Gasoline prices seem to be going up every day, and motorists are looking to squeeze every penny of savings out of each fill-up. Well, as it turns out with so many things these days, smartphone apps can help.
Companies have applications for most smartphones out there to help people find the cheapest gas in town. I tried out six applications on an iPhone and narrowed the selection to two that I found the easiest to use: GasBuddy and Fuel Finder.
GasBuddy launches quickly, with a big, green gas-pump button in the center of the screen labeled "Find Gas Near Me." Just push it, and prices pop up based on your GPS location. You can sort by distance or price.
One problem I found is it lists only the lowest price. In my case, that was for a service station that charges 8 cents a gallon more if you want to use a credit card. Jason Toews, the co-founder of GasBuddy.com, says his company is working on that issue.
"One of the things that we're going to add to the application and to the website is the ability to enter cash and credit prices," he says. "Right now it's just the cheapest price."
Toews says his company receives about 500,000 gas price reports every day.
"The data is all crowdsourced," he says. "It's all based on local people in every city across the country logging in to the app or to the website and sending in the gas prices."
It's a surprisingly accurate method. While the first station I visited in Philadelphia had a price 2 cents lower than what GasBuddy listed, four others I drove past were right on.
The key is keeping the prices up to date. Once a report is more than a day or two old, it's kicked out of the system. Toews says his app even saved him a few bucks recently in Chicago.
"I was at one station where the price was $4.68 a gallon, and not even 2 miles away it was at $4.14 — that's a 54-cent-per-gallon savings," he says. "I'm not saying that you can always save that much, but it's pretty easy to save 10 or 15 cents per gallon."
GasBuddy is free — there are small advertisements on the screen. If you don't like that, there's the Fuel Finder app for $2.99. It was created by the same company that makes NPR's smartphone applications.
Bottle Rocket Apps founder Calvin Carter says Fuel Finder includes more features than free apps have. There's a feature called "On Fumes," which lists all the stations close to you regardless of price in case you're running out of gas.
"Also, we have the ability to tell you exactly how many dollars per tank you're going to save," Carter says. "So you can make a really good, quick decision: Is it worth driving extra miles to save?"
I probably should have used this feature during my research. The closest station was $3.77 per gallon, but I drove to another offering $3.73-per-gallon gas. It took 11 gallons to fill up my car, for a grand savings of 44 cents. I'm not sure that was worth driving 2 miles out of my way.