As the price of gasoline is speeds toward $5.00, it’s no surprise that tools helping consumers find less expensive gas are gaining visibility and popularity. Search Engine Journal and Google Maps Mania both have had nice roundups recently. Below, a look at some of the tools from them plus some additional ones and whether the search engines are missing out by not doing more.
Gas Price Resources
GasBuddy is a long-standing resource for checking on gas prices. Coming to the home page, you can see which US state has the lowest prices (right now, Missouri at $3.83) or the cheapest US city (Wichita at $3.75). Color coded maps also show highest prices (green is highest — I think it should be red).
Using the search box, you can enter a city, state, or ZIP code to get local information. I tried for 92663, a Newport Beach ZIP code. Looks like I’ll be paying $4.39 at the lowest in the area.
Getting me the local information also jumps me to a different site — OrangeCountyGasPrices.com — which is “by GasBuddy.com” and I assume exists only in hopes of ranking well for searches on those words (and they do). It’s kind of annoying GasBuddy does this, and it’s only one of many different standalone sites they operate like this. But you can’t fault the content.
You can also map prices — it’s just not something offered by default. Use the map page for that.
GasPriceWatch is more map-driven, which is nice. By entering a ZIP code like this, I can spot stations around the area, prices mapped. At a glance, I can see how two stations near the entrance to the 55 Freeway want to charge me nearly $1 more than others further away. However, it’s a bit disconcerting to see some of the stations with ??? rather than actual prices, making me wonder how accurate any of the information is.
MapQuest Gas Prices has maps right in its name! Like GasBuddy, you can see the lowest prices across the US, for the curious. A link at the top also shows the highest (Spring Valley, NY is $5.16). Enter a location like 92663, and you get a map as with GasPriceWatch.
I was disappointed, however. The icons on the map don’t show prices. Instead, they are numbered in order of lowest (1 is cheapest, then 2, 3 and onward to 10). The numbering is bad because the search range is rather broad — do I want to drive a few miles to save that extra 2 cents? To even know, I keep having to switch between looking at the map and the price key to the side. Yes, you can “hover” over an icon to get the info, but it’s not as nice.
MSN Autos is annoying because unless you enter a ZIP code to start, you see a blank page. Still, once you do (92663 again), you can see stations pinpointed in the area. But it’s a horrible interface. Like MapQuest, the prices aren’t shown. They aren’t even side-by-side with the map. You have to scroll below it to see them. Still, the cheapest station gets a special gas pump icon. That’s nice.
Motor Trend has a fairly boring start — no map, just pick by state link or enter a ZIP. I did and got back a list of results. No map — disappointing. But the list did spot a $4.33 per gallon price lower than the others found. If that’s real, whoo-hoo!
Alt Fuel Prices is, well, about alternative fuel prices. If it’s not gasoline you want, check out this map-based resource.
WhatGas.com is for me — still over here in England, where we pay about $15 per gallon now. Yeah, $15. Coming back to the US next month, gas is going to be cheap. I also need to find a better resource because for my area, it has no reported prices.
Speaking of reported prices, can you trust what you see from these services? MapQuest, MSN Autos, and Motor Trend all use reports from OPIS, which Motor Trend reports on the bottom of its gas price pages this way:
The gas prices shown on MotorTrend.com are provided by OPIS, a comprehensive source of U.S. retail fuel purchases. The fuel prices shown are actual pump prices paid by consumers as OPIS data is based on credit card transactions collected from fleet vehicles. MotorTrend.com is updated daily with new data from roughly 100,000 gas stations and convenience stores across the U.S. Due to the volatile nature of fuel prices, MotorTrend.com makes no guarantee in regard to the accuracy of prices shown.
I like the longer details that MSN Autos gives explaining more about how the data can come in, flows from fleet vehicle purchases, and so on.
Search Engine Failure
With prices on the rise, why aren’t the search engines themselves doing more? It seems like this should be a no brainer. OK, maybe you’re not going to get a lot of paid search activity to go alongside gas price queries. But having a good solid resource for prices makes a lot of search sense.
Yahoo probably does the most. They’ve long had a dedicated search shortcut for gas prices. Enter the word [gas] followed by a ZIP code:
That brings up a direct link to Gas Buddy at the top of the page. Nice, but couldn’t Yahoo do more?
Over at Ask, there’s a similar shortcut. Try [gas prices] followed by a ZIP code:
That gets you links to both GasBuddy and Motor Trend [or MoterTrend.com, as Ask calls it].
Microsoft Live Search does nothing special for gas prices 92663, other than to put local listings at the top of results. Yes, we know where the stations are — which one is the cheapest? This is so odd considering that MSN is still part of Microsoft, too. It has a gas price resource mentioned above there — why isn’t there better integration? Still, the Windows Live Search for mobile application has a “gas prices” search icon for those on the move.
As for Google, big failure. Just like with Live Search, gas prices 92663 just gives local listings of stations, no prices, no special mapping, nada.