How Much For That … Four?

ben tracy 3.99 vashon island seattle gas pump
Nearly everything about Engels Towing and Repair seems like it's stuck in the past.

"I don't have my wallet with me," a customer says. "Can I get like $5 to get me home so I can get my wallet and come back get some more?"

"Sure," Engels said.

"Okay, thank you very much."

But there is one ever-present sign of the times.

Gas prices recently topped $4 a gallon on Vashon, an island of 10,000 people just off of Seattle. But Lou Engel wasn't seeing dollar signs. He was thinking, "Uh oh. We're in trouble."

Because unlike most pumps these days with digital readouts, Engels' are still set by hand and top out at $3.99. It was the highest price imaginable when they were made in the '90s.

At least 17,000 pumps nationwide can't read gas prices beyond $3.99. So Engel has had to pump up his math skills.

The price now is 4.15-point-9 per gallon"

"It's 16 cents over the price that's on the pump"

"So we'll take the gallons and multiply them times 16 cents"

"We'll have to start carrying little calculators with us!"

"It's a pain in the butt for him to have to figure all this extra," one customer said.

Record high prices are creating another problem.

"Fours - we're really in scarce supply on fours," said Lou.

So they've gotten creative, using electrical tape to turn their ones into fours. But this is a problem nationwide. As the numbers on the signs get higher, fours are in short supply.

At one sign-making company in New Jersey, fours are the No. 1 sellers. They crank out up to 10,000 each week.

"Oftentimes, when people are ordering fours, people are calling me for number 5's and in very rare instances even number 6's right now,"

"From here to here is what we need"

The parts to retrofit Engels' pumps are on backorder.

"So when you get your new part, how high will these go?" Engels said. "Well, those will go up to 9.99 point 9."

If we ever see nines on the sigh, we'll all be saying, "uh oh, we're in trouble."