Mobile apps have changed how we live, work, and do business. While many fuel-finder applications started life as websites meant to help consumers find the best fuel prices in their area, they soon took on a life of their own. First the sites, and then the applications they spawned, became ways to find local gas stations, find convenience stores, and even navigate to restaurants on the way. The segment has upped the ante for other types of applications as well; now, no navigation app worth its salt leaves its users in the dark when it comes to the question, how do I find a gas station near me?
Popular Gas Station Apps
Branded Gas Station Apps
Ten brands controlled most of the gas station market by dollars spent in 2014. Four of the top ten – Costco, BJ’s and Walmart (which holds down two spots) -- aren't typically top of mind for fuel. The remaining eight make up the majority of gas stations in the United States. The top ten in order, according to a 2014 Harris Poll:
|Top 10 Gas Station Apps|
What's surprising is that not every major-brand gas station has its own Android or iPhone locator app. Even brands with significant market share (and with rewards programs) don't necessarily have applications available. That includes BP, Citgo, Chevron, Sunoco, and Lukoil.*
In fact, of the major branded gas and diesel stations, ExxonMobil, Shell, Marathon and Speedway are the only brands represented. Thankfully, other retailers that sell gas (such as 7-Eleven, Wawa, QuickChek, Kroger, Walmart, Sam's Club, Safeway and Costco) have applications available to help you navigate to the nearest gas station.
This can be frustrating if you have a fuel card, or belong to a rewards program, with a major retailer that doesn't back their program with an application. However, since most companies feature a location finder on their websites, it can be useful to bookmark your favorite gas station on your phone or tablet.
General Fuel Apps
While the GasBuddy website is still quite popular, the GasBuddy app has eclipsed its predecessor. It’s one of the most popular applications of its type, despite having an interface that’s not terribly intuitive, and sometimes glitchy; some users have reported that its listings -- both for locations and for prices -- aren't as up-to-date as they could be. However, it’s competent, and the fact that it doesn’t require a subscription makes it an attractive option. (Free; Android/iOS)
The Waze app is crowdsourced. That's not unheard of, but it's rare, and it comes with a few advantages. What started as a navigation app has expanded to include both gas station locations and fuel prices. What's even more useful is that Waze users typically update for other things as well, including speed traps, hazardous road conditions, construction, and accidents. (Free; Android/iOS)
RoadAhead is a mixed bag. It's not meant as a gas station finder; that feature is more of a fringe benefit to the app's core function, which is finding local amenities (such as convenience stores, lodging, and rest stops). It's not intended for in-town driving, but if you spend a fair amount of time on interstates and turnpikes, this app could be a good fit for you. (Free; Android/iOS)
Likely the most unique option on this list, the Dash app works in conjunction with a dongle that plugs into your vehicle's diagnostic port.** It provides feedback on fuel consumption, driving habits, and engine issues, and will also let you know where the nearest gas station is. (Free; Android/iOS)
Fuel Smart Pro
While this subscription-based application does what it says on the label, it doesn't do it with any particular style or panache; the user interface and results displays are clunky and cluttered, making use of the app frustrating. That's rather a shame, since it's competent at what it does. ($2.99; Android/iOS)
Fuel Management and Fleet Management Apps
While commercial fleets and drivers can benefit from the same applications used by consumers, there are a number of applications that integrate with -- or even stand alone as -- fleet management tools as well as helping drivers find fuel. Examples include Fuelman's mobile app and online store locator, WEX’s free online/Android/iOS WEX Connect app, and the Fleetio Fuel app (billed as "The first fuel tracking app designed just for fleets").
Additionally, several dedicated fleet management solutions -- among them FleetMatics, Wheels Fleet Management, GPS Insight, and Garmin -- integrate the ability to find the nearest gas station alongside the usual navigation, telematics and fleet management data.
For everyday driving, gas station apps are excellent for the cost-conscious. After all, most of them started as a means of tracking and comparing prices. If you use a particular brand's fuel card or belong to a rewards program, they are also an excellent way of finding the closest location of your favorite station. Having a fuel app can be a lifesaver for the times when you're in a strange place and you're unsure where the nearest gas station is.
These applications are also helpful in tandem with fleet management software. If your fleet relies on a particular fuel card, you can improve compliance by the simple act of making your approved vendors easier to find.
Sooner or later, it happens to all of us: your gas gauge is uncomfortably close to "E," you're in the middle of nowhere, and you haven't seen a gas station in an hour or longer. Wandering aimlessly isn't your best option; you'd rather not call -- or you don't have -- Triple A. Now with a gas station app on your smartphone, tablet, or in-dash navigation system, you can save yourself the trouble of guessing where the cheapest or closest gas station nearby is.
*Some companies do have apps available, but they're targeted at investors, or at business segments other than retail gas and diesel.
**This feature will only work on vehicles built in or after 1996.