Most of the nation 175,000 gasoline stations will be forced to either give away or charge separately for such services as cleaning windshields, checking the oil and wiggling their customers' fanbelts under a federal regulation that goes into effect next Wednesday.
The obscure rule change is buried in dozens of pages of U.S. Department of Energy regulations that will change the way service station operators figure their profits.
The rule - first published July 16 - prohibits dealers from including the cost of services in the pump price of gasoline, as they in effect do now.
"It's going to end a tradition in this country that has been around for as long as the automobile," said Vic Rasheed, spokesman for Washington area gasoline dealers.
A spot check of half a dozen stations in the area yesterday showed that some dealers are prepared to charge the separate service fee, althought it was unclear how much they could charge.
"I more than likely will if everybody else does. It's the only way to get your money out of it," said Charles Hawkins, the owner of Colonial Exxon at 3327 M St. NW in George-town.
"Unless they do something to raise the margin of profit, I would," said Hroace Baldree, owner of the Annandale Exxon at 7028 Columbia Pike.
Oscar Britton, owner of the Alexandria Sunoco at 4007 Mount Vernon Ave. said he would charge separately for service only if " . . . the pulbic got used to it. I don't want to fight any verbal battles," he said.
Other dealers seemed determined not to charged the separate fees.
"I'm not going to do it, period," said Wilbur C. Fowler, whose Gulf station is at 420 Rhode Island Ave. NW. "I've been a full service station ever since I've been here. When someone comes in and I check their oil and sell them some oil, why would I charge extra for service?" he asked.
"It's a consumer rip off," said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, a public interest group.
"The next lines you see at gas stations may be consumer pickets over this new pricing policy," Ditlow said.
The new regulation says, " . . . retailers are no longer required to continue to provide customers, at no extra charge, withe same goods, services, premiums and credit terms . . . "
Moreover, the rule adds, "Retailers may offer separately and charge separately for goods and services previously included in their . . . price . . . "
Another portion of the rule change has drawn fire from the nation's governors, who would be empowered to selectively raise the profits of individual gasoline dealers by 75 percent for economic hardship.
In a strongly worded letter delivered late Wednesday to the energy department's top regulatory official, Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm said the proposed delegation of authority would " . . . create the bizarre situation in which the states, not DOE (Department of Energy), are now in fact the gasoline retail pricing regulators.
"This massive shift of responsiblity," Lamm said, "has been undertaken without soncultation with responsible officials in our states . . . [land] is an inappropriate, probably illegal, and unmanageable delegation."
The letter was written on behalf of the National Governor's Association and was signed by Lamm and Indiana Gov. Otis R. Bowen, the association's chairman.
The governors called on the energy department to rescind the rule and asked for a decision by today. The letter also was sent to the White House.
During his regular press conference yesterday, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes also reacted strongly to the proposed regulation. "We're not equipped to regulate prices and profits. It's our hope that portion [of the regulation] will be removed," he said.
At least one industry observer said that implicit in the governors' position was apprehension over the awkward political position being thrust upon them by federal regulators.
If the governors were swamped with requests by gasoline dealers to increase profits by as much as 10 cents a gallon, the state officials could find themselves facing the wrath of consumers already tired of skyrocketing prices.
The potential for consumer protest is clearly greater if signs begin sprouting near the pumps indicating that, for an extra dime or a dollar, the attendant will check under the hood and test the pressure in the tires.
James W. Heizer, spokesman for Virginia gasoline dealers, said he thinks his members will shun the service charges. But, he said, "There might be some areas of the country, like New York City or San Francisco, where they might impose such a charge . . . But it would have to adveritsed to the customers and I presume that it would require signs to be posted."
Traditionally, the price difference between full-service and self-service has indicated to consumers that they were paying for tasks performed by attendants.
Government price controls have allowed the dealers to maintain that difference, but under the new regulations, dealer profits will be standardized at a maximum of 15.4 cents a gallon.
Washington Post staff researcher Regina Fraind also contributed to this article.