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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke May 13, 2021

Why some gas stations are advertising $9.99 unleaded

If Your Time is short

  • Gas stations will put $9.99 on their signs to indicate that they’re out of gas, not that they’re selling it for that much. 

Images of gas station signs with prices for regular unleaded gasoline listed at $9.89 and $9.99 per gallon are spreading on social media. 

Posts have variously described the pictures as being taken in Spartanburg, S.C., and the North Carolina towns of Cornelius, Johnsonville, and Jacksonville

They were all flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We don’t have any reason to believe the photos aren’t authentic, but there’s some context people who see them should know. It appears that those stations aren’t actually selling gas for nearly $10. 

One of the photos shows a Circle K sign that a post says was taken in Jacksonville.

We called all the Circle Ks in the city where we could find contact information. Several station employees answered the phone by saying they were out of gas. One told us that stations with signs listing gas prices at nearly $10 were out of gas — and not selling it for that much. An employee at another station, which did have gas, was selling it for $2.74 per gallon. 

According to GasBuddy, regular unleaded gas prices in Jacksonville, N.C., were all under $3 on May 13. That was generally true elsewhere in North Carolina, too.

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WFMY, a CBS News affiliate in Greensboro, N.C., reported on May 12 that the photo of the gas station in Cornelius was not selling gas for $9.99 but signaling to drivers that it had no gas. 

"That kind of sign pricing is an industry-standard," reporter Tanya Rivera wrote in her report. "The thinking is, no one would believe gas is really $9.99 and customers would know something is wrong and gas can’t be pumped." 

This kind of confusion has happened before. 

In 2017, a Louisiana radio station reported that the "999" people were seeing on gas station signs  meant the stations were "out of fuel, or unable to sell fuel." That year, a gas pipeline was damaged in Alabama, causing shortages along the east coast, the station said. 

And in 2016, an ABC News affiliate in Durham, N.C., reported that photos then circulating of gas stations advertising $9.99 unleaded also showed stations indicating they had run out of fuel.

Tiffany Wright, a spokesperson for AAA in North Carolina, told us that she suspected any such signs surfacing today signal the same: "We are in a state of emergency and price gouging isn’t tolerated."

We rate claims that gas prices have spiked to $10 in North Carolina and elsewhere False.


Our Sources

Facebook post, May 11, 2021

Facebook post, May 11, 2021

Facebook post, May 11, 2021

Facebook post, May 11, 2021

GasBuddy, Jacksonville, N.C., visited May 13, 2021

GasBuddy, North Carolina, visited May 13, 2021

WFMY, Is gas really $9.99 in NC? Several gas stations have that price up on their signs, May 12, 2021

9.99 KTDY, What does 999 mean on a gas station sign? May 10, 2017

ABC 11, Why am I seeing $9.99 gas? Sept. 19, 2016

Email interview with Tiffany Wright, director of public affairs, AAA Carolinas, May 13, 2021


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