HolidayBuyer's Guide

ExxonMobil lets you buy gas using Apple Pay at the pump

At thousands of US locations, you can now make your purchase through the ExxonMobil app before you even get out of your car.

Bryant Russell, Americas program manager for mobile payment and loyalty at ExxonMobil, shows how you can pay for gas using Apple Pay on your iPhone.

Photo by Shara Tibken/CNET

The wind picked up and rain started to fall just as I got to the San Mateo gas station. The thought of fumbling with my wallet while standing in the cold made me shudder.

Fortunately, I was getting a demo of how Apple Pay works at ExxonMobil gas pumps. I now can pay for gas or a car wash from the comfort of my car with ExxonMobil's Speedpass+ app, cutting down the amount of time I have to stand outside in the cold.

The world's biggest oil and gas company on Tuesday rolled out the new feature, which uses Apple Pay or a credit, debit or checking account stored on the app.

ExxonMobil is the latest company to embrace mobile payments, or the concept of using your phone to pay for goods and services. It's been slow to take off until recently, with Apple, Google and Samsung all pushing their own mobile-payment systems. One of the hang-ups has been the difficulty of replacing existing payment terminals with the right technology, so ExxonMobil instead focused on using software on the phone.

"Anything that involves the pump from a hardware point of view takes years to deploy and is extremely expensive," Bryant Russell, Americas program manager for mobile payment and loyalty at ExxonMobil, said during a demo of the app at the San Mateo gas station.

Apple Pay went live Tuesday in more than 6,000 Exxon and Mobil-branded gas stations across 46 US states. The service will be added to about 2,000 more stores by mid-year and will be available in nearly all of the company's 10,000 locations by the end of 2016, Russell said.

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The ExxonMobil system is unlike Apple Pay as it was first presented. In that initial method, you wave an iPhone 6 or later device at a register to pay for goods. The phone talks to the register using a technology called near-field communication, or NFC. You also can use Apple Pay to make purchases in apps without having to enter your credit card information each time, which is the feature used by ExxonMobil. Apple Pay is accepted at more than 2 million US locations.

The new method, by contrast, uses the phone's location and the ExxonMobil app to let you make a purchase before you get out of your car.

ExxonMobil is the first gas company to broadly roll out a mobile payment system. Chevron last fall partnered with Visa to bring NFC technology to gas pumps in California, allowing you to tap your phone to pay with Apple Pay, Google's Android Pay or Samsung Pay at more than 20 stations around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

ExxonMobil's updated Speedpass+ app uses GPS to track your location and determine which gas station you're visiting. You select the pump number and confirm the purchase using the iPhone's Touch ID fingerprint reader. In places where geolocation doesn't work well, you can scan a QR code, or a customized symbol you pick up with your phone's camera, at the pump or search in the app for your location.

You have to start fueling within about 45 seconds or the app will time out and you have to start the process over. You'll be able to get a paper receipt from the pump and will be able to track your purchase history through the app.

"I live in Houston, Texas, so it's blazing hot in the summertime," Russell said. "I would rather not be out here answering all those prompts, dipping cards, sweating."

Next up is the ability to purchase items in the store and to link its Plenti loyalty program with the app. You also won't be to use your Apple Watch, since it relies on NFC.

While ExxonMobil's app is available on Android devices, it doesn't work with Samsung Pay or Google's payments service. Russell wouldn't give a timeline for supporting those services and said ExxonMobil is focused on Apple Pay because "it has such great adoption."