Using gas stations in Mexico may be one more thing that you are unsure or nervous about if you are planning on driving around the country independently. There are a lot of differences in how gas stations work in Mexico compared to the United States, Canada, and other countries across the world.
In this article, written by a local expat Travel Writer based in Merida (me!) we will look at everything that you need to know about Mexican gas stations so that you are well prepared for this aspect of culture shock.
Using Gas stations in Mexico
Several different companies operate gas stations in Mexico. Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos) is one of the main brands of gas stations that you are likely to encounter while driving around the country.
They are government-owned and make up around 80% of the market. The popular convenience store Oxxo (essentially the Mexican answer to 7/11) also operates OXXO gas and has gas stations in 570 locations across 17 Mexican states that are usually paired with large stores that are comparable to those found at US service stations and sell all manner of snacks, coffees, sandwiches, etc.
Across Mexico, you will also find stations operated by Chevron, Mobil, British Petroleum (BP) and G500.
The main difference between using gas stations in Mexico versus gas stations elsewhere in the world is that Mexican gas stations are full-service and the attendants pump your gas for you. Most cars here use gas (gasoline) but you will usually find both gas and diesel pumps at most stations.
When you pull up to the pump, you can tell the attendant how much fuel you want and they will fill your tank accordingly. You then pay then and there at the pump and you can usually pay by cash or credit/debit card.
(Although I would usually recommend always making sure you have some cash on you in Mexico in case POS machines aren’t working, etc.).
When you leave touristic areas like the Yucatan peninsula, Baja California Sur, southern Jalisco, etc., you will find that a lot of people cannot speak English so do be prepared to use Google translate on your phone to communicate.
Full-service gas stations in Mexico
I have read a lot of reviews online about scams and people being ripped off at fuel stations where the attendants lie about how much fuel they have added or give the person the incorrect amount of change back. Honestly, I have never had such an experience in the two years that I have been living in Merida and driving in the Yucatan, Jalisco and Sinaloa.
However, to make sure that you are not a victim of an opportunist scam, always keep an eye on how much fuel you have prior to having your tank filled, check that the meter is set to 00.00 before you start and calculate what notes you are paying with and how much change you expect to be given in return.
It is always a good idea to ask for a receipt so that you have visibility on the transaction. Sales tax will be added to the price of the gasoline.
Tipping gas station attendants is expected and it is polite as most people working in this profession are not paid very well. Very old or very young attendants work only for tips and don’t receive a salary, sometimes in incredibly hot, humid conditions.
A tip of 20 pesos or so is usually sufficient. People will also often ask if you would like them to clean your windshield for you and if you would like them to, you should tip another 20-50 pesos for that.
Gas prices in Mexico
Gas in Mexico is sold by the liter and although you can often research what the current standard rate is, there is usually a little variation between the prices found at different brand service stations. Note that one gallon is 3.785 liters.
There are two key different types of gasoline available here: Magna Sin and Premium. Magna gasoline has an 87-octane grade, while premium has a 92-octane grade.
Gas prices in Mexico fluctuate constantly throughout the year, but as of August 2023, it is around $1.33 per liter of gas.
Before 2017, the Mexican government would set a “maximum price” for gasoline and diesel in Mexico and gas was only available to purchase through government-sanctioned Pemex gas stations.
In 2017, things started to become deregulated and the country went through something of an energy reform. More new gas brands have started to pop up around the country in the last few years.
Today, different service stations set their prices.
This means that in certain towns and cities, you can drive around and browse for the best deal available. It is worth keeping your eyes peeled for the price differences as if you need a full tank of gas, you might be able to save a bit of money by choosing one station over another.
When you are driving along highways and freeways in rural Mexico however, gas prices are often higher. You essentially have to take the price you are given, whereas you can shop around in towns.
Do note that if you are paying for your gas in cash, you need to pay in Mexican currency (MXN pesos) and not USD. US dollars and other foreign currencies are usually not accepted at Mexican gas stations.
Communicating in Spanish
If you are going to be traveling to non-gentrified parts of Mexico, a small amount of Spanish can go a long way. To ask someone to fill up your tank, you can simply pull up to the pump, wind down your windows and say “yo quiero…” (“I want…”) followed by “un lleno por favor” for a full tank.
Alternatively, you can specify a value amount and the attendant will fill up your car with that amount of gas. For example “cien pesos por favor” (“100 pesos please”).
Amenities and services at Mexican gas stations
Gas stations in Mexico are usually pretty large – not necessarily to the same extent as the sprawling truck stops that you sometimes see in the United States, but they have ample places to park, on-site bathrooms and convenience stores. Sometimes at larger stations on the outskirts of cities, you will also find fast food restaurants like Carls Jr., Burger King, and Subway as part of the complex.
Within cities, you may also see street food vendors selling things like tacos, tamales and elotes out front. There are usually bathrooms, but as you may expect, they are not necessarily the nicest places in the world.
Many are free to use, while others require a 5 or 10 pesos fee. They might not have toilet paper or soap inside so always carry some tissues and hand sanitizer.
While attendants will mostly just offer to give your windows a quick wipe down, they will help you give the car a more thorough clean if you ask (assuming you don’t have the time to go through a more comprehensive car wash). For a few pesos, they will also check your tire pressure or oil.
Gas vs. diesel cars
As mentioned, most cars in Mexico use gas (gasolina) and very few use diesel. If you are renting a car in Mexico and you are not sure what type of fuel the car takes, check with the rental company before driving off with their vehicle.
If the car uses diesel, there will usually be little letters indicating as such on the exterior of the car, close to the gas tank. In Mexico, a green gas pump is for unleaded gasoline and a blue is for diesel which is different from in the US where a green fuel pump means diesel.
If you see a pump that reads “NOVA”, note that this is leaded gas which shouldn’t be used unless your vehicle accepts that particular type of fuel.
Staying safe at Mexican gas stations
If you need to use the bathroom or the store at a gas station, it is better to park your car as close to the building as you can rather than leave it unattended at the side of the road. This is particularly important if you are in a remote area or somewhere that doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation.
Always keep your car locked and don’t leave any valuables on display. I have personally never felt uncomfortable or unsafe at a gas station, even in rural Mexico, and I never feel that I need to panic or worry about my car for the few minutes I am in the store.
Once or twice, someone tapped on my car window while I was waiting in a gas station parking lot and another passenger went to the bathroom or the store, but this was to try and sell something (perfume, handicrafts, etc.), rather than anything that felt threatening.
FAQs about Using Gas Stations in Mexico
Do you have any further questions or concerns about using gas stations in Mexico? The answers to some frequently asked questions are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me!
Is the gas in Mexico the same as in the US?
Mexican gas is basically the same as American gas, despite there being a popular assumption that it is of lower quality. In fact, more than 60% of the gas in Mexico comes from sources in the United States!
In general, Mexican gas is between 87 and 93 octanes so it is by no means bad for your vehicle.
Is gas cheaper in Mexico or the USA?
Gas is actually cheaper in the United States than it is in Mexico and a lot of gasoline is imported here from the United States. In the past, Mexico was cheaper than the US for gas and there were reports of people crossing the US border into Mexico for gas at some points.
If you fill up your tank at the border when driving in/out of Mexico, you can usually enjoy more competitive pricing because a government subsidy applies to border towns (fronteras).
How much is a full tank of gas in Mexico?
The cost of a full tank of gas in Mexico varies somewhat depending on the capacity of the gas tank, etc. However, filling up a 50-liter tank with Magna will cost you around $1,050 pesos.
Why do they pump gas for you in Mexico?
There is actually a law that prohibits self-service gas stations in Mexico, and Mexico is not the only country with such a ban on people pumping their own gas. Although it may seem different and even annoying at first to have to have someone else pump your gas for you, you might grow to find it more convenient.
Is the gas in Mexico liter or gallon?
Gas in Mexico is sold by the liter. There are 3.785 liters in a gallon
Final thoughts on using gas stations in Mexico
Gas stations in Mexico may be somewhat different to what you are used to, but visiting them definitely isnt a stressful experience. Not only will you get accustomed to it after a little while, you might even find it much more comfortable!
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo