How gas in Mexico works
Getting gas in Mexico is relatively easy, you just need to watch out for scams…more on that later complete with stories.
All gas stations in Mexico are controlled by Pemex. This means you don’t have to worry about finding the gas station with the best price because they’re all the same! The gas station signs only list the station ID number, not the price. The price per liter is listed on the pump.
Pemex is Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum). It is the Mexican federally-owned oil company that was formed when all oil resources were nationalized in 1938. Recently, new legislation has passed that will open up partnerships in oil exploration with foreign entities, but this likely won’t change the gas stations or fuel prices anytime in the foreseeable future.
Why are there so many Pemex stations if there isn’t competition? Great question – and the answer is franchising. Pemex decided it could make more money while simultaneously expanding its infrastructure if it franchised. So in 1992 they began selling franchises. Pemex helps the franchise owner set up operations and provides financing. If the franchise owner defaults, then Pemex repossesses the station and gains another gas station that they probably didn’t pay full price to build.
So if you see a bunch of Pemex stations in one area, they are in competition with each other – or were before they got repossessed.
How much does it cost and how much gas am I getting?
If you are from the States or an imperial unit nation, then you probably don’t use liters very often. A gallon is made up of about 3.8 liters. So to determine the price you are paying in USD you can take the cost per liter x 3.8 liters ÷ exchange rate.
For example: 13.5 pesos per liter x 3.8 liters ÷ 15 pesos per dollar exchange gives a cost per gallon of about $3.42.
What to say
There are three things you need to communicate:
1) Amount of fuel (in pesos)
This is where it helps to know your numbers in Spanish, or just remember the word “lleno.” You can buy a certain peso amount of fuel (i.e. quinientos  pesos) or you can ask them to fill it up by saying lleno, which means full.
2) Type of fuel
There are two types of fuel Magna and Premium. Magna is the equivalent of regular in the States which is about 87 octane, Premium is around 92 octane. The octane measure can vary by region. Here you just say Premium or Magna.
3) Payment method
Efectivo or Crédito. In other words are you paying in cash or credit. It is strongly recommended that you only pay in pesos. Payment in USD will result in the use of an exchange rate that will cost you an additional 15-20% and increase the chance that you will get scammed. While you can pay with a credit card, there is the added chance of theft here. Also note that not all Pemex stations will take credit and even if they do, the credit machines are not always working. If you want to pay credit, tell them before they start pumping so they can tell you if there is an issue. Just say efectivo or crédito.
To sum it up, if you want 500 pesos of Regular paid in cash just say “Quinientos Magna en effectivo”. They will get right to pumping.
Watch for scams!
If you are going to experience a scam in Mexico, it is most likely going to occur at a gas station. Here are a few recent stories submitted to us. After the stories we tell you how to avoid getting scammed, or almost getting scammed, like friends did.
Oh, and we asked our contributors for details on the locations, so those are provided as well. We recommend avoiding these stations if you can, otherwise have your scam detectors cranked.
#1 Playa del Carmen – Pemex Station 8531
“A couple of months ago I was in Playa del Carmen and stopped for gas at the gas station at 46th and the freeway (they have a 7-11). As I pulled up to the pump I did my usual request for 500 pesos of gas. The attendant started pumping and I kept a close eye on the pump. He then proceeded to clean my windshield (pretty normal), then two of his buddies began cleaning all of the windows on my Explorer (not so normal). I began to get suspicious at this point and watched the pump like a hawk. Sure enough, right around 350 pesos of fuel the two guys started cleaning the windows on the side of the car to obscure my view of the pump. Magically when they moved, the pump was at 500 pesos. What I noticed was that the pump peso amount said 500, but there was nothing listed in the liters section. That was my key. You see, normally when you ask for a set amount they either hand pump and stop right at that amount, or they enter the amount into the pump so it stops automatically. When they enter it, the pump shows the peso amount entered in the peso field, but nothing in the liters area because no gas has yet been pumped. When they pump the gas the liters start ticking away with the pesos starting at 0; when done you will see the pesos at 500 and the liters reflecting how much went into your car. What happened here was the attendant had his friends obscure my view while he hit reset on the pump which started a new transaction. He then showed me 500 pesos on the pump and said I was done. I then proceeded to ask him how many liters that was (knowing that he wouldn’t know). I also asked for my receipt. He and his buddies disappeared leaving me at the pump with a partially full tank and not having paid yet. After a couple minutes another attendant came up and I told him I was waiting for my receipt, a few minutes after that they came back with a receipt for 500 pesos of gas that had a time stamp of a couple of hours prior. I called their bluff and they went back and found the receipt showing they had only pumped 342 pesos of gas and offered to graciously pump the rest. It was a pain, but in the end I got the right amount of gas and most importantly I didn’t drive away feeling scammed.”
#2 Cancun – Pemex Station 6994
“Last year I was heading home and stopped in the gas station just south of Cancun to top off the tank. This is that Pemex not far from the airport with a Starbucks next door. I got 700 pesos of gas. Once done the guy came for payment and I handed him what I thought was a 500 and a 200 and then looked back into my lap to organize my wallet. When I looked back up he was holding a 100 and a 200 and acted like he was waiting for the other 400 pesos. I had only looked down for a second, but figured I must have confused the bills. So I paid him another 400 pesos. I went on my way and when I was in the airport buying some water for my flight, I looked at my wallet and recalled that I had two 500s from the trip to the ATM before the gas station and now I only had 1 bill. I still didn’t want to believe that I had been scammed. Then a few months later I was talking to an ex-pat local who told me that they had also been scammed at that same gas station. The attendants keep smaller bills handy and when you pay them they quickly switch the bills when you look away and then act as if you have not paid them enough. Every time I drive by I look for that attendant…and wonder if a fist in his face would be worth 400 pesos.”
#3 Tulum – Pemex Station 5774 or 6774 (unsure)
“My mother ran down to Tulum and stopped for gas at the station just past the security checkpoint, the first station after the checkpoint on the West. It kind of sits on its own with no OXXO or 7-11. She pulled in for gas and while her tank was filling the attendant told her that she had a bad oil leak and needed to pop the hood so he could check. He said she needed at least one quart of oil (at 200 pesos). She paid him and he supposedly put oil in and then told her that she needed another quart. She got suspicious and said she needed to talk to her son. When she got home she showed me the ‘leak’ which was a greasy spot in the wheel well. I checked the oil level which was perfect. I looked at the ‘oil’ and noticed it was kind of blue, like the tire shine they use. Well the attendant had squirted some tire shine under the wheel well and then convinced my mom (who knows little about cars) that it was an oil leak. He then proceeded to charge her for a fictitious quart of oil and tried to get her to buy more. At least she stopped after one.
We talked to some friends down here and just a week prior to this incident one of our friends had the same scam pulled on her at the same station. They like to prey on women, so be extra careful if you are a woman, and don’t pop the hood. After all, how many times has your car conveniently had a mechanical issue at a gas station? Probably never, so just assume your car is fine whenever you are at a Pemex. “
TOP 10 WAYS TO AVOID GAS STATION SCAMS
1) The best thing to do is look for a “SAFE” gas station. Certain stations have learned that they will get more business if they are honest and advertise this. Look for a sign near the pump. If you don’t see it and still have some gas left, keep driving and look for another station. There is one of these stations just north of Akumal near Xpu-ha and another at the exit for Puerto Aventuras. You are much less likely to get scammed at one of these locations.
2) Watch the pump. Make sure they zero the pump out before starting. If they don’t reset it to zero they might continue pumping from the last guy and make it look like you are getting more gas than you think.
3) If at all possible pay in pesos. If you must pay in USD ask ahead of time how much gas it will get you so they will show you the exchange rate and ensure you know what you are getting.
4) If you must pay in credit, check your credit card activity for the next week or so to ensure they didn’t skim your card. Skimming is when they make an illegal copy of your card’s information.
5) Watch the pump as the gas is pumping so you can see the liters and pesos ticking away toward your desired purchase. Look in the sideview mirror to ensure the nozzle is in YOUR car. We have heard of stations pumping into bottles or other cars.
6) Ask for a receipt and check to make sure the date, time, and price on the receipt match your purchase.
7) Turn the ignition to On position (don’t start the car!) so you can watch the fuel gauge go up. Some cars take a while to start to register the fuel, but usually by the time they are halfway through pumping, you should see the fuel gauge start to move upwards, indicating that you are actually getting the fuel you purchased.
8) Don’t pop the hood. Your car is likely fine on oil and everything else, so don’t let the attendant check. Let them clean the windshield, shine your tires, or air up your tires, but don’t buy any additives or let them under the hood.
9) Be suspicious of overly helpful workers
10) Give the guy a tip. A reasonable tip is 10-20 pesos depending on what they do. 10 pesos is fine if they fill up the car and wash your windshield. If they wash more windows or check the air in the tires give them a little more. Remember 10 pesos is less than one USD, but it is a decent amount to these guys. If they treat you well, treat them well.
It seems like a lot, but it only takes a few extra seconds each time to ensure you don’t get scammed.