Using the Internet to Search for Cheap Gas

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Many Americans now surf to Web sites like Gasbuddy.com to find the cheapest gas in their local area. Madeleine Brand talks with GasBuddy.com co-founder Jason Toews about how they determine where to find the lowest pump prices.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And, dear listeners, if your tank is getting below half full already this week, what to do. A number of websites now let you find the best gas prices in your area without all the driving around.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Gasbuddy.com is one of those sites. I asked its co-founder, Jason Toews, what you'll find there.

Mr. JASON TOEWS (co-founder of Gas buddy dot com): Well, our website is basically a way for people to share tips on where the cheapest gas is. It's just ordinary motorists log onto the websites and report prices to us. And then they're available for people to search on and to find the cheapest gas around.

BRAND: And who are these people, these, these spotters?

Mr. TOEWS: Well, you know, they're just ordinary people. And we have a network of just about nine hundred thousand registered members. Of course registration is optional on the website. And there are some station owners, but most, for the most part it's just ordinary consumers.

BRAND: So people are just driving around and they say, Oh, I have gas for $3.09, I'm going to log on to Gasbuddy and tell everyone?

Mr. TOEWS: Yeah, that's right. You know, people just log on to the website, they make a note of the prices that they spot on their daily commute, and log on to the website to report on them. And the idea is that if we get enough spotters, that we'll have pretty much every station listed on the website, since at least somebody's driving by each gas station each day.

BRAND: How do you know that this data is accurate?

Mr. TOEWS: Well, you know, we do a number of things to insure the accuracy of the data. With our vast network of spotters we get a lot of the same people logging on to the website everyday to report prices. So we get to know who they are, get to know that they post reliable information, and we'll actually ban people if they're found to be posting inaccurate information. So we take into account who posted the price, where the station is and how it compares to the competition in the area.

BRAND: Where is the cheapest gallon of gas in America?

Mr. TOEWS: The cheapest gas on average is in Wyoming right now. The state average is $2.56.5, and the most expensive is in Hawaii at $347.2. In mainland U.S. the most expensive is in California at $3.14.6.

BRAND: Like where I am right now, for example?

Mr. TOEWS: Hmm, yes.

BRAND: Well, in general is it better to go with a big company or one of those cheapies?

Mr. TOEWS: You know, it depends. Some areas have big wholesale clubs that use gas as a loss leader, or they try to sell it as cheaply as possible to try to drive people into the stores where they buy things like groceries or clothes. But often smaller, regional, or even mom and pop gas stations have some of the cheaper prices around because they don't have brand recognition and they try to compete on price to try to drive people into the stores, where they may buy candy or a drink, watery type or alcohol or use their car wash, where they have a lot higher profit margin on it.

BRAND: Jason Toews runs Gasbuddy.com. Thank you.

Mr. TOEWS: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And aside from Gasbuddy.com, there's help at NPR.org too. NPR's Scott Horsley has a look at the real cost of gas there. To find out what's oil, what's taxes, what's profit. Also the Car Talk brothers with useful tips on fuel economy, NPR.org.

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