At the Pump: 10 Gasoline Cheats Every Car Owner Should Know

As we stood at the pump, we watched poor saps around us wince as they pumped their vehicles full of petrol. Maybe they were grimacing over the recent holiday price hikes, or perhaps they realized their driving habits were the reason they were there for the fourth time that week. Whatever the reason, no one was smiling. Here we were filling up at almost a dollar below the advertised price, and everyone around us was missing out.

There are plenty of ways to cut corners when it comes to buying gas. Most people just don’t how to capitalize upon these angles. It might require a little bit of planning and some shopping on your end, but with enough research, a few well-timed fill-ups, and a splash of proper maintenance etiquette, you might be surprised by how much money you will save.

For those of us willing to do what it takes to save on a fill up, there are a few ways to cheat the pump. Although not everyone has the ability to utilize all of the following tips at once, if you’re able to roll a few of them together, the outcome should be noticeable.

1. Late night fill-ups help you save up

A Shell gas station in Europe from decades past shows a stylish approach to fueling up
A Shell gas station in Europe from decades past shows a stylish approach to fueling up that most areas of the world will never see again. | Shell via Facebook

It might sound silly, but hitting the pump after midnight or right before dawn is going to save you some cash. What most people don’t know is many gas stations hike up their prices during the day, and once traffic slows to a crawl after midnight they drop prices to attract as many customers as possible.

USA Today covered this a while back, and while we aren’t saying you should set your alarm to fill up at 4:37 a.m. once a week, it is worth doing if you work odd hours or are driving through the night. Plus, gasoline is denser when it’s cold, so topping off your tank when it is cool out is going to give you a hair more product for the same price.

And it’s not just the time of the night, but the day of the week that matters …

2. Wednesdays are always a winner

Months and dates shown on a calendar
Buying gas on Wednesdays can save you some cash. | A. Jackson

Try to buy your gas on Wednesdays, as gas stations typically hike up their prices at the start of the week and from Thursdays forward to make money off people who are embarking on weekend trips. And always avoid buying gas on holiday weekends or the days leading up to them, as that is when everyone gets gouged.

The one card you’ll always want at the pump …

3. Get a gas partnership plan, people

Advertisement to join Shell's Fuel Rewards gas program
Joining a gas program, such as Shell’s Fuel Rewards, allows consumers to earn redeemable fuel points by linking credit cards to a rechargeable Shell card. | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Signing up for a gas card is something a lot of people never consider, which means they miss out on doubling or sometimes even tripling the amount of deductible fuel points. What people don’t realize is by signing up for something like a Shell Fuel Rewards membership, they can earn points by linking their credit cards to an account that gives them discounts every time they shop, go out to eat, or make an online purchase. Activities, including fine dining and laser tag, can earn fuel points, and all you have to do to redeem these points is insert your membership card at the pump prior to paying.

Fill up your fridge and your gas tank at the same time …

4. Most grocery stores offer their own special savings

You can sign up for Kroger’s fuel program to save money.| SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

Going with something grocery store-related, such as Kroger’s Fuel Program, is another great way to start saving — all of those groceries might as well be giving you cash back at the pump, after all. While different grocery stores have various ways of enticing shoppers, Kroger scores huge with its double points program in the summer, where it automatically gives shoppers twice the fuel points on purchases every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

There’s something else you’re forgetting to put in your tank …

5. Use a high-quality fuel cleaner

Fuel cleaner
A high-quality fuel cleaner can do wonders for fuel efficiency and smoothing out rough engines idling on high-mileage automobiles. | Gumout via Facebook

It might sound like a late-night infomercial hoax, but these things actually work. You might not notice its effects right away, but your engine sure will, as many high-grade cleaners are engineered to improve every component contained within a fuel system. Condensation, corrosion, debris, and rust all affect your car’s ability to function, and tossing a bottle of something such as Gumout, into your tank every now and then is like taking your motor to the dentist. It’s preventative maintenance in its purest form, and this inexpensive addition will help keep you from having to visit the pump and the mechanic entirely too soon.

Fresh gas isn’t as clean as you think …

6. Don’t fill up when you see a tanker truck

Tanker truck filling up at gas station
Spot a fuel tanker? Move on to the next gas station. | Mark Allen Channel via YouTube

People see a truck replenishing the gas station’s underground fuel reservoir, and they think, “Oh joy, fresh gas!” We hate to burst your bubble, but that tanker truck could spell bad news for your car if you choose to fill up while it is unloading its wares.

The underground fuel reservoir that holds the gas station’s petrol is similar to the tank strapped to your car, and over time it will begin to form a layer of sediment at the bottom. This deposit is filled with all kinds of impurities you don’t want in your engine, and every time the tanker refills a fuel cell it stirs up all that sediment, which you definitely don’t want in your fuel system.

Why you should be on your phone at the pump …

7. Get a gas app

GasBuddy app to find cheap gasoline
Having an app that tells you who has the cheapest gas at any given point is a perk few of us can afford to pass up in the heavily connected, smartphone-filled modern age. | GasBuddy via Facebook

This cheat is a good one for tech-heads. Modern gas apps, such as GasBuddy, offer drivers up-to-date fuel costs and gas stand locations, and they reward you for reporting fuel price changes. These apps also give drivers the ability to shop around before road trips, calculate overall fuel savings for the entire journey, and schedule stops for refilling along the way. Some newer vehicles also come with gasoline stand information in their infotainment suite, so dive into that center stack to see what it has to offer.

Maybe BP is your friend after all …

8. Good fuel ain’t cheap, and cheap fuel ain’t good

Shell Nitro fuel boasts one of the best top-tier cleaning ratings for engines.
Shell Nitro fuel boasts one of the best top-tier cleaning ratings for engines. | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Independent lab testing from AAA has finally put to rest the old debate of whether running no-name gasoline damages engines. Cheap fuel has been exposed for what it truly is: an engine destroyer. For years we’ve been told all the big-brand gasoline stands in America offer the same swill as the unheard-of corner stores and that occasionally adding a tank of premium won’t help a thing. But testing has proven otherwise.

A report by AAA states, “Among brands tested, non-TOP TIER gasolines caused 19 times more engine deposits than TOP TIER brands after just 4,000 miles of simulated driving.” According to the study, having enhanced, engine-cleaning detergent additives does make a difference, as they protect against carbon deposits, lower emissions, and improve performance. Simply put, spending a little more on the good stuff will save you a lot in the long run.

Don’t ignore that warning light …

9. Drive on empty at your own risk

Running low on fuel is a common complaint for people who drive cars, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Running low on fuel is a common complaint for people who drive cars, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, which gets atrocious efficiency numbers. | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

According to a study from Consumer Reports, driving with little to nothing in the tank can take a heavy toll on your car. Gasoline doesn’t just serve a purpose as a combustible product; it also acts like a coolant for the electric fuel-pump motor. So when your tank runs low, this forces the pump to suck in increasingly large amounts of air, creating excess heat that can cause the fuel pump to fail prematurely.

Another problem is fuel tanks tend to grow contaminated over time, as things, such as water deposits, metal corrosion, and other impurities, cake the inside. Running low on gasoline means all that flotsam could get sucked up if it drops too low, and it could lead to a clogged filter, a choked fuel pump, or gunked-up injectors, all of which cost a lot more to fix than a full tank of gas.

Don’t waste your money on this simple mistake …

10. Premium may not always be required

Pumping gasoline into car
You probably don’t need to splurge on premium. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Automotive engineering advancements have brought us to a point where putting premium or regular in your tank is an option, as cars, such as the new Mazda CX-9 and turbocharged Honda Civic, support either octane. Although there still are plenty of automobiles that clearly state “Premium Unleaded Fuel Only” inside their gas-cap doors, advancements in direct and port injection have given many drivers the ability to pick their petrol.

While both the CX-9 and the Civic lose power when 87 Octane is dumped in their tanks, having the option to save some dough at the pump at the cost of some top-end attitude is pretty nice. When we drove the Mazda CX-9 on a family road trip we dumped regular in the tank every time and still managed to get outstanding MPG averages, with plenty of power to boot. So read your handbook to find out whether premium gasoline is mandatory because running a top-tier fuel with a lower octane rating might be perfectly fine for when it comes time to save at the pump.