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NPR tech news
Mon March 26, 2012
Finding Cheaper Gas With Your Smartphone
Originally published on Mon March 26, 2012 3:35 pm
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.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I'm Melissa Block. And it's time for All Tech Considered.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: We're going to take a drive now in search of what many people are looking for these days, the cheapest gas. And, yes, there's an app for that. Several companies have developed smartphone applications to help you search for the lowest price near you.
NPR's Jeff Brady tried out a couple of them.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: I'm in my car in Philadelphia with only a quarter of a tank of gas left. I've pulled off the road and have my phone out. Here's the GasBuddy application. I push the big, green button that says: Find Gas Near Me. And it looks like the cheapest station is only two-tenths of a mile away. The price: 3.71 a gallon.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR)
BRADY: I'm at the gas station now and some good news, the price has actually gone down two cents since it was last updated on GasBuddy. But there's also a problem, that's the cash price. I need to use a credit card and that's eight cents a gallon more, so 3.77 a gallon. That isn't quite the bargain I thought it was.
It turns out that's an issue Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy.com, is working on.
JASON TOEWS: 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. Right now, it's just the cheapest price.
BRADY: Toews says his company receives about 500,000 gas price reports every day.
TOEWS: 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.
BRADY: It's a surprisingly accurate method. While the first station I visited had a lower price, 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.
TOEWS: And I was at one station where the price was 4.68 a gallon and it's not even two miles away - it was at 4.14, that's a 54-cent-per-gallon savings. I'm not saying that you can always save that much, but it's pretty easy to save 10 or 15 cents per gallon.
BRADY: Toews' application is free. There are small advertisements on the screen. If you don't like that, there's the Fuel Finder app for just under $3. It was created by the same company that makes NPR's smartphone applications.
Calvin Carter is the founder of Bottle Rocket Apps. His includes a few more features, like an estimate of how long it will take to drive to the cheapest gas station.
CALVIN CARTER: And also, we have the ability to tell you exactly how many dollars per tank you're going to save. So, you can make a really good, quick decision. Is it worth driving extra miles to save what might be three or $4 a tank?
BRADY: And there's a feature that has nothing to do with prices, called On Fumes.
CARTER: This allows you to see a lot more stations and allows you to find the closest station. In the case, obviously, that you're running out of gas, you just want to get to a gas station fast.
(SOUNDBITE OF TAPPING)
BRADY: So I found that gas station with the cheapest credit card price around, 3.73 a gallon. That's four cents less than the last place I was at. I pumped 11 gallons for a total savings of 44 cents. I'm not sure that was worth driving two miles for. But 44 cents is 44 cents.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.