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Don’t let soaring gas prices drive you to make wrong gas buying decisions

Connie Prater

If you’re like me, these days you’re checking the price signs of nearly every gas station you pass. The price per gallon of gasoline rises and falls at the stations along the route I take to work, but unfortunately there’s more rising than falling as gas and oil prices continue to soar.

I don’t drive out of my way to buy gas, but when I spot a price that seems a little lower than (or not as high as ) the other stations, I pull in for a fill-up. Rising gas prices are forcing motorists to make decisions not only about where to buy gasoline, but also which octane and what payment method adds the most value to their purchases.

3 tips on buying gas
Mark Cooper, research director for the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, offers these three tips for buying gas:

  • Choose lower octanes
  • Look for lower gas prices along your normal daily route
  • If you pay with a credit card, pay the balance off each month

“Those three things together can save you money,” says Cooper, author of a recent study called “Rising gasoline prices: Why can’t consumers catch a break.”

Drivers who buy regular gas versus the mid- or high-octane grades can reap significant savings. “These days, you can save 10 cents to 20 cents a gallon,” he says. Of course, if you follow the manufacturers’ recommendations some high-performance cars require that expensive premium gasoline so owners of those cars may be stuck paying higher prices.

Cooper notes that “zonal pricing” of gasoline is common in many areas. That means the same gas may cost you more depending on whether the station is in a wealthy or poor neighborhood, he says.

“Oil companies charge what the market will bear,” Cooper says, adding “The difference between regular gas in low-priced area versus high-test gas in a high-priced zone can be 25 cents a gallon.”

But he cautions: “If you drive more than a few miles out of your way for the gas it eats up the savings.”

His advice: Pay attention to the prices of gas during your routine daily trips to and from work, home or school. “Notice when you’re crossing through zones.”

Finally, Cooper says be smart about payment options. “If you keep a lot of gasoline charges on your credit card, then you’re paying interest.”

Do the math
His example: Filling a 15-gallon tank at $3.25 a gallon will cost about $48. A 15 percent interest charge on that adds another $7 to that fill-up cost. Divide by 15 gallons in the tank and you’ve added another 49 cents per gallon to your fuel costs.

Adds Cooper: “Clearly, you don’t want to pay interest on gasoline that’s already expensive.”

See related: “Coping with the gas pump,” “Drive for rewards pushes old-style gas cards in the ditch,” “Compare gas station credit cards

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