Getting Gas in Mexico – Process at the Pumps

I see plenty of folks asking about gas in Mexico and want to clarify the process and types of fuel available. Finding Mexico gas stations and buying fuel is pretty straightforward and much like the United States and Canada. As of now, you won’t find a distribution of charging stations for electric vehicles but good ole unleaded is plentiful.

Mexican Diesel – Is it up to snuff?

I’ve always driven gas rigs in Mexico but know diesel is a concern for many drivers. I realized this in Peru when a European couple was struggling to use the diesel in their European vehicle. 

In Peru, Ecuador and a few other places in Latin America, the diesel isn’t refined to the level required by emissions standards in much of Europe and North America.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle will not function but it will trigger a number of sensors and warnings. Damage to the engine is possible as well. 

In Mexico however, the diesel is mostly Ultra Low Sulphur just like you will find at any normal fuel station in the USA or Canada. So, take a deep breath knowing your modern diesel vehicle will likely be just fine running the same fuel across the border. In Baja, I understand the diesel is imported from teh USA because it’s cheaper than shipping across from the mainland. I’m not 100% on this but other drivers do say it’s all ULSD.

Finding Gas Stations in Mexico

For the most part, gas stations are plentiful. There are a few stretches of lonely highway that push the limits of many vehicles, specifically in Baja but also on the mainland. Planning ahead or carrying a small gas can with a few extra gallons is a good idea.

As a general rule, I fuel up when my truck hits a half tank. This squashes any worries and means my fuel pump and system isn’t sucking the bottom of the barrel. 

The most common gas station in Mexico is Pemex. It’s the nationalized brand and the green signage makes them easy to spot. You will encounter others however and they are all very similar. Repesol, BP and Chevron are all common.

One major difference from the United States at least is the cost of fuel. It’s pretty much uniform across the entire country. You will find prices in remote Baja that are the same or very close to Guadalara or any other populous area. 

They measure in liters so you will need to calculate a bit to understand the price relative to gallons. Or, just accept the metric system and stop converting. It’s much easier that way.

Process at the Pump

The pumps are run by attendants and you don’t even need to leave your vehicle. Pull up and tell them the fuel type and how much in pesos or ask to fill it all the way (lleno). Most take credit cards but some do only accept cash. It’s not uncommon for attendants to wash your windows as well. Tip or don’t – the choice is yours. 

Here are a few key terms to learn:

Lleno por favor – Full please

Acceptas tarjetas? – Do you accept credit cards?

Efectivo – cash

Types of fuel:

Magna – This is regular unleaded at Pemex Stations (87 octane)

Regular – Regular unleaded at most other stations (87 octane)

Premium – Higher octane fuel (90 octane)

Diesel – Regular diesel at the normal gas stations

Beware of Fraud – How Mexico Gas Station Scams Go Down

Gas stations are ideal places for opportunistic fraudsters. It might be a station-wide attempt to siphon off cash or the work of a few clever pump attendants. Here’s how to make sure they aren’t scraping extra bucks off your bill:

Zero Out the Pump – Many attendants will show you the pump hitting all zeros before they fill. You should always watch and make sure the pump isn’t rigged to start with a few pesos and liters logged before the actual pumping begins.

Know Your Mileage – I reset the trip odometer at every fill up and have a rough idea about how many liters my tank will take. I watch the pump to make sure it falls inside a comfortable estimate of my normal mileage.

Check the Receipts – After your fill-up is done, it’s time to pay. If you paid cash in advance, you’re all set. For credit cards, which I normally use, they will run your card through a machine and have you sign the receipt. Make sure your copy and theirs match and they both match the pump. If everything is normal, you’re all set.

Filling your vehicle at gas stations in Mexico is pretty simple. After a few tanks, you will have it down. Know your fuel type, beware of scammers (they are the exception more than the rule) and enjoy the experience. Many attendants are very nice and can share good restaurants and travel safety information while filling your tank.