Finding Cheap(er) Gas

May 27, 2008
Fuel Prices

Fuel Prices

Sunny, my local Sunoco dealer, broke through the $4-a-gallon mark, just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. His prices seemed to vary by the hour, ranging anywhere from $4.05.9 up to $4.13.9. Whether he’s fixated watching the international oil market, has a devious little computer that randomly changes the numbers, or is simply testing market reaction, I can’t tell. But even at the low end, the numbers are astounding, and I’ve been finding myself paying more and more attention to the prices various service stations are posting, each day, trying to figure out where I’m most likely to get the best deal.

In my neighborhood, a few miles north of the Detroit border, I could score a bargain by heading south. While fuel prices are normally their highest within big city limits – check New York and Chicago to see what I mean – here in Detroit, some of the best deals around here are to be found inside the city. One station is pumping at a solid 15 cents less than Sunny asks for a gallon of regular.

Short of spending more money than you might save driving around and checking prices, what are you supposed to do? The good news is that there are a growing number of services that will let you check prices in your area – or on the road, when you travel. Be aware that many stations are doing what Sunny does, changing prices seemingly by the hour, but at least you’ll have a better chance of scoring a deal.

One of the most promising services is, unfortunately, available only to those who opt for SYNC, the new, in-car infotainment system offered on an array of Ford Motor Co. products, such as the Focus sedan and Escape crossover. Not only can you check to see what gas is going for, but it’ll display results according to where you are at the moment. You can even sort through the clutter to find a station down the road.

If you don’t plan on buying a new Ford, one of the most popular gas price monitoring services is, which not only tracks prices around the country, but uses a trick color coding system to indicate where the bargains are and where you will get ripped off. Monitoring 170,000 fuel retailers through a network of 180 regional sites, GasBuddy claims to be getting 2 million visitors a day.

Slightly smaller, but with 130,000 service stations is Like GasBuddy, it relies on a network of registered users to keep an eye on changing prices.

The Oil Price Information Service collects data directly from 125,000 gas stations. It provides that database to both MapQuest Gas Prices, an offshoot of the highly popular online mapping system, and to MSN Gas Prices.

Yet another good source is provided by the American Automobile Association. Its Gas Price Finder tracks changing fuel prices by tapping into credit card transaction results.

Whichever service you might use, be aware that none can keep up with fast-changing fuel prices, especially at service stations like Sunny’s. Complicating matters, a growing number of outlets are starting to charge a premium for credit card transactions. So these services aren’t perfect, but if they help even a little, you could wind up saving a lot.

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