This post was updated at 9 a.m. PDT with clarifying details on GasBuddy.com's data source and the correct spelling on Milt Krantz' name.
Perhaps you heard Wednesday's news about the price of crude oil once again reaching all-time highs, and, like me, you're wondering how that's going to affect gas prices at the pump as you fill up for your Memorial Day weekend trip.
Rest assured, you've got the likes of Milt Krantz on your side.
Krantz, 71, a retired social worker from San Jose, Calif., is also a designated gas price spotter for GasBuddy.com, one of a handful of increasingly busy sites for finding cheap gas in your vicinity.
"It's a little something I can do about the price of gas," said Krantz, adding that the payoff for his efforts is the feeling that consumers are working together to make a difference. "We're in it together."
And what a difference such information can make: In San Francisco on Tuesday, for example, the price of a gallon of regular gasoline ranged from $3.86 to $4.53, depending upon location, according to Gas.Buddy.com's regional site SanFranGasPrices.com. That's a 67-cent difference, or $10.05, when filling a 15-gallon tank.
That potential savings, combined with the scary sound of $4-a-gallon gas, has been driving up traffic to such sites.
"For about the last 60 days, we've seen a nice steady ramp up," said Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch.com, which offers price data from about 130,000 gas stations.
GasBuddy.com, which serves as an umbrella site for 180 regionalized sites covering some 170,000 gas stations in the U.S. and Canada, has seen more of a steady climb in traffic, said co-founder Jason Toews. When we last talked to Toews in 2005--as gas prices were hitting a then-shocking $3 per gallon--GasBuddy was averaging about 700,000 to 800,000 unique visitors a day. Now it gets about 2 million visitors a day, he said.
Of course, gas price sites vary greatly in terms of format, functionality, and info-gathering methodology. GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com, both 8-year-old sites, rely on their networks of registered members/spotters, but also factor in information from retailers and other sources. GasBuddy has some 1.4 million member/spotters and GasPriceWatch has about 166,000. And both have arrangements to share their data with other media outlets
Spotters are community members who are usually offered incentive points or a chance to win a "thank you" prize such as a discount on gas. But for Krantz, who uploads prices at least once a week, the motivation is more the idea of exposing the stations that are gouging consumers and rewarding the ones that are not.
"People still want to think they have a little power with their dollar," added Proctor.
AAA's Gas Price Finder, unlike the other two sites, uses data derived primarily from credit card transactions. And MapQuest Gas Prices and MSN Gas Prices rely on data supplied by the Oil Price Information Service, a pricing database that collects information from 125,000 North American retail outlets.
It should be noted that new technologies have changed the way consumers are accessing information from the gas price sites. Some, like me, are still looking at the sites on their PCs. But other gadgeteers are getting such information through in-car GPS systems, text messaging, and smartphone applications.
As far as tools go, GasBuddy.com has one of the coolest in what it calls its Gas Temperature Map, an interactive display of gas prices around the country, with areas color-coded according to their average price for regular unleaded gasoline. Through the map, and with a little guidance from Toews, I learned Tuesday the lowest gas price in the country was found in Rapid City, S.D., at $3.38 per gallon, and the highest was in Beaver Island, Mich., at $5.19 per gallon.
"In 2000, I never would have thought gas prices would be this high. It doesn't surprise me anymore," Toews said. "We've gotten desensitized to the high prices." Nonetheless, he does expect activity on his site to be brisk before the three-day weekend.
Toews offered a closing hint for bargain shoppers. Look for Arco service stations, which don't accept credit cards and therefore can offer cheaper prices.