Sites helping savvy consumers save
By Sarah A. Webster
Knight Ridder News Service
DETROIT While most of the Web sites comparing gasoline prices are free, there's quite a range in the breadth and accurateness of the available data. Generally, the sites allow consumers to search prices by city or ZIP code, and then provide a detailed map to the door of the best buy.
The free sites, such as www.gasbuddy.com, tend to rely on a stable of volunteers to scout out and report prices as they see them, so better participation begets more, and hopefully cheaper, gas prices to compare. But www.travmatix.com, a fee-based service launched Wednesday, says it has comprehensive data based on credit-card receipts and its Web site is updated electronically.
Michael Allen, a volunteer spotter for GasBuddy.com who lives in Keego Harbor, Mich., and commutes to Roseville, Mich., swears by the service. He plans his fill-ups along his route to work and says participating with the Web site helps him feel empowered.
"When gas costs as much as it is now, knowing where to go, or where to stay from, is going to save you 8 to 9 cents a gallon," he said yesterday, calling the service "a driver's best friend."
"I've saved quite a bit since I've found that site," Allen noted.
Until these sites came along, consumers have mostly shopped gas prices by driving around and burning more gas, or relying on word of mouth. That's because it's inconvenient to telephone all the stations in your area to request prices, and some stations may not provide them.
Other Web-based services have tried to help gas-buyers save money and failed. For example, Priceline.com tried to arrange for consumer gas purchases online but the effort didn't last a year before it was shut down. However, this latest effort simply posts existing prices and has been largely consumer-driven.
These price-scouting Web site operators say gas prices can range 20 percent or more in any given market, so savvy consumers can save between $100 and $500 a year, or more, depending on what they drive, how far they drive and fuel prices.
With the average price of a gallon of regular gas at $2.05 nationally yesterday, according to the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, these Web sites are becoming increasingly popular.
Gasbuddy.com is getting 300,000 unique visitors a day. That's up tenfold from about 30,000 unique visitors daily in January, said Jason Toews, founder of the nonprofit GasBuddy Organization Inc., in Brooklyn Park, Minn. That Web site is actually a portal to more than 170 area-specific Web sites, also run by GasBuddy.
The site, which relies on advertising for revenue, says it has about 100,000 gas-price spotters, but the data can be spotty based on participation trends.
For example, in a search of the 48226 ZIP code in downtown Detroit, Gasbuddy.com reported more than 24 stations with a low price of $1.95 a gallon, but many of those stations were relatively far outside the ZIP code area. Gaspricewatch .com reported a price for just one station in the direct area selling regular gas at $2.12 a gallon.
Meanwhile, TravMatix.com, which charges $19.95 annually for access to its data, reported prices on four stations, with a low price of $2.05. While only two of those were in the 48226 ZIP code, the other two were nearby.
Randy Carpenter, president of Interstate Data Inc., the company based in Ashland, Ky., that runs TravMatix, said the Web site has prices on 85 percent of the gas stations in the United States and draws its data on credit-card receipts through the help of its partner, MobileGates Corp. in La Palma, Calif.
While none of the Web sites can guarantee the gas prices will remain at that level by the time you arrive at the station, the sites may give consumers some edge in finding the low-cost leaders in their area. The sites do generally tell consumers when the prices were recorded.