Finding the Best Deal

When it comes to gas prices, most stations are branded by major, name brand oil companies whom they must buy gas from. These stations can t shop around for better prices. That means a station can pay as much as 46 cents a gallon more than one down the street, and that cost gets passed along to you.

If you know you’re going out of town, try not to buy gas at home, and fill up when you find a better deal while driving. You might save as much as 10 cents a gallon purchasing gas on the road. And, while at home, understand that gas prices are constantly in motion, the cheapest gas may not be at the same station every time.

When gas prices go up

Stations earn on average between 10 and 15 cents on a gallon of gas. Ironically, they earn the least when prices are highest. When fuel climbs, gas stations must shrink their profit margin to remain competitive, meaning they earn less per gallon than usual. Know what another big cost to station owners is? Credit card fees! These fees add up to about 2.5 percent of all purchases, and the higher gas costs, the less profit station owners make. For example, when gas costs $2 a gallon, the station pays credit card companies 5 cents a gallon; however, when gas hits $3, that fee becomes 7.5 cents – that’s more than half the station s entire average profit!

So, how do station owners make up for lost revenue?

For several weeks after wholesale prices drop, stations can earn as much as 20 cents a gallon before retail prices are lowered to reflect the change.

Is the more expensive gas really better for my car?

Oil companies spend a lot of money try to convince you why their gas is better because of the extra additives they put in it. But today more than ever, one gallon of gas is as good as the next.

Additives do help to clean your engine, but what the companies don t tell you is that since 1994 the government requires detergent additives be added to ALL gasoline to help prevent fuel injectors from clogging. Rest assured, that state and local regulators keep a close watch to make sure those standards are met; a 2005 study indicated that Florida inspectors checked 45,000 samples to ensure the state s gas supply was up to government standards, and 99 percent of the time it was. There s little difference between brand-name gas and any other, says AAA spokesperson Geoff Sundstrom.

In addition, Suppliers share pipelines and thus, use the same fuel, so your local Shell station may sell gas refined by Chevron or Exxon Mobil. So, what’s the difference between the most expensive brand-name gas and the lowliest gallon of no-brand fuel? Often just a quart of detergent added to an 8,000-gallon tanker truck.

Do NOT use your debit card!

Your debit card might be a convenient way to pay for gas, but it could cause a big headache in the long run. When you swipe your debit card at the pump, the bank doesn t know how much money you ll be spending until you ve finished pumping. To make sure you have the funds to cover the purchase, some stations ask banks to automatically set aside some of your money: That amount can be $20 or more. That means even if you just topped off your tank for $10, you could be out $30, $50, even $100 until the station sends over its bulk transactions, which can take up to three days. If your funds are running low, you might end up bouncing a check while you wit for the transaction to properly clear… even though you had the correct amount of money in your account.

And if you pay inside instead, be aware of possible ch
arges that banks may impose. Many banks charge their customers between 50 cents and $1 for using your debit card in a PIN based transaction.

Don’t bother applying for a gas card

If you’re considering applying for a gasoline credit card, make sure to do your research. The good deals can be great, but the bad deals are often really bad. When you read the find print, gas cards often have many drawbacks, including incredibly high APRs starting above 20 percent. Also, many gas cards don t offer rebates on gas purchases; and they often lack standard protections such as fraud monitoring and zero liability for unauthorized transactions.

Turn to the internet to find the cheapest gas in town

Web resources can help you find the cheapest fill-up in town. To find out pump prices, check out: and 
Another very comprehensive site is, which includes a network of 174 local sites, maps and message boards that tally gas price by ZIP code.

Am I really getting a gallon of gas?

In some places there s a very good chance you are not getting the full gallon of gas you paid for. The state or county weightsand- measures department checks pumps for accuracy, but sometimes it can be years between inspections.

Stations there can expect a visit once every few years. In 2005, 30 percent of the more than 2,000 complaints the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures received were valid, and it levied $167,000 in fines. Luckily for the consumer, it is often easy to catch the most common problem: Older pumps may begin charging you for gas before you even start pumping it. Check the meter to make sure it registers $0.00 before you begin and doesn’t start charging you before the fuel is flowing.

Are there any bargains to be had inside the gas station store?

In 2006, fuel sales made up 71 percent of revenue, but only 34 percent of gross margins. Stations are continuously looking to their convenience stores for added income. With this fact in mind, you might assume the average gas station to be a terrible place to buy just about anything. But that s necessarily completely true.

Stock that usually sits on the shelf does tend to be incredibly overpriced, so if you forgot paper plates on the way to a picnic, you’re sure to pay a lot more for it at a gas station than you would at a supermarket Popular beverages, energy drinks and water are often higher priced as well.

However, there are some bargains to be found in the gas station stores: Some high-volume goods, such as cigarettes and beer, are often competitively priced. And a cup of coffee goes for a fraction of what you would pay at fancy coffee shop.

Don’t turn to the gas station to fix your car

These days, station owners are focusing more on beverages and car washes instead of tune-ups and engine repair. Selling convenience store items brings in a steady stream of customers and income. The hassle of maintaining a car repair business is not worth it to most station owners when they can just as easily sell a soda to their customers.

In addition, repairing cars is expensive and carries with it potential liability from a fix-it job gone wrong. Add to the fact station owners have to pay extra for skilled mechanics, and it just isn’t worth the risk or hassle for owners to offer car repair at their station.

You don’t even need gas to run your car

Not all cars need gasoline to run. Today, 6 million cars on the road (mostly from U.S. manufacturers and built since 1998) are flexible fuel vehicles that can run on E85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gas. Cars using E85 get about 15 percent fewer miles to the gallon. But it s a drawback many care owners are willing to put up with, because EB5 burns cleaner so it won t pollute as much.

However, be aware, that although E85 generally costs less than regular gas, there is some concern that it may grow more expensive as demand outpaces supply: By 2006 ethanol was not just being used in E85 it also composed 15 percent of every gallon of gas sold. Supplies of ethanol are likely to grow thin, which could drive up the price of E85.