Tuesday Tips: Shopping for the Cheapest Gas

Have you ever played the "find the cheap gas" game? My husband and I do it all the time when we're driving to the beach. All of a sudden one of us will scream out, "I see $3.97! I see $3.97!" How do you shop for cheap gas? I've been inundated with tips on how to cut back on my gas consumption and I've followed many of the tips. But let's be realistic. I still have to drive to get to certain places. Do you have a secret spot where the gas prices are always lower? Post a comment below. And while you're at it, answer the poll on what kind of gas shopper you are. I have a mere three tips for finding cheap gas and here they are:

Tip #1: Hit the Web. Several sites have launched over the last year that help consumers find the cheapest gas in their communities. Some the prices are based on findings from motorists driving around and calling them in and others are taken from the Oil Price Information Service, a source for petroleum pricing and oil news. I recently discovered that you can get pretty different prices from some of these sites. MapQuest's gas prices feature, which gets its prices from the Oil Price Information Service, found me the lowest price recently at $3.86. The station was 10 miles away from my house but the next cheapest gas price was a whole 7 cents more. MapQuest's prices are updated seven times a day and any price older than 48 hours is removed from the site. AAA's Fuel Price Finder is also pretty good, getting its data from 100,000 gas stations, credit card transactions and direct feeds. There's also GasBuddy.com, which uses a network of ordinary people who report gas prices in their community.

Tip #2: Hit some of the cheapest. It used to be that Hess was always my go-to station but lately their prices are not much better than the big boys. Liberty, a small independent company based in North Carolina, has stayed cheaper than its bigger competitors. Tom Alexander, one of the company's executives, said Liberty was started in 2000 as an "alternative to the higher prices being charged by the mainstream brands, such as BP and Exxon." The one near me always seems at least 10 cents cheaper than its big-name neighbors. Where are your favorite spots?

Tip #3: Hit the pumps on hump day. I've noticed that gas seems slightly, I repeat slightly, cheaper mid-week rather than on the weekends and Mondays and Fridays.

By Tania Anderson |  June 17, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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Saving 4 cents a gallon sometimes is not worth it. I use my Garmin to show me the lowest prices. 2 miles down the road the gas was 4 cents cheaper. I put in 8 gallons. Savings 32 cents. Problem is my Van on a good day gets 16mpg. At $4.00 a gallon That's 25 cents a mile or it cost me 1.00 to go back and forth the extra 2 miles. Net LOSS 68 Cents.... Next time DO THE MATH. A penny saved is a Gallon Burned.

Posted by: me_rubin | June 17, 2008 5:30 AM

"me_rubin" is exactly right, at least up to a point. Going to a cheaper station that's on or near one's normal route for commuting or running errands makes sense. Going well out of the way does not unless you have a good reason for going out of the way. For example, gas in Woodbridge is routinely at least 15¢ a gallon cheaper than gas in Alexandria, but Woodbridge is a 13-mile drive south from the Van Dorn exit on the Beltway (26 miles roundtrip). If you're getting 26 mpg, you'll use a gallon of gas making that roundtrip if your only purpose in going down there is to buy gas. At $4.20 a gallon there versus $4.35 at the Shell on Van Dorn this morning, you'd "save" $2.25 by driving to Woodbridge....but that means you still come out $2.10 in the hole due to the gas you used.

Of course, if you go to Woodbridge to play golf, or to go to the new Wegmans, or to visit Potomac Mills Mall, or for that matter if you're passing through the area on I-95 or US-1 en route from somewhere else (say, you're coming back from Charlottesville), then you'd be crazy not to stop and either fill up or top off.

Posted by: Rich | June 17, 2008 8:32 AM

The old saying "penny wise and pound foolish" comes to mind here. Unless you find a (relatively) cheap gas station on your way from Point A to Point B it seems to make the most sense to simply pay the price you find and move on.

My wife used to make this argument about gas being a lot cheaper in Woodbridge than Burke, but that was when it was around $2 per gallon and it made some sense then. Now, the difference is still around 12-15 cents per gallon, but the math doesn't make sense.

Now, if we lived in San Diego and could drive to Tijuana where gas is under $2.50 per gallon this might be a good idea even if you need to sit at the border coming back to the US for an hour.

FYI, my daughter's boyfriend reports from Bahrain that gas is 17 cents per gallon.

Posted by: More Cowbell | June 17, 2008 8:44 AM

"...even if you need to sit at the border coming back to the US for an hour."

....getting zero miles per gallon (errr, you'd be in Mexico, so I guess kilometres per litre) while sitting there waiting unless you turn off your car.

Posted by: Rich | June 17, 2008 8:53 AM

The cheapest gas is the gas you don't use.

The next cheapest gas is the one whose cost is divided among more people.

The last thing we need is people driving extra to "save" money on gas.

Posted by: Mitch | June 17, 2008 12:43 PM

"FYI, my daughter's boyfriend reports from Bahrain that gas is 17 cents per gallon."

Let's move to Bahrain.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 3:28 PM

It makes absolutely no sense to go out of your normal way to buy cheap gas because whatever money you save on the gas purchase will be spent on the gas spent driving to this out of the way place.

Posted by: Little Red | July 1, 2008 4:20 PM

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