THE GREAT MEXICAN GASOLINE RIP-OFF
The day before I was to turn in my rental car, I went to a PEMEX gas station in Tulum, Mexico. I was supposed to return the car with half a tank of gas, which is the amount in the tank when I got possession of it. I figured that by the time we drove all the way to Punta Allen, back to Tulum, and then to the Cancun airport, there would be around half a tank of gas left.
All gas stations in Mexico are owned by the government, but that doesn't mean that the people who are pumping the gas are honest. I told the attendant to fill the tank with regular gas and while the pump was on, he was very friendly and we got into a conversation. A female attendant came up to my wife and also started conversing with her in Spanish. When the tank was full, the first attendant told me that I owed him 430 pesos, which is around $35. Since my last fill up cost me 271 pesos, I immediately got out of my car and told him in my limited Spanish that he was "no correcto," especially since the previous fill up required more gas than this one. By my calculations, I should have paid around 200 or 225 pesos, based on the position of the gas gauge prior to filling the tank. Even if the tank was bone dry, with a capacity of around 13 gallons, or around 50 liters, the gas would have cost less than 430 pesos since gas costs around 7 pesos in Mexico.
The attendant started writing some numbers on his hand, showing me that I owed him the full amount, but I pointed out that the pump said that I had used only 4.30 liters, which would cost around 30 pesos. I figured that he had pumped some gas, then zeroed it and pumped some more, thinking that I would be confused by the 4.30 on the pump. The attendant then dropped the price of the gas to 390 pesos, and after I told him that I wasn't paying, dropped the price some more. At this point, he told me that he had sold me premium, rather than regular gas, and that was what accounted for the price difference. Since premium is only two pesos more than regular, he was wrong, since he was asking for way too much money.
Meanwhile, the other four attendants had come over to see what the dispute was about. I firmly held my ground and told him that he had given me 200 pesos worth of gas. He laughed, but he kept lowering the price until we negotiated a final price of 220 pesos, slightly more than half the original 430 peso price.
So, what did I learn from this situation?
1) If you ever get gas ini Mexico, step out of your car to make sure that he/she zeroes the pump before pumping your gas. Attendants in some countries are known to leave the amount from the previous customer on the pump and then charge the next customer for the previous customer's gas as well as the new customer's.
2) Tell the attendant that you want x amount of gas, for example 200 pesos, rather than asking for a fill up. I learned this from the owner of the hotel I stayed at in Tulum, after I told him what had happened.
It's unfortunate that we can't trust everybody when we travel, but it is far better to be cautious than to get ripped off.