Taking control of gas prices in uncertain times

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With regimes in the Middle East and North Africa going up in flames, the price of oil and gasoline is being driven higher and higher. So what can you do about it?

When gas prices at wholesale rise significantly in a short period of time, you’ll notice there will be big differences in the price of a gallon from station to station in most metro areas. During a pre-show planning meeting, some of my co-workers told me they saw disparities of around 35 cents per gallon from station to station — sometimes at stations located directly across the street from one another!

If you fill up at major oil company gas stations, their prices are almost always dictated by a district office, not by the individual station operator. These chains tend to use a pricing method based on a competitive analysis of who they compete against and the driving patterns and income levels of motorists who go by their stations.

On the other hand, independent gas stations such as those at supermarkets, convenience stores or warehouse clubs usually set their prices based on market conditions that are happening dynamically around them at that moment.

Right now, we’re in an odd situation when the major oil company filling stations may be cheaper than the independent discounters. The reason is because the discounters turn over gas as much as a couple times each day. Major oil stations, however, tend to go through deliveries at a slower rate and don’t get new supply that often.

So when prices run up, the place where it’s usually more expensive to fill up may be cheaper right now, because it’s a little behind the market in terms of pricing.

Ultimately though, there’s no one size fits all rule to follow. Know that price spreads are much wider right now and it pays to shop around when you go to fill up. You might also try using websites like GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com to help find the lowest gas prices in your area.

To avoid traffic, I like a free app called Waze.com, which will also show you gas prices.



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