If you'll be driving on your trip to Mexico, at some point sooner or later you will need to buy gas. It's a fairly straightforward process, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. If you'll be traveling long distances, remember to fill up your tank at major towns because there can be long stretches of highway with no gas stations. Should you run out of gas near a small village, ask around and you will likely find someone who sells gas from containers out of a local shop or home.
Prior to 2018, petrol was a nationalized resource in Mexico, and only one company was authorized to sell gas: Pemex. Since this was a state-owned company, all Pemex stations across Mexico sold gas at the same price, so there was no need to look around for the best deal. Since 2018, the market has opened to other gas companies and now there is some competition, so you may find a slight difference in price at different stations.
All gas stations in Mexico are full service, so you will not need to pump your own gas. Pemex stations sell three different types of gas: Magna (regular unleaded), Premium (high octane unleaded), and diesel. Let the attendant know how much you want and which type. Gasoline is measured in liters, not in gallons in Mexico, so when figuring out how much you're paying for gas, remember that one gallon is equal to 3.785 liters.
Payment at gas stations is usually in cash (Mexican pesos, no foreign currency accepted), and this is usually easier and more convenient, but some stations do accept credit and debit cards. You may have to get out of your car to go to the machine and type in your PIN number. The attendant will let you know if that is the case.
It is customary to tip gas station attendants only if they perform some extra service like washing the windshield or checking your tires or oil, in which case, tipping between five and twenty pesos depending on the service is reasonable.
Useful Phrases at the Gas Station
If the attendant does not speak English, these phrases will help you let them know what type of gasoline you would like and how much.
- "Lleno de Premium, por favor" (yeh-no deh preh-mee-oom por fah-vor) Fill 'er up with Premium, please.
- "Cien pesos de Magna, por favor." (see-ehn peh-sohs deh mag-na por fah-vor) One hundred pesos of Magna, please.
- "¿Puede lavar el parabrisas, por favor?" (poo-eday lah-var el para-bree-sas, por fah-vor) Would you please wash the windshield?
Avoid Gas Station Scams
There are a few scams that tourists have encountered when buying gas in Mexico. This is not very common, but it's good to be aware so you know what to watch out for. Before the gas station attendant begins to pump your gas, check to make sure the counter on the pump starts at 0.00. It happens rarely, but some attendants may (purposefully or not) neglect to reset the counter before pumping, making you pay for more gas than you actually receive. You should also remain attentive while stopped at the gas station and make sure you don't leave valuables next to an open window.
Pay attention to how much the total is, what denomination of bills you hand over to pay, and how much change you should get back.
If you think you may have been a victim of a scam at a gas station, be sure to ask for a receipt (you have to request it or you won't get one unless you pay with a card) so you have proof of the time and place of your purchase, and you can present a complaint at PROFECO, Mexico's consumer protection agency which is in charge of weights and measures as well as consumer protection of everyone in Mexico regardless of whether they are nationals or tourists. The Mexican government encourages people to report problems to PROFECO so that they may be resolved as soon as possible.
Other Things to Consider When Driving
Buying gas is not the only issue may come across if you decide to drive in Mexico. Be aware that you will also have to deal with topes (speed bumps) and other bumps and potholes on the road, may need to deal with Mexican authorities, and you may be confronted with a situation in which you may be expected to pay a mordida (bribe). You'll have different concerns depending on whether you're driving your own car across the border or renting a car in Mexico, but either way, having your own wheels gives you a freedom that no other form of transportation can.
If you get into trouble on any of Mexico's federal highways, remember that the Green Angels (Angeles Verdes) are only a phone call away.