Filling stations in South Africa

Filling up with petrol

I understand that in many places around the world motorists fill up their own vehicles with fuel. Lazy South Africa still enjoys the privilege of having a friendly attendant to fill up your car, wash your window, pump your tires, and top up your oil. Well, I say friendly, but I have to admit that they're not always friendly. Considering that the job isn't a stimulating or enjoyable one, I guess that's understandable.

If you visit South Africa from another country then you should bear three things in mind when filling up your hired vehicle:

  1. You'll have three types of fuel to choose from: Unleaded, Lead Replacement (LR), and Diesel. Normally hire cars use unleaded, but if you're not sure it's normally indicated somewhere near the filler cap. Mixing diesel and petrol is a bad idea. Seriously. :)
  2. In July this year a law was passed allowing motorists to purchase petrol using an ordinary credit card (previously we could only use garage cards, debit cards or cash). However, not all petrol stations have implemented this system yet, so you may very well still need cash to pay for your petrol. Often filling stations have ATM machines where you can draw cash with your debit or credit card.
  3. We usually tip the attendants. You don't have to, but if they are pleasant - and especially if they wash your windscreen - it's a nice thing to do.

I'm interested to know whether you tip filling station attendants, and if so, how much.  Please leave a comment, anonymous or not, and let us know.

16 thoughts on “Filling stations in South Africa

  1. Hendrik

    I almost always tip. Normally for me it’s R5.00 that I give, if the guy went out of his way to help me with something it might be more, conversely if the guy made no effort to listen to what I asked or to help me out, he gets nothing [that seldomly happens though]

  2. Sid

    It really depends on my mood. WHEN I tip I give a R5 but I don’t tip often. I prefer to say my small change for the guy selling the funnies on the side of the road.

  3. Nixgrim

    Going to the UK was such a culture shock as I had NO CLUE how to pump my own petrol. Once you get used to it though, it’s ok. Winter times are not fun, standing around in the freezing air, trying to get your fingers to work, and then having to run and stand in a queue inside the shop.

    Nah, I prefer our way. Not only do we provide employment for 1000s, but you get to shoot the breeze with someone, and in winter you get to stay in your nice warm car (that part is definitely selfish!).

    Why should we consider ourselves lazy? This is no different to having a waiter in a restaurant. Do we think ourselves lazy because we don’t want to go to a cafe or drive through or deli where we have to organise our own orders and putting our own food on our plates or doing our own washing up? (OK, maybe that last one is lazy, but you get the point.)

    But when my kids learn to drive, I’m definitely going to get them out of the car and teach them how to pump petrol so that when they do the overseas thing they’re not completely incompetent like I was.

  4. Beverley

    How interesting and yes living here in the UK we do get out of our car to fill with petrol and check tyre pressure wasn’t always this way and I do wish we would go back to the ways of some-one doing it for us as you have in SA.

    I’m more than happy to tip some-one and I would be pleased to know that they are in employment however it is a good idea to know how to do it yourself :)

  5. Henk Kleynhans

    I remember driving through Los Angeles last year, in an oversized minivan rental, and looking for petrol. The GPS wasn’t helping too much, but I spotted a petrol station on one of the side roads it had guided me to where I faced the South African’s dilemma: how the hell do I fill my own tank???

    So I went inside and asked the owner for help. The minivan I had, had NY plates, so he asked if I was from New York. When I told him I was from South Africa, his face lit up in an instant! He was from Egypt and had immigrated to the US some 5 years before! Despite SA & Egypt being far apart geographically & culturally, our Africanness was an extremely happy common ground: For him to meet someone from his ‘home’ continent, and for me, being a stranger in a foreign land, to have a sense of not being alone for a few wonderful minutes.

    Talking about the state of Africa ensued, about social ostracisation of non-muslims in Egypt, about better educational opportunities for his children in America.

    It’s funny how a place as utilitarian as a filling station can bring worlds together…

  6. Paul

    Post author

    I generally tip the guys 5 bucks, except if they make no effort. Yeah, as Nixgrim and Henk said, visiting other countries where you have to pump your own fuel will be a bit of an adventure.

    Nixgrim – you are right. It’s no more lazy than having a waiter at a restaurant. I’m just waiting to find a shop where you have to operate the till yourself… well… except if the till were to work like those parking meters at Century City. We’d end up queueing for eva waiting for some bloke to fish out the correct change or to exchange R100 notes for R50s because the machine doens’t take 100s! :D

  7. Nixgrim

    Paul: been there, done that too.

    In the UK, many major retail chains (Waitrose, Sainsburys, etc) already have self-check outs. You scan your own items and put them in a bag that sits on a weight sensitive pad, to ensure that you don’t steal any items by simply putting them in the bag without first scanning). You can’t pay in cash, so have to use your debit/ credit card. There is also always a staff member on duty watching these tills too, to avoid shoplifting, and to assist if you get stuck.

    Personally, I find them more hassle than they’re worth, but if there are long queues elsewhere in the store, then they were often the quickest way to buy your stuff and get out of the shop, because most people avoided them, meaning they always had the shortest queues.

  8. Wall

    In Canada they have ‘self serve’ and ‘full serve’. You pay more for a full serve station that has an attendant that pumps gas for you and even in -40 degree weather, no one tips the attendant!

    I usually tip about R2 here if they do the windows too.

  9. Flights to Cape town

    In some countries you dont have to pay extra for a full serve stations and i found it much better way than tipping.

  10. charl

    No filling station in SA may be operated without attendants. this is to create work for people in a country where there is a large number of unemployed people . Everyone accepts this as part of the social system in the interest of all south africans . It is NOT because South Africans are lazy!

  11. Paul

    Post author

    Hi Charl,

    Thanks for the information – are you saying that it’s law? If so, I find it hard to think that the law would have been created with the intent of creating employment… not that I can imagine anyone would have a problem with it if it were… the more jobs the better, hey?

    I think Nixgrim made the point that it’s not laziness, but more a custom – the way we do things – much like having waiters in restaurants, or domestic workers who help at home.


  12. Cary

    Lazy South Africans, I dont think so. It creates jobs which is very much needed. Many of the poorest of the poor rely on these jobs in order to support themselves and family. I would rather say thank God we still employ people to to this job. If you take away these jobs the poor only get poorer.

    Think before you speak.

  13. Paul

    Post author

    Hey Cary,

    Thanks for your comment. Perhaps you interpreted what I was saying differently to how it was intended. I did actually think before I wrote – I don’t believe I suggested that we should not employ parking attendants – that we should take people’s jobs away. That would be silly in a country where unemployment levels are so high.

    My reference to “Lazy South Africa” wasn’t intended to imply that we should pump our own fuel. The use was an intentional generalisation that I used for effect – almost said in jest, but not quite jest, if you know what I mean? I was really poking fun at us. :)

    Someone mentioned in the comments that it’s no different to having servers at restaurants. It’s also why we don’t mind tipping parking attendants, even when we don’t really need their help. (Which, by the way, isn’t always the case – they’re sometimes darn useful).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *