Gas Station Smarts

By Sharon Naylor

February 22, 2013 5 min read

When it's time to gas up your car, your first concern may be getting the best price -- which is completely understandable, considering that fuel prices are so high right now -- but there are some additional smarts to keep in mind to get the best quality gas for the optimal performance of your car.

For instance, if you pull into the gas station and see that big fuel tanker in the lot filling up the gas station's underground supply tanks, drive away. Now is not the best time, and here's why: Those underground storage tanks may contain a significant amount of sediment from prior gas deliveries. When fresh fuel is powerfully pumped into those tanks, the sediment gets stirred up. The result may be that you would get gas and sediment pumped into your car's gas tank, which can adversely affect your car's performance. It's best to proceed to another gas station whose tanks have been filled days ago or come back to this station much later in the day.

It's also smart to ask the gas station attendant whether the station filters its gas at the gas pump, which not all gas stations do. A filtering at the point of service can block any sediment or other impurities from entering your car's system. Getting dirty gas often enough over time can cause damage to your car's fuel line and gas tank.

Also, ask the gas station attendant whether the fuel contains ethanol, which many car experts say stores and delivers less energy than pure gasoline. To get more mileage from your fuel fill-ups, it may be best to avoid ethanol-infused fuel.

Performance and fuel quality aside, the time you choose to gas up your car can make a big difference in what you pay for it. According to Mark DiVincenzo, author of the New York Times best-seller "Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There," the best time of the week to pump gas is often Wednesday mornings. "This isn't true every week, but prices are usually lowest then," he says. "Closer to the weekends, gas prices often rise to pick the pockets of leisure travelers." Gas station owners know that many people depart for weekend getaways as early as Thursday, so that may be when they boost their prices and keep them higher on Friday through Sunday.

No matter which day of the week it is, DiVincenzo also notes that an optimal time of day for gassing up your vehicle is from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. because gas station owners and managers may spend the earliest morning hours researching the gas prices offered by their competitors and then hike their own prices between 10 a.m. and noon. So pumping your gas earlier in the day can save you from that extra per gallon price boost.

One free website to check, which does require signing up as a member, is GasBuddy.com (there is also an app for smartphones). The site lists the current fuel prices at gas stations near you. Some of the differences can be dramatic, saving you a lot of money for your fill-up, and this site also says that members can earn points by reporting their local gas prices to the site -- which over time can result in the reward of free gas gift cards.

Another thing to keep in your gas station smarts mindset is that some gas stations have a policy with banks that can turn into a tricky financial dilemma for you. For example, when you hand over a debit card to pay for your fill-up, the gas station -- wanting to make sure you have enough money in your account to pay for the gas you're taking -- may have the bank "reserve" a larger set amount of money than your purchase. If you pump, say, $20 worth of gas, your online bank statement may show that $30 was taken from your account as a "purchase authorization," with the $10 returned to your account up to three days later. If you have a low balance on your debit card account, that extra charge could potentially cause an overdraft. Calling your bank to complain may not get your overdraft fee removed, since it's simply the policy between the gas station and your bank. So you might wish to pay with cash to avoid any potential hassles regarding the amount you're charged, even temporarily.

And of course, it's smart to know the current hours of your usual gas station so that in the event of your car's being extremely low on gas, you don't drive there an hour before it opens or on a day of the week when it's closed. Before departing, check your station's website, or -- even better, seeing as websites are not always current -- call to be sure it's open so that you don't get stuck in the parking lot after getting there on fumes.

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