They still provide fuel for your car, but over the past several decades, the majority of gas stations have shifted from servicing cars to providing more services for the people who drive them. There are various reasons why, not the least of which is that cars today have fewer serviceable parts than they did in the 1960s and 1970s for instance, and the maintenance intervals are greater.
Back then, along with promoting their specific mix of gasoline, which they claimed to be better for your car and were bestowed with catchy names, like Texaco’s Sky Chief, Sunoco 260, Phillips 66 Flite-Fuel, Super Shell, Esso Extra, Sinclair Dino Supreme, or 4 Power Gulf No-nox, oil companies also promoted their own car services. Most included a free multipoint examination under the hood and a cursory inspection of the tires to go along with that free windshield wash. Some offered specific services to prepare your car for winter and summer. Many local service stations could provide tune-ups, new batteries, tires, belts and hoses, oil changes, radiator flushes, lube jobs, and more using company branded replacement parts. Others even had the staff to handle major repairs.
My recollection is that in the 1980s many stations began closing up the service bays and remodeling the space to provide weary travelers with a wider variety of snacks, drinks, and coffee than were previously available from the vending machines that many had before.
In the years that followed, the number of services for vehicles diminished and the size of the convenience stores grew. Today, some gas stations have developed into meal destinations instead of simply providing a roadside stop while on the way to somewhere else for fuel, a restroom and possibly oil or windshield washer fluid. Whereas the gas station used to be a hangout for gearheads, modern refueling establishments in towns and on the highways are providing the amenities to position them as local haunts for everyone.
Even though going to the gas station nowadays requires that you pump your own gas in most states, plenty of people don’t mind, especially once they head inside for food, soft drinks, and/or coffee. Certain new and remodeled fuel dispensaries offer an ambiance of a modern fast food chain, or even a mall food court, blended with a coffee house. Their menus may be equal to them or more extensive. Others have simply partnered with name-brand fast food and gourmet coffee purveyors to provide “express” versions of their stores.
I certainly understand that made-to-order-burgers, hero sandwiches, chicken, about a hundred varieties of soft drinks, seemingly endless choices of lattes, ice cream, and other sundries are more enticing than an accessory belt, a battery, or a tire—unless, of course, your car needs an accessory belt, a battery, or a tire.
Whether or not it’s a good thing or a bad thing that gas stations have changed so much is a matter of opinion, but it appears to simply be a result of changing times. The companies that own the modern stations have reacted to what they believe their customers want, and to the technological advances of the newer cars, which has resulted in a diminishing need for the type and amount of service that was required in the past.
It’s possible however, that it’s been so long since gas stations fed cars more than people that the current generation of young drivers doesn’t even realize how different the services they used to offer were. Nevertheless, it gives those of us who remember the days of a friendly uniformed attendant cleaning the windshield and checking the oil an opportunity to get nostalgic, so here’s a sales film and a few ads from the 1960s that highlight some of the services and branded automotive products you would find at gas stations.
Notice how specific some of these services were. The sales film is different than the ads in that it appears to have been produced for internal use to entice Mobil station owners to buy Weather King outerwear with Mobil logos on them.
What do you remember about stopping at the gas station when you were young?