Full Service Gas Stations: An Icon Of The Classic American Road Trip

Up until the 1970s, most gas stations across the United States offered full-service experiences that would seem downright luxurious by modern standards. They were icons of the American road trip. Sadly, they mostly vanished and were replaced by the boring, practical gas stations you put up with today when filling up your tank.

Once upon a Time, Filling Your Tank Was a Special Experience for the Whole Family

Back in the day, full service gas stations dotted the American highways. That made filling up your tank a much more personal and enjoyable experience than the quick pump-and-go process most drivers experience today.

Imagine this scenario: it's 1957 and you're driving down the road with your family, on your way out of state to a relative's house for a special occasion. You notice your gas gauge is teetering toward the "empty" indicator — not a rare occurrence back then considering most cars were luckily to break into the double digits when it came to gas mileage, even on the highway.

Worn out from the road and a bit parched, you drive your family to the gas station. A friendly attendant walks out, greets you with a smile, fills up your tank, shines up your windows by hand, and even checks your tire pressure to make sure everything is safe and sound. While he's doing so, another attendant walks out to take a food and drink order.

After several minutes you have a full tank, glistening windshield glass, fresh deli sandwiches slathered in mayo, and icy fountain sodas for you and your whole family. You hit the road again refreshed and ready to tackle another hundred miles. It's a much different experience than pulling into a generic gas station today, clicking the gas pump on auto yourself after swiping a credit card, then walking inside to grab a stale processed hot dog and a bag of potato chips.

Why Full Service Gas Stations Mostly Went Away

The main reason is gas prices. The cost of oil shot through the roof in the 1970s, culminating in the gas shortage crises of 1973 and 1979 in which cars lined entire blocks trying to fight their way to the pumps. After that, the vast majority of gas stations had to cut down on costs by converting to generic places to get some fuel rather than full service experiences.

However, in many places throughout the United States, full service gas stations still exist. Some of them thrive on a nostalgic vibe while others opt for full-on modern luxury, but in both cases you can still indulge in the experience of making your trip to the pump truly refreshing, even heartwarming.

You may have to pay a little bit more, even hand out a tip or two, but it's a unique experience not unlike going out to a fancy restaurant instead of counting pennies at a run-of-the-mill fast food joint. In other words, it's one of the little things in life that is definitely worth the extra cost of admission.