GPS Based Realtime Gas Prices
Use this to save money every time you
At a time when the going
price for gas was $3.75 - $3.80, this gas station close to
Orlando Airport was selling gas for $5.80.
If you didn't know there were stations nearby at normal
prices, you'd end up (like me) trapped into buying this
We've all experienced the
pin-prick of annoyance when discovering either that we drove
past a cheaper gas station and ended up buying gas at a more
expensive location, or perhaps after filling up with what we
thought was the best priced gas nearby, we then drive past
another station and see their price is lower.
When we're traveling out of town,
our local knowledge no longer applies and buying gas well becomes
even more difficult.
Fortunately, these days there are
easy and convenient solutions that tell us where gas stations are
and how much they are currently charging for gas.
The Problem - Lack of Up to
recently tricked/trapped into spending $5.80/gallon for gas
(the going rate everywhere else was $3.80 or less) when
returning a rental car to Orlando Airport.
I had three problems - I didn't know what
the prices were at the two stations nearby before I got to them, I
didn't know where other gas stations were, and I didn't know what
prices they would charge.
Notice the common denominator - lack of
knowledge, lack of knowledge, and lack of knowledge.
Add to that a fourth problem - not a lot of
spare time to go driving around suburban Orlando in hopeful search of
cheaper fuel - and I ended up buying close on ten gallons of gas
at $2+ more per gallon than I needed to pay. Yuck.
Most of the time, of course, our challenges
aren't quite so severe, and the price differential is more like
10c a gallon, not $2.00. But add all the gallons of gas you
buy each year up (an average driver travels over 12,000 miles - at
25 mpg that would be 480 gallons; at 20 mpg that would be 600
gallons) and then calculate how much money you could save if you
shaved a mere 5c or 10c a gallon off what you pay. Yes, that
could be $60 or more you save each year.
There's another thing as well. If
you're at all like me, you hate paying over the odds and
'rewarding the bad behavior' of the gas stations that charge more
for gas than their competitors. It is always a small pinprick of annoyance to
drive out of the way, going past one gas station to what you
believe to be a cheaper gas station, only to find that today the
formerly cheaper station is now the same price or higher. Or
perhaps to fill up at what you thought to be the cheapest station,
and then to drive past a station only to find that its gas price
is cheaper than what you just paid.
In my local area there are a couple of gas
stations a block or so apart that leapfrog over each other in
pricing such that usually one is 5c more or less than the other;
but I'm never sure which until I've driven past them both.
There's got to be a better way. And,
yes, there is. The good news is that the relentless march of
modern technology increasingly offers us solutions to such
Near Real-Time Petrol Pricing Information
We can now get the up to date knowledge we
need so we can make informed decisions about local gas pricing.
Just as it is possible to get information
about the movies showing at local theatre complexes, so too can we
now get information about the price of gas at local gas stations.
Basically there are two different type of
OPIS - Oil Price Information Service
The more common system uses a commercial
service to get information from local gas stations, usually by way
of the Oil Price Information
Service - a company that gets pricing information from about
120,000 gas stations in the US, and which updates its pricing
information every 25 minutes.
Note that although OPIS updates its
database every 25 minutes, not all the companies buying OPIS data
choose this deluxe highest frequency of update option, and no
matter what the frequency of new data coming in, the intermediary
that passes the data on to you might be updating/refreshing their
own data base on a much less frequent schedule.
Note also that only about a quarter of the gas
stations that OPIS gets data from provide 'real time' data (based
on analysis of credit card sales transactions which show the
number of gallons sold, the price per gallon, the grade of fuel,
and various other information). This number is increasing,
but the majority of stations provide less instantaneous data,
generally up to three days out of date but occasionally dating
back as far as five days.
OPIS data is used by companies such as
Garmin, AOL, Microsoft, AAA and many others.
Crowd Sourced Data
With the growth of smart cell phones with
data connections, it is now becoming possible to supplement or
supplant commercially sourced data such as that from OPIS with
information supplied direct by motorists.
The positive aspect of this information is
that it is free, so a service using information sourced this way
can in turn be very low priced or free (ie advertiser supported).
The not so positive aspect is that it is harder to quality control
voluntary driver submissions (one time I entered incorrect
information myself by mistake), and depending on the ongoing and
voluntary levels of driver participation, not all gas stations may
be regularly sampled and their information sent in to the central
Clearly the downtown area of major cities
will have lots of drivers who may potentially report data to the
consolidator, but small country towns might have only occasional
samples provided, and possibly not all gas stations listed.
Where and How to Get Fuel Price Information
There are basically four ways you can get
gas price information while traveling.
If you are considering buying a GPS, you
should consider getting a unit that has a gas price service built
in to it.
However, sometimes these services can be
quite pricey and only available on the more expensive models of
GPS units, meaning you're paying more than perhaps $100 extra up
front to get a more fully featured model, and then you could be
paying as much as $5/month for a subscription to the data services
These data services will include other
things too (such as real time traffic information) so it isn't as
though you're paying $5/month (ie $60/year) only for the gas price
information, but you are still paying this money - probably the
same amount as you'd save from buying your gas wisely with the
information you've bought.
Gas price aware GPS units will usually have
some sort of option that will call up a list of gas stations close
to you and showing the price for gas at each station. You
can then simply choose which station you want to go to, select it,
and the GPS will then navigate you there.
It is less common to have this data
overlaid on a map. If you're in an unfamiliar area, the
addresses by themselves might not mean much to you, but if you
could see the locations on a map, that would be more helpful.
Other helpful features include a chance to
choose between gas stations close to where you are, gas stations
close to where you're going, and - especially clever - gas
stations close to the route you'll be traveling from where you are
to where you want to get to.
I like being able to quickly compare gas
prices at my destination with local gas prices. That helps
me decide 'should I fill the tank before leaving home, or should I
plan to top it up at the destination because prices are lower
Cell Phone GPS Apps
If you have a smart phone such as an iPhone
or Android powered phone, it probably has a built in GPS
capability and all you need is to buy a GPS program to run on your
phone, and you have something that is almost as good as (some
people would say even better than) a regular dedicated GPS device.
Whereas a separate GPS unit will cost
you somewhere between perhaps $100 and $300 (and closer to $300 if
you want a unit with built in gas price capabilities) a GPS
program for your cell phone can cost as little as $5.
Furthermore, while you could pay
$5/month, every month, for data services on a GPS receiver, you
might pay little more than $5 - but every year rather than every
month - for similar services on a GPS.
If you're like me, you'll find
the value proposition so compellingly weighed in favor of a cell
phone GPS program, you'll happily buy the app for your phone, even
if you already have a data-capable GPS unit in your car.
I use the CoPilot product (as
little as $5 to buy the program, and $8/year for the gas pricing
One important caveat. If
you're buying a GPS app for your phone, be sure it is one that has
local mapping data, rather than one which downloads the maps as
and when it needs them through the phone's data connection.
The latter type of service
will chew through your precious data allocation, and won't work
where there's no data connection available. The former type
of service will work everywhere, even with no cell phone service
at all, and doesn't use any data at all (until you add extra
features such as gas station pricing and real time traffic
Gas price information display
options on a cell phone tends to be at least as good as on a
dedicated GPS unit, and sometimes more flexible and better than on
a standalone GPS unit - probably because these days it seems that
smart phones generally have more powerful processors in them than
do GPS units.
Dedicated Gas Price Apps
There is an amazing program
that operates on both Android and iOS (ie iPhones) based phones -
Gas Buddy. (It also runs on Blackberries too, but does
anyone really care about Blackberries any more?)
Gas Buddy is free, and relies
on crowd-sourcing for the information it provides. It offers
inducements to its users to encourage them to report gas prices,
and has a very well written app that makes it very simple and
quick to enter gas pricing.
As best we can tell, there are
no other similar programs. Gas Buddy seems to be in a league
of its own.
Gas Price Websites
Lastly, there is the option to
open a website on your cell phone's web browser and access data from the
This is probably the slowest
and least convenient option, but it is free and would work with a
phone that doesn't have GPS.
An example of
this type of service would be
www.fuelmeup.com. Another one is AAA's Trip Tik Travel
Planner, which also uses OPIS data.
Testing the Different Services
I tested an OPIS based service
(fuelmeup.com), a smartphone GPS service (CoPilot- probably also
OPIS based) and Gas Buddy with its unique crowd sourced data, plus
AAA's Trip Tik website too, and used them to provide data in the
local suburban area in which I live (Redmond/Bellevue, WA) and
also for a small country town with less traffic (Leavenworth, WA).
Local suburban data
All services seemed to provide
information for all the local gas stations in my general area.
Fuelmeup.com provided the date
of last update. This varied from today's date (data was
collected at 2.30pm) to two day old data. One grouping of 10
stations showed one with today's data, four with data from
yesterday, and five with two day old data.
The CoPilot data did not
show how recently it was updated.
The Gas Buddy data showed not
just the date but also the time it was updated, and its similar
page of data showed updates ranging from 55 minutes earlier to as
long ago as 10 hours ago.
Clearly this information was
massively more up to date than the OPIS data.
Low density country town data
Turning the focus now to
Leavenworth, there are three gas stations in the small town
(population about 2500 people).
Fuelmeup, Trip Tik and CoPilot
both reported data on two of the stations. Fuelmeup's (and
Trip Tik's) information was two days out of date for one of the
stations and one day out of date for the other.
Earlier in the day Gas Buddy
reported price data on only one of the stations with information
that was going towards two days old, but it did at least show all
three stations, and if you drilled down in the displays, you could
get the most recent pricing information too, even though it was
just over two days old.
Which is Best
We really like the concept
embodied in the Gas Buddy app. In high density areas, its
information is likely to be more uptodate than from OPIS based
services, although in lower density areas, its information may not
be as current.
The Gas Buddy app has a simple
easy interface that - assuming it is legal and safe to operate a
cell phone while driving - makes it easy to interactively use as
you drive around. And, with zero cost associated (other than
for data transferred through your cell phone) the price is
definitely right too. See
www.gasbuddy.com for more information or download it from the
iTunes app store or Android market.
If you don't yet have a GPS
unit, and you do have a smartphone, we'd recommend the CoPilot
software due to its low price and flexible capabilities (it also
has realtime traffic data for $10/year) and adding its $8/yr gas
price option to it.
We didn't like the website and
map interface at AAA's Trip Tik site at all, and consider the
upfront and ongoing costs associated with dedicated GPS units to
be hard to justify.
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28 Mar 2012, last update
28 Nov 2012
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