to a government agency. If enough complaints are received and the prices do seem to reflect a genuine case of gas gouging, the government agency will investigate and potentially fine the gas station's owner. If a case of collusion can be proved, other agencies may get involved, and the penalties can be quite severe. People who want to complain about suspected gas gouging should note the name and address of the station and the prices for fuel. If possible, taking a time-stamped picture of the station's pricing sign is advised, so that the consumer can prove his or her claim of gas gouging. Especially if prices fluctuate radically over the course of a day, taking multiple photos can back up a claim.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon260105 — On Apr 09, 2012

I can offer a product for sale at any price, and if it doesn't sell I am forced to lower that price until it does.

If people are willing to pay $20 a gallon for gasoline and I have that gasoline, I should, in a free country, be able to sell it at $20 a gallon. That is how it is supposed to work. Except the USA is not a free country; the government has to control everything. And don't tell me people have to have gas. They don't. They may have to find other alternatives, like car pooling and taking a bus instead but they will still be alive at the end of the day even if they can't afford to fill their cars.

By anon259739 — On Apr 07, 2012

The oilers are the real terrorists! They're robbing the American people. The economy is bad and now we have to deal with high gas prices!

By anon250159 — On Feb 24, 2012

I thought there's a law that states gas stations can only raise their prices after their massive tanks are refilled.

That is, since they've already paid for a delivery, they can only raise the price after the delivery, not on what is already there.

By anon211338 — On Sep 02, 2011

This is what I think: Back in the good old days when gas was sold by the gallon at less than a buck and they had "service stations," when it went up, it was by the penny. You didn't really notice the small difference. Then, the metric system came in, and now the penny was times 4.546 (liters in a gallon). Shortly after that when the money got better for the gas stations, the Asians moved in and took over most of the "gas bars" (no longer any service at all) and now you will notice the first ones to raise their prices are the Asians.

The few stations that are still run by whites will eventually raise their prices, or not. I don't believe there are any "phone calls" from anyone -- they just raise their prices whenever they see fit and try to hose us as much as they can without losing too much business. After all they know we need gas.

The solution: stay away from the Asian run gas bars, forcing them to lower their prices. And by the way the same thing is happening in the rental market, grocery market and whatever else they can get into.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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