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How much gasoline will 9/10 of a cent get you?

Everyone in Denver knows Al Lewis, the smart (and funny) business columnist for the Denver Post. If you’re a regular reader, you know that Al looks at things a little differently than most people do. Okay, he’ very funny. My phone rang yesterday and it was Al Lewis – “Hey Steve… any chance I could get you to isolate 9/10th of a cent of gasoline? Ever wonder why they charge us 9/10th of a cent? What could you do with 9/10 of a cent of gasoline?” Sounds like a math problem to me that could maybe turn into a reason to blow something up. I’m in.

Read Al Lewis’ column about $3.999 gasoline pricing in the Denver Post.

So, how much gasoline does 9/10 of a cent get you? The math is pretty straight forward. Let’s say that the price of gasoline is $3.99 9/10 per gallon. Start by dividing 128 ounces (128 ounces = 1 gallon) by 399.9 cents to get the number of ounces per penny. That’s 0.32 ounces per penny. Multiply this by 0.9 to get the number of ounces 9/10th of a cent buy you and you get 0.29 ounces. If you’re a metrics kind of person, multiply 0.29 ounces by 29.6 milliliters (the number of milliliters in an ounce) and you get 8.6 milliliters.

In other words, 9/10 of a cent buys you roughly 1 3/4 teaspoons of gasoline at $3.99 9/10 per gallon.

We started playing with the idea of what we could do with 1 3/4 teaspoons of gasoline in the lab and every idea spelled disaster. So, we traded gasoline for ethanol and posed the same question. It didn’t take Jeff Brooks (my trusty right hand man) but three seconds to yell out, “Potato gun!” So, we loaded our “Ellen Show” potato gun with 1 3/4 teaspoons (that’s 8.3 mL) and it was not very impressive… just watch the video. After several attempts, the potato fired about 100 feet. But I didn’t want to disappoint Al Lewis, so we loaded the potato launcher with a little more ethanol and blasted it over 300 feet. Kids… don’t try this at home.

Let’s say that you’re driving a car that gets 28 MPG. How far could you drive on 1 3/4 teaspoons (0.29 ounces or 8.6 milliliters) of gas? The answer is roughly 335 feet, give or take a few inches.

Bottom line… knock off the 9/10th of a cent pricing convention because… well, because it’s just plain stupid. Instead of Congress arguing about this, maybe they could focus their minds on lessening our dependence on oil by supporting more renewable energy technologies. Wishful thinking.

Al Lewis Steve Spangler Gasoline

4 replies
  1. Gina Tonnas
    Gina Tonnas says:

    I’ve seen you on 9News but I’ve never gone to your site until Al Lewis talked about your science experiment on TV this morning. You’re hilarious and Al is so straight faced; that’s what makes it so funny. I’m coming back to your blog to read more.

  2. nurzahila
    nurzahila says:

    hi Mr Spangler. you are an inspiration to all educators around the world. However, I wished that you had made shipping available internationally.

    I hope you’ll consider.

    Good luck in everything you do!

  3. Steve Spangler
    Steve Spangler says:

    Hi Nurzahila. Good news, we can ship internationally! When you get ready to check out on the website you can choose your country in the shipping field, or feel free to contact our offices and one of our customer service reps will be happy to get your package where it needs to go. Thanks for your kind response.

  4. Carl
    Carl says:

    The .009 cent per gallon times 4 gallons would be .036 cents, and the pump probably would round up to 4 cents. For 6 gallons, the .009 would be .054 cents and the pump SHOULD round down to 5 cents. But do the pumps follow the mathematicians rounding rule? Never mind. My beef is that today’s pumps ostensibly measure how much you put in your tank to 1/100 of a gallon, which would be only 1.28 ounces. Never mind what’s left in the hose… are we to believe the pump metering system is really that precise? How often are pumps inspected by the state Weights & Measures bureau? Once every couple of years? It’s far more likely consumers are being ripped off by incorrectly measured dispensing than by the 9/10 of a cent pricing.


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