The Ins & Outs of Getting Gas in Mexico
Getting gas seems so simple and yet in Mexico it is a little different from here in the U.S.
Gas Stations in Mexico
In the past, all Mexican gas stations were owned by Pemex, a Mexican state-owned petroleum company, managed and operated by the Mexican government. The advantage was that travelers did not need to price shop while driving. The disadvantage was you had to pay whatever price was charged.
In 2016, private gas companies were allowed to operate in Mexico. Now, you will find many other companies including Chevron, BP, Oxxo, Total, G500, and Orsan to name a few. According to San Diego Red, Chevron appears to have the highest prices in Mexico (nothing new there).
However, it is still difficult to price shop when traveling long distances. You are better off filling up every time you are at about a half tank, rather than running it out between stations. You cannot count on there being a station every time you need one.
A friend of mine told me a story about neglecting to get gas when she had just gotten on the road. She said she knew there was a gas station at kilometer XX, so she decided to wait. When she got there, though, the perfectly good, newish gas station was out of order.
She was so low on gas that she had to ask some locals if there was any way to get gas there. They directed her to a home deep in the heart of the small town, where she finally found a man with gallons of gas stacked in containers in his yard. The gas was poured into her car from plastic and metal cans. She said she would have been stuck in that town for who knows how long if she did not speak Spanish. This story illustrates a good lesson about getting gas in Mexico: fill up your tank when you can. By the way, it has been a year, and that gas station has still not reopened.
Sometimes there are makeshift gas stations, where people have cans of gas available, possibly stacked next to their vehicles. A common place to see them is in Chapala, Baja California Norte, where Highway 5 meets Highway 1. This is due to the long distance without gas stations between San Felipe and Guerro Negro. The problem is you can never count on these folks being there.
Units of Measurement
The metric system is used in Mexico, so consequentially the gas comes in liters. So, if the prices seem cheap compared to the U.S. – it is because the listed price is in liters. Usually, it is just slightly less expensive. The simple rule I use is 1 gallon = 4 liters (3.79 to be exact).
Types of Gas
As you enter a gas station there will be many pumps. Yet usually only one or two are used. The closed pumps will be blocked off with orange cones or something else. If you want ‘Regular’ gas it will sometimes be called that or ‘verde’ (pronounced VAIR-day). ‘Premium’ can be called that, or ‘Magna’ or ‘Rojo (Ro-Ho).
All Gas Stations are Full Service.
This means you do not have to pump the gas or even get out of the car. And usually, the gas attendant will clean your windows! All you must do is sit in your vehicle and enjoy yourself. However, because of this, there are a few gas station scams that you should know about.
The most common scam involves the attendant not zeroing the gas pump. This is easy to avoid, all you need to do is look at the tank before they begin pumping your gas. If there are not zeros on the liters, point to the numbers on the pump. You do not even need to speak Spanish. Though you could say ‘CERO,’ which means ‘ZERO’ in Spanish.
Another scam involves the attendant giving you change for a smaller bill(s) than what you gave them to pay for the gas. Solve this problem by counting out the pesos as you hand them to the attendant.
Cash or Credit
Most gas stations will take credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, but not all of them. It is best to always have some pesos to cover you in the event they do not.
If your gas attendant cleans your car windows, it is customary to give them a 10-20 peso tip.
Bathrooms or Baños
Another thing about Mexico gas stations…I found the bathrooms to be impeccable during my most recent Baja trip. In fact, I never went to one that did not outclass most public restrooms in the U.S. According to my friends who live in Mexico, though, they are not all like that. Depending on where you go, they can be dirty, without seats or toilet paper. So, enter cautiously.
That is probably more information than you ever thought you needed to know about gas stations in Mexico. Who knew they were so different from the U.S.? Now that you are familiar with the process, you are ready to drive in Mexico.