Pain at the pump: how to take the edge off

Gas prices in general seem to always be going up. In May 2021, they reached a 7-year high. And in recent weeks Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions have made them spiral even higher. But in addition to obvious factors that impact the baseline, there are fluctuations with each month, day, and even hour. (Of course, the grade of gas you buy also affects what you pay, but it may not really be necessary to buy the higher octane grades.)

Here are some things to know about gas prices to help you understand the trends, and also a few ways to mitigate the pain. Or at least get a little cash back.

Is gas more expensive on holiday weekends?

Yes, it’s not your imagination. Gas prices do usually increase ahead of holiday weekends. One reason for this is a classic case of supply and demand; a lot more people than usual are filling up their tanks before holiday weekends, and gas is in shorter supply as a result.

Additionally, in California—the state with the most cars on the road—there’s an annual, automatic tax hike that takes effect right before the July 4th weekend. It’s been in effect since legislation passed in 2017, as a measure to fund bridge and road repairs.

Filling Oil Gas Fuel at station

Has the pandemic affected availability of gas?

The pandemic, having impacted the global supply chain in numerous ways, has also caused delays and bottlenecks in gas delivery. The biggest problem has been a shortage of the tank truck drivers who transport gas to stations.

During the pandemic, when demand for gas plummeted, numerous drivers were laid off or left their jobs. They’re hard to replace, given the training and certifications needed for transporting gas. Which means a lot of tank trucks are parked, with no one to drive them—and constraining gas supply accordingly.

Are there days when it’s cheaper to buy gas?

Absolutely—day of the week impacts gas prices. The most expensive days to buy it are Friday and Saturday. (This is once again a supply and demand thing—as more people start filling up for the weekend, prices start to climb.)

And the best day to buy gas, the very cheapest? Monday. That’s when the fewest people are buying gas, so the supply/demand aspect evens out. Tuesday is also a solid day to go fuel up, and even Wednesday is usually not too bad, price-wise. Just try to avoid Thursday, Friday, and the weekend days.

Does time of day matter?

Surprisingly, yes. Even the time you buy gas can have an impact on the price you pay.

The time you’re likely to get the best price is Monday, before 10am. That’s because most gas stations make their price updates at 10:00 or after. So given that Monday is the best day to buy gas, before 10 on Monday is probably the best price you’re going to get—likely for the whole week. It’s also likely that as the week progresses, and prices continue to increase, you’ll do better to fill up before 10 on the other days too, before the likely increases take effect.

How can I find the gas stations with the best prices?

Aside from all the trends around days and time of day, prices of course do vary—sometimes significantly—from one gas station to another. Google Maps will show prices for many stations so that you can find the best price near you. There are also some useful apps to help you scope out the best prices in whatever area you’re in when you need to fill up. Some even allow you to earn points for cash back.

Here are some of our favorites:

GasBuddy – This is the king of the gas pricing apps. It has real-time pricing information for just about every gas station.It crowdsources its information from its users, so you’re encouraged to enter the prices you see each time you fill up.

Google Maps – If you use Google Maps on your phone, simply tap ‘gas’ under the search bar to see gas prices at the stations near you.

Geico mobile – If you have Geico insurance (or even if you don’t), you can use their app to check out gas prices in your area.

Gas Guru – See current prices from all the gas stations around you. No crowdsourcing, but pricing info is pulled from the Oil Price Information Service (a source for this sort of thing).

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