I used to think websites that tracked prices at gas stations were silly. Today, I use one nearly every time I fill up.
The most popular of these sites, GasBuddy, has been around since 2000. The site seemed impractical at the time because checking prices before getting in the car required too much pre-planning. The mobile app worked better, but back then few people with enough money to buy smartphones cared about the five- or 10-cent price-per-gallon differences between gas stations. All that has changed.
Now, with cellphones cheaper than ever, even many people strapped for cash carry smartphones—and many of them are more willing to spend a couple of minutes to access GasBuddy. What makes GasBuddy work is that every user can update the site, so the prices listed are often only hours old, if not minutes. And if you happen to find an inaccurate price, you can correct the site.
Since I started using GasBuddy, my gas-buying habits have changed. I’ve discovered stations I hadn’t noticed before, and also started noting which stations have consistently lower prices. The app is even more useful when you’re traveling, since gas prices can fluctuate heavily from one highway exit to another.
I’ve also found that entering prices is a perfect way to fill the time while I’m waiting for the gas to pump. Even if I’m just confirming the prices haven’t changed or entering the prices of the station across the street, it feels more productive than just standing around.
GasBuddy does just one thing, but it does it exceptionally well. It’s a great example of how mobile apps can help a large number of people, each with a little bit of information, create big benefits for everyone.