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How to Avoid Scams at the Gas Station

Pemex Gas station in Mexico Playa Del Carmen Pemex gas station.

Pemex is the gas station here. It is the Mexican state-owned petroleum company, created in 1938 by nationalized petroleum. The good thing is, all gas stations are Pemex and have the same price, so no having to shop around for the best deal. However there are some crafty scams at Pemex gas stations in Mexico. Here are some of the most common ones. Hopefully this will prepare you so you can avoid the scams.

Pemex Gas Stations in Mexico

Here are a few basic things that make Pemex gas stations different.

  • Prices are not even listed on signs, only at the pump.
  • There are attendants that pump the gas for you.
  • There are not always gas stations on long stretches of highway. It is always good to fill up when you see a Pemex gas station. We try to make a note in some article where there are no gas stations.
  • Some attendants will wash your windshield and if asked, will check you fluid levels.
  • A small tip is appreciated for the attendants service.

The bad thing is there are some scams that pump workers pull on foreigners and unsuspecting locals. Scams are more common then most would hope for and something that frustrates drivers because of having to think about it every time they fill up.

We have complied the top scams and how you can avoid them to be used as helpful advice to keep from getting ripped off at the pump.

First scam at Pemex gas station in Mexico

The old money switch-a-roo. You go to pay with a 500 peso note and the attendant switches it fast in his hand and shows you a 50 peso note or even a 20. This happens so fast that at first you might think that you actually gave a 50 and you need to pay more. Both notes have the numbers five and zero and are similar color.

It is a big profit scam and that is why it is so popular. Even if you give a green 200 bill note some unscrupulous attendants will switch it in their hand for a blue 20 note. Crazy isn’t it?  How do you avoid this? You can say how much you are giving the attendant. If you cannot say it in Spanish, hold it up and look at the attendant and keep your eyes on your money and change. Don’t leave without the correct change. Try to have exact change to pay for your gas.

Some people prefer to pay with a credit card, but there are issues there that can arise.

Second scam at the gas station in Mexico

Not zeroing the pump. If you ask for 200 pesos and the pump is not zeroed from the last transaction of lets say 100 pesos, they will add 100 pesos and the pump will read 200 peso charge but you actually only got 100 pesos of gas. How do you avoid this scam? When you pull up, notice the pump and watch them zero it.

Sometimes they even point to it and show you it is zeroed only to pull another scam, so still look out.

Third scam at the gas station in Mexico

Pumping from the other side of the pump. You will not see the reading of your service and you will not get to check if it truly started at zero. How to avoid this scam, when you pull up, just be observant and if they reach for the other side, get out to check the pump numbers.

Fourth scam at the gas station in Mexico

You pull up and are in the car with friends or family, you ask for gas and then pay and go. Without checking the pump to actually see if they added the amount you asked for. If you asked for 400 pesos worth and then they added 300 pesos and you drive off, you just got scammed for 100 pesos. If you catch them doing this, they may pretend that they not understand you and then add the other 100 pesos even if your Spanish is good.

How to avoid this scam? Pay attention when the pumping is done. All of these scams are done more easily if you are distracted or in a hurry. Take you time, it can save you money.

Fifth scam at the gas station in Mexico

You go to pay and the attendant walks away. Another new attendant comes and ask for you to pay. How to avoid this scam? Watch the attendant, take note of what he looks like, ask where he is going, even go with him for your change. This scam does not happen often but still be on the look out.

Sixth scam at the gas station in Mexico

Attendant is behind your car filling it up but also has  container that they out some gas into. This makes you pay for more gas then you get. This scam does not happen often because it is hard to be out of mirrors view. To avoid this scam (especially if your tank lid is in the back of your car) get out of the car to watch or pretend to stretch to keep an eye on things.

Seventh scam at the gas station in Mexico

The attendant ask if you want some oil or other specialty liquid for your engine. If your levels are low they might sell you a bottle of something. They show you the bottle and then start pouring it in. You might even see them do this through the gap in the hood of the car. So what is the scam? They show you a new bottle but switch it out and only pretend to pour in a new bottle or anything at all. You just got scammed out of some pesos.

You can avoid this scam by not having them check levels or if they do, get out and watch them.

Eighth scam at the gas station

You go to pay with a credit card and they say they don’t accept them. They offer to take US dollars but will then just exchange it at the rate they give you.

You can avoid this scam because you know that they do take cards. You can also make sure you have pesos on hand and use them.

How to avoid issues at Pemex gas stations

One way to avoid some scams is ask for how many liters of gas you want. If you know your car and the capacity of the tank then you can tell how much you need to fill the tank.

Always being attentive while filling up is good and keep this list in mind when you fill up.

What Pemex gas stations are the worst offenders?

Most scams at the pump happen at gas stations where tourist fill up more often. We find stations on the edge of Playa Del Carmen on the highway and in Tulum to be the worst culprits.

If you have a local station and you fill up often, it is nice to go there often. They will recognize you and you have a much better chance of not getting a scam tried on you.

Don’t feel bad taking your time, even getting out of the car and watching. Never pay before the gas is pumped. Since you cannot pump your own gas, you have to be mindful of those that do. Educated tourist are the worst enemy of Pemex scams.

Tip: Gas stations where taxis fill up are often know to be better stations.

The one thing that is not a scam is the extra service they offer. Most will offer or already start to wash your windshield and check your oil or fluids for you. This is a way for them to honestly earn tips. Most of these attendants work hard and in the heat all day. Usually a tip for washing the windows or good care grants a 5-10 peso tip.

Remember that as a consumer you have rights in Mexico. You can report scams to Profeco. Profeco is the Mexican consumer agency. This agency also visits Pemex gas stations and makes sure they are measuring the gas correctly that goes into your car. For more about Profeco you can see our article here.

Happy motering and scam free travel.

Do you have a Pemex gas station story? We would love to hear about it. Let us know in the comments below.

You might also want to read our article about scams related to timeshares and vacation clubs in our article here.

Also our article on how to avoid tourist traps and scams in Playa Del Carmen article might interest you.

19 Comments on How to Avoid Scams at the Gas Station

  1. hamish shaw // April 6, 2016 at 9:42 AM // Reply

    After prepaying in cash the pump STOPPED WORKING?? They did not give any change back as they pretended not to remember how much we paid them. Another time they dropped one of the bills and while we went to pick it up the attendant tried to pocket one of the other bills – we caught him.
    They say the credit card machine does not work – just to get cash and work a scam – I NEVER pay cash and always get out to watch them pumping.

    • Mr.Yucatan // April 6, 2016 at 10:17 AM // Reply

      Thanks for your tips and observations. It is very frustrating that there are so many ways people at the gas stations try to scam you. We are always on the look out for the bad guys.

  2. Sam Gillings // June 6, 2016 at 4:54 PM // Reply

    This is a very important article for people that move here or are going to be driving here to read. There are so many scams at the gas stations in Mexico I hate it. I always get out and watch them. I have had several try the switch of money on me. One time it was even a 20 for 200 peso note. They are not even the same color! I get after them each time and tip honest people at the gas station.

    • Mr.Yucatan // June 6, 2016 at 6:08 PM // Reply

      Yes we felt it important to tell people about gas stations here. We like to warn people about bad services and scams so people can focus on having a good vacation. This year there is a chance for outside gas companies to have gas stations so it will be interesting to see if things change and there is more competition.

  3. It is good you mention these scams because I have been at Pemex gas stations where they flip the money around. I wish Pemex cared more about the employees either paying them more or doing surprise inspections so the scams stop. Maybe this year when new gas stations open that are not Pemex, there will be some competition to improve.

  4. Just the other day I went to pay for gas and the guy flipped the bill around so fast I had to think. I cannot wait until there is some competition with these gas stations and they have to think if they want to scam people.

  5. These are good tips for tourist and locals. I hate when the gas station attendants try to pull a fast one and scam people.

  6. It is good you educate tourist to these scams at Pemex gas stations. They are pretty slick coming up with new ones to pull over on tourist.

  7. First time in playa del carmen and got the fliparoo!!! I did not know about it until I thought I was going crazy! but I remember the station and have the receipt to put them on blast on line with their address and station number so people can avoid those stations. People we all should just stop tipping them altogether due to some punk thieves ruining it for the hard working honest people and maybe they get the message and stop. One of the stations was # 12118 Autopista merida cancun km 300. The other is 6994 at Km 339 both have con artists working here! From now on I qill definitely keep an eye wide open and clearly show and remind them what I an handing to them before I let go of my money

    • We are glad you are aware of the scams. Some of the trouble is the owners are honest but get an employee or to that are bad and then they fire them but they go to work at another station. Of course owners can be dishonest as well. For know we can all just keep alert to their scams and we will post new ones that develop.

  8. How can I make sure that I get the amount of what I pay for ? Short liters???

    • There is a government agency called Profeco that makes inspections of the stations. So usually this is not an issue. Also knowing your cars tank size is good because if your tank is empty and it only holds 40 liters and they tell you it is 45 they put in, you know something is wrong.

  9. These attendants are crooks and liars and should all be fired. If they lose the tourist business the whole damn country is done. Alas, it is Mexico, but the government and the workers are playing with fire. Karma will get em.

  10. Visiting Playa Del Carmen this time we decided to rent a car and make a few days trip to Bacalar. On the way back, just passed Tulum, we stopped at gas station. It wasn’t Pemex, I don’t remember the name, looks new to me. But scam was the same, the attendant tried to switch 200 pesos bill to 20.
    I even gave him another 200, but then realized what happened and came back. The attendant quietly returned 200. He probably was able to read my face. Be aware!

    • That is good to hear your report. We were hopping with the new “La Gas” stations they would be in competition with the established monopoly of Pemex, but to no avail. We will work hard to keep exposing scams so there is more pressure to be honest. We are glad you caught it.

  11. I think, if anyone has information about the “GOOD” gas stations and locations, these information should be put on the websites as well. I heard so much about the “BAD” and seemed that there are no good stations all around, which are almost unbelievable. The information about the “GOOD” stations will help promoting their businesses and get more tourists to come to their places.

    • This would be good but the problem is not bad gas stations it is the employees. Many times if the manager fires a bad employee they often just go to work at another station. So having a list of “Good” Station would be pointless. For people living here, you can try to fill up at the same station and the people get to know you, and you have less issues.

  12. My experience is that all the attendants are thieves.
    If they start asking you personal questions, they are only
    Only trying to throw you off guard. They are slight of hand artists. Never hand over several large bills at
    Once. They will switch a bill for one much smaller. If you are going to buy gas in Mexico, you had better be
    on guard.

    • Well we would not go as far as saying all gas attendants are thieves but there are enough of them that are bad that it is an issue. We have had some very pleasant women that pump gas and could not be more nice and honest and some pleasant guys pump the gas as well. However being alert is a must at the Pemex stations.

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