Friday, 12 July 2013

Buying gas in the US with a European Credit Card

A subject which vexed us before we came here was how we were going to buy fuel for our RV – it vexed us because we had heard that European credit cards using PIN numbers were incompatible with US petrol pumps which demanded ZIP codes. As with all problems, it is not really a problem provided you are ready to be flexible when you pay for your “gas”.

At petrol stations which accept credit cards, usually we were able to go inside, explain that we had a European Credit Card and then leave the card with the cashier whilst we filled up. When we had done this we went back inside, retrieved and swiped the card and then signed for it (sometimes using an electronic pen, sometimes a real pen). Very occasionally they told us to keep the card, fill up and then come back and pay.

Occasionally, our credit card was swiped before we filled up – this was called pre-authorisation and we had to give a figure which was the value of more than the maximum amount of gas we wanted (such as $150). This charge was taken from our card, then when we had filled up (usually with a lesser amount), the real amount was taken and then the pre-authorisation amount was credited back to the card. We always kept all of the receipts just in case there were problems later (there never were any). At gas stations in some areas (usually rough neighbourhoods), they sometimes had a preauthorisation limit of $100. Then we had to buy $100 of preauthorised gas and go back in and get another $100 preauthorised so that we could completely fill up.

Some gas stations (mainly the cheaper ones where fuel could be 20 cents a gallon less than others in the street) did not take credit cards at all. Then we would first go to the cashier and hand over $200 (say), fill up and go back for our change.

In Oregon you are not allowed to fill up your car yourself and every gas station has attendants who do this for you. “Do this for you” varies from actually doing the whole thing through to taking off the fuel cap and inserting the pump nozzle and then leaving you to fill up. Some require you to pay (using any of the above methods) for the gas before they fill the tank and some ask for payment after the tank has been filled.

Some gas stations are completely unattended and require prepayment by credit card – there is no way you can use a European credit card in a US automatic pump and so running low on fuel with this as the only refuelling option would be a disaster.

Our European debit cards did not work in Gas Stations and in any case, the charges for using a debit card far outweigh the cost of purchasing cash from an ATM at a bank (not one within a store where the charges are usually much higher).

Gas Prices vary considerably in the US, not only from state to state but also within a state and also within a town or along a street.

There is a very useful website (and an app) called Gasbuddy which has nearly real time gas prices for the whole of the US on it.

Gas Prices across the USA

Hence it is possible to plan where you are going to buy gas in order to get the cheapest price (or at least keep the cost down). This can save you a lot of money – in California the most expensive we purchased was $4.80 a gallon and the cheapest was at $3.68 a gallon. Our RV has a tank which takes at least 60 gallons to fill and at around 8 mpg, gas is a major expense (we are estimating buying around 1100 gallons this trip which will cost us about $4000). So we got into the habit of filling up every 200 miles or so (half a tank’s worth) and using GasBuddy to check gas prices in the towns ahead

gasbuddy cut

and thus save us a considerable amount of money.

Many gas stations have loyalty card systems which can save you considerable sums when you fill up. The problem is that they are not always the cheapest in a town and it is a false economy to drive miles extra just to fill up on cheaper gas.

We also needed to refill our LPG tank every couple of weeks – this was just as easy as getting gas but not all stations also have LPG. We were never allowed to fill our LPG ourselves but no one minded us asking for a small amount (it was not a large tank).

As a general rule, everything is more expensive in country areas so we got into the habit of filling up in large towns or just off interstate junctions where there was a lot of competition. It can save a lot of money.

1 comment:

  1. Oh! This was a really helpful post! I've been worrying about how to fill up as the pay first thing worried me - I'll have a hire car and no idea as to how much it will hold, mpg etc etc - I hadn't even thought about the automated card issue! Thanks again for the advice.