10 Things You Should Know About Gas Stations

MSN Money has a list of 10 secrets about gas stations that could cost you money if you don’t know about them. The best ones are about why you shouldn’t use a debit card. For example, some stations will ask banks to place a hold on some of the cash in your account to cover your purchase, and won’t report the real purchase amount for a few days, leaving your cash in limbo.

“10 things gas stations won’t tell you” [MSN Money] (Thanks to Chester!) (Photo: °Florian)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dreamsneverend says:

    This was all over digg a day or so ago.. boo on recycled articles filled with junk SNOPES has debunked.

  2. BeerManMike says:

    Debit card one is fine, you get it 10c cheaper a gallon and if your responisible then you need not to worry. Although, if you have a costco amex or rewards CC then they might be better…

  3. Hank Scorpio says:

    That debit card thing is BS. I use my debit/credit card tied to my checking account to purchase gas all the time. I’ve never seen the pre-auth amount for any gas station to be anything other than $1.

    Now hotels, on the other hand – DO NOT use your debit/credit card to pay for a hotel!

    • DaBull says:

      @Hank Scorpio: Agreed, using a debit card at a hotel is a horrible idea. And I have also never been pre-authorized for more than $1. I always assumed they authorized $1 only to be sure that the credit/debit card is real and will work. Most banks will just put you into overdraft and the gas station will get their money.

    • HiPwr says:

      @Hank Scorpio: I use my debit/credit card exclusively at the pump as well. However, when the pump asks debit, or credit, I always answer credit. I think this is the difference.

      • Hank Scorpio says:

        @HiPwr: Yeah, I always do it as a credit, too. I don’t know how it would be different if you did it as a debit/PIN based transaction. Doesn’t that act like an ATM withdrawal and immediately deduct the amount from your account? Do they even do a pre-auth on PIN based transactions?

      • CompyPaq says:

        @HiPwr: Debit means that you are using a PIN to complete the transaction. Credit means that you are running the card through the VISA/MasterCard network as if it was a credit card. If a gas station charges more per gallon for Credit, try running the card through as Debit and you might save money.

        • HiPwr says:

          @computerwiz3491: I would be surprised if I could get a rate by using debit instead of credit, but if I could and it was significant, I would just go in and pay cash.

          • David Brodbeck says:

            @HiPwr: There’s a chain of stations in the Seattle area called Arco that doesn’t accept credit cards, only PIN transactions or cash. Debit will cost you a $0.45 fee, but they’re usually about $0.15 cheaper per gallon than the other stations so you come out ahead if you’re buying more than a few gallons.

    • TheyCallMeStacey_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @Hank Scorpio: When I used to work at a gas station, we pre-authed for $50, which was over 50 gallons of gas at the time. But it was just querying the card if it had available funds for such a purchase. It never “held” that money. I had more problems w/restaurants that added the tip automatically on a pre-auth, and held it for a few days than ALL the time I worked at a gas station.

    • Admiral_John says:

      @Hank Scorpio: I live in the northeast and gas stations all over place holds on your debit card, normally $50, but only if you use the card at the pump. If you go inside and pay at the counter there’s no hold placed.

    • Anne Boleyn says:

      @Hank Scorpio: I call BS on you! Exxon has definitely put through a $150 pre-authorization on my card, which I called my bank about thinking it was fraud. The service rep told me they routinely do this.

      • Hank Scorpio says:

        @saya: I guess things being different where you live warrants a personal attack against me?

        @wchamilton: I wonder if it varies depending on state laws?

        • Anne Boleyn says:

          @Hank Scorpio: Wow, if you think that was a personal attack you need to get a thicker skin. I was simply calling you wrong (in the spirit of how you called “this debit card thing BS”), not calling you names or insulting your character.

          • ShruggingGalt says:


            Okay, I am confident that the preauth charges actually originates from your own bank/credit card company, no matter what they tell you. I work for one (gas station company), a nice closely held local firm. We’re publishing our prices on our website now BTW, but back to the original issue for this post: my own bank only preauths $1 on my outside pump transaction, and I know of customers who have $75 holds. It’s because the receiving bank sets the rules – and Visa/MC rules state that they have to pay for $75 on the outside if the card is good, so some banks will hold that much until the charge settles, which can take 2 days or more on the weekends/holidays. So it depends on your bank. Not the merchant.

      • tbax929 says:

        That’s a bit harsh. Has it dawned on you that your experience may be different from others? Jeez.

        I use my debit card for gas at Costco, and I’ve never had more than $1 pre-authorized.

    • zaremba says:

      @Hank Scorpio: That varies from bank to bank and gas station to gas station. On my regular BoA debit card, which I use almost exclusively to buy gas using a normal pin transaction, I never get any money pre-authorized – I get the exact amount charged to my card after I’m done pumping (that’s been the case with pretty much any gas station I’ve used it at in the region). My Paypal debit card, on the other hand, always gets pre-authorized for $70 and then gets charged the purchase amount on top of that.
      Personally I hate using my debit cards as credit at the pump – that $1 just sits there for days at a time and I can never remember exactly how much it will clear for (I have the funds so no worries of overdraft, it’s just annoying)

  4. Jon Neuzil says:

    I understand not wanting to use a debit card given the lack of protection that has been explored on this site, but how else do you pay for a hotel if not a credit card? In my experience many demand a credit card.

  5. Skeetz says:

    Here in Canada my local Esso gas station allows me to choose the dollar amount first or authorize debit up to 100 bucks.. If I choose the 100 option it auths that amount but never holds what i don’t spend..

    • ChuckECheese says:

      @Skeetz: In Phoenix AZ, Circle Ks do a pre-auth on debit cards, up to $50. Some locations will allow you to circumvent this by going inside, and using your card to preauthorize a specific amount w/ the cashier. Of course going in the shop eliminates the convenience of pay at the pump.

  6. outlulz says:

    Arco lets you use your debit card as a debit card. No hold, just immediate withdrawal of the funds.

  7. Nytmare says:

    They missed a big one — that gas advertised as “premium” is merely higher octane, and paying extra for it won’t help a car that doesn’t specify using it.

    • Taelech says:

      @nytmare: THIS! My dad always fell for this one. I’ll put this better gas in my car, he always thought. Not better, just different. I have actually gone to one grade below what my car calls for and there has been no pinging or decrease in gas milage.

    • Geoff says:

      @nytmare: Not to mention, the fact that mid-grade gasoline is usually a blend of the “premium” and regular gas.

  8. Saboth says:

    I’d rather just use credit card for everything. Then you get fraud protection, chargeback protection, etc. I’d rather not find out my mortgage bounced because someone accidently put in the wrong amount on a debit or something like that.

  9. shepd says:

    1 -> Not true. I know of at least 4 local gas stations that consistently have prices within 1 penny of the cheapest gas in the city. Of course, none of them are owned by gas companies themselves, except maybe Sunoco. I also know of others in other cities that consistently have cheap prices.

    3 -> False. I used cheap gas this winter and it froze my gas lines. Probably the gas didn’t have enough ethanol, which, of course, they didn’t advertise using. Being a cheap ass, I just buy cheap gas dry out now–$5 worth of it lasts all winter.

    4 -> Probably only a US thing. AFAIK, it is not legal to put a hold on a debit card in Canada, although you could use it to pay a deposit. If they *can* do it, I can’t imagine how it would work with Interac. Pumps that take debit here ask the maximum amount you will spend. When you hit that amount, the pump stops and if you need more gas you’ll need to do another transaction. You are charged only for the gas you bought.

    5 -> The only card that comes to mind (Canadian Tire Mastercard) offers a pretty good rebate program, although I pay cash and use the 6x – 12x CT money multiplier coupons.

    7 -> Never seen this happen. I’ve filled my jerry can enough to notice it, too. But then again, this sort of thing is VERY tightly regulated here (Gas is dispensed corrected for temperature), and the errors would be ENORMOUS considering the temperature swings.

    10 -> There’s cars that can’t run with some ethanol? Better not drive them up to Canada in the winter or they’ll be cooked!

    • ratnerstar says:

      @shepd: I’m not a car expert or anything, but are you sure your facts are right? My understanding is that ethanol reduces your ability to start on a cold day, not enhances it.

      As for number 10, you’ve definitely misunderstood. A significant percentage of gas in the US has some amount of ethanol in it (about 10%), and virtually all cars can use it. The difference is that some cars are designed specifically for E85, a fuel that is 85% ethanol.

      • shepd says:


        Nothing reduces your ability to start more than water that has separated from your gas and frozen your fuel lines. :) Well, apart from a dead engine. It might be harder to start a cold engine with an ethanol blended gas, but at least it *can* start.

        The ethanol will “dry out” the gas by allowing the water to bind with it. Sure, you don’t want to get lots of water into the engine, but in this case it’s okay in small quantities and lots better than anything else you can do.


        Hey, #10 is from them, not me. MSN claims ethanol incompatible cars exist, but MSN also says there’s plenty that run fine on it. I’m sure they’re incorrect and that ALL cars will run with it, but hey, I’m not the car guy. :)

        • ratnerstar says:

          @shepd: Huh, no kidding. Well, you learn something new every day!

          But I think number 10 is only referring to E85, which only certain cars can use.

  10. Geoff says:

    This is surprisingly accurate. However, the first “fact” is a bit misleading. While it is true that branded stations do charge more for the name, very few unbranded stations get to “shop around.” Many unbranded stations are independently owned stations and the owners are bound by a contract with a jobber, the company that purchases the fuel from the refinery and sells it wholesale. In that case, the station gets whatever gas the jobber gives them — it could be Shell, it could be Exxon, depending on the refinery. (And the only thing that makes gasoline Shell or Exxon gasoline is the additives that company adds to the fuel before it’s loaded in the truck. discount gas and brand-name gas is exactly the same, except for “Techron” and the other gimmicky additives they throw in.)

    So it’s not really the station that shops around, but the company from which they buy their gasoline wholesale.

    This also doesn’t always result in a lower price. The wholesaler will often mark up the fuel more than their fair share because of the location of the station (in an upscale neighborhood? that’ll cost ya), or based off of the amount of fuel sold at the station (if they sell more, they may raise the costs because they’ll make more). And those aren’t the only reasons — the wholesaler can raise costs to the station however they want as long as they can make it look good on paper.

    Unfortunately, while there are laws against the percentage a wholesaler can mark up the fuel costs (as well as the amount the station can raise the cost), they are rarely enforced due to political reasons and a lack of care from law enforcement.

    For instance, Louisiana law prohibits the mark up of fuel by a gas station to exceed 4% above the wholesale cost.

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      @Geoff: I have a question about your last point- how in the heck does LA enforce that law, since prices change daily for wholesale? Lately our gas prices are changing twice a day for wholesale. It doesn’t help that we have only one terminal in my town, and all the brands are blended there. The branded fuel only changes prices at 6 pm but the unbranded will change usually around noon and 6 pm. Is it 4% from the time they last bought fuel?

  11. Skin Art Squared says:

    I use a debit card at the pump all the time. It’s the only thing I use. Never a hold, never a problem. Also buy the lowest octane (cheapest gas) available. Vehicle runs perfectly fine.

    • Jesse says:


      Lowest octane rule is okay but read your owners manual first. Some engines require higher octane fuel (e.g., supercharged models) and may be damaged if you run them on regular gasoline.

  12. gafpromise says:

    A little OT, but always get a receipt when you pay at the pump. My husband pulled away from a gas station once, got a couple miles down the road and a cop pulled him over. The gas station attendant had reported him for stealing gas. Luckily he had a receipt to prove that he had in fact paid for it.

    • tbax929 says:

      If he hadn’t had the receipt, he could have proved he paid for it via his credit card or bank statement, correct?

    • YOXIM says:

      @gafpromise: Where I live, you can’t get the pump to dispense gas unless you either pay the clerk or use a credit/debit card. Makes it kinda hard to steal gas, unless you’re siphoning it out of the hole in the ground or something.

      There was actually a case last year I believe where this guy actually did that. He would park an RV or some other such large vehicle in a gas station on top of the tank lid, and siphon hundreds of gallons. He got caught :)

    • lilyHaze says:

      @gafpromise: I used to print out my gas receipts, but I don’t do it as much anymore. It’s a waste of paper. (I keep all my CC receipts, but gsa is something I can never return.)

  13. balthisar says:

    So what if your cash is in limbo when you use a debit card? It’s not a “cost,” unless you live down to the penny anyway.

    • cuchanu says:

      I @balthisar: And congratulations you must not live paycheck to paycheck like most people no matter how much they make. So disregard that one and call it “9 secrets” instead.

    • coren says:

      @balthisar: Depends on how much/little you have in that account and certainly if you were keeping track of purchases and the held 30 bucks extra, it could put you into overcharge turf

  14. cuchanu says:

    It’s kind of annoying how people will shop around for gas and use up a half a gallon of fuel to get to a place that sells gas for $0.10/gallon. A half a gallon of fuel is about $1.50. A gas tank is about 15 gallons.

    Try extending that frugality to other areas instead of being anal about gas. OR be frugal in both areas but gas is not the one to focus on.

    • tbax929 says:

      I wish my tank were only 15 gallons!

      • CheritaChen says:

        @tbax929: You have a standard passenger vehicle with a tank larger than 15 gallons?

        Or are you referring to a truck/SUV/pseudo-APC? Because if you’re driving one of those for anything other than practical reasons (ex. work/enormous family/living in a DMZ) and bitching about the cost of filling up, you’re definitely in the wrong place.

      • temporaryerror says:

        Why? You could get the same effect from just putting in 15 gallons. Other than the little needle being on F, I don’t see much of a difference. In fact, it seems that most tanks are a certain capacity for a reason…that being, you get about 300 (or whatever) miles or so of range out of a full tank, regardless of your cars mpg.
        So if you had a 15 gallon tank on a v-8 engined vehicle, your range per tank would be greatly reduced.

    • NewsMuncher says:

      @cuchanu: I think in some cases, “shopping around” means paying attention to the stations you see while driving around (doing other things). Or using the internet before you leave home. I looked on GasBuddy after moving to a new area to get an idea of where the stations were and the price differences between them. I was very happy to note the closest one to our apartment was the cheapest one.
      In our previous city, there were two stations right across from each other that competed with each other, and this made them much cheaper than the station down the block from them. I just checked GasBuddy every so often to make sure they remained the cheapest stations around.

  15. Jesse says:

    I only put Top Tier gasoline in my car. It sounds like an industry gimmick, but GM, Toyota and other auto makers back it. The owners manual to my 09 Malibu encourages Top Tier products. Fortunately, QuikTrip is on the list and they are typically one of the cheaper vendors in my area.

    • Geoff says:

      @Jesse: As long as your owner’s manual says to use it, you’re doing the right thing. But if you’ve got a Corolla and you’re putting Premium gas in it, you’re wasting money and possibly damaging your engine.

  16. coren says:

    I vaguely understand the 1 dollar prebilling companies will do (still strikes me as dumb unless it’s solely to validate the sale).

    Why when you are paying for an already made purchase, would they need to allocate more funds?

    • Papercutninja says:

      @coren: It’s to prevent people who have $1.73 in their debit account from buying $120 worth of fuel and then leaving.

  17. BustangBetty says:

    The first part of the article where it discusses finding the best deal is load of crap. Here in Washington state, I can go a few miles south and find a better deal on gas than if I were to stay in my hometown which is usually 10 to 15 cents higher. Those who live on the eastside know exactly what I am talking about.

  18. Trencher93 says:

    I call it the “location discount” – there is a gas station just off the off-ramp going to a tourist trap, and the price is about $0.10/gal higher than anywhere else in town. If you go one exit either way, you’ll get cheaper gas. Gassing up near a tourist trap is not a good plan.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I used to provide electronic service for a store’s gas stations, so I can partially debunk some of what is said in that article-
    for a Visa/mastercard or other credit or debit card which authorizes through a provider and NOT through a PIN entry, the station may pre-auth as little as 20-40 dollars up to 75 or 100 when gas is very expensive. Most corporate/branded stations upload their credit transactions live or at night, although many small businesses upload every 3 days or more.
    For pin-entry debit cards (check cards) and ATM cards, they are pre-auth’d for either 1c or 1 dollar, although usually for 1c to verify the validity of the account and PIN, and then charged for the full amount at the end of the transaction. If your bank charges you to use your ATM/debit (or check card) at retailers as such, then get a credit-union account, those rarely charge for this service.

  20. PLATTWORX says:

    This is why I don’t donate. Consumer Media needs to staff this site properly, stop lifting old unchecked stories from other sites just to have new stuff here and make sure they stop posting “gripe” stories when the consumer is clearly the one at fault for the problem. THEN, they can have some money.

  21. Dansc29625 says:

    No crap the local shell wont work on my car. whodathunkit.

  22. OsiUmenyiora says:

    Wow, you mean I should shop around and go to the station that has the lowest price? You mean that gas in Jersey might be less than in New York? Who would have thought of that? Thanks so much!

  23. merryprankster says:

    #1…Oil companies dont charge differently for individual gas stations. Distributors are the ones who get the gas from oil companies and deliver to stores. And of course its all relative. My company owns gas stations and a distributorship so we pay the same for all our gas…regardless of the store’s location.

    #6…its really interesting how people will drive across town to get gas thats a few cents cheaper but in the end they actually payed more because of the gas used to drive past “more expensive” stations.

  24. Bs Baldwin says:

    Another useless article from MSN that is either untrue or recycled facts we already know.

    I want to know what banks charge their customers for pin-based transactions (excluding atm withdraws); name some names because I can’t think of any that do.