Gas stations often have a large variety of everyday items, such as basic food supplies, sunglasses and other accessories, generic medications, auto supplies, and lottery tickets. While you might be tempted to pick up some of these things whenever you stop for gas, a lot of them are either overpriced or of lower quality than what you’d get elsewhere.
Unless you’re in dire need of a specific item and don’t have time to get it from somewhere else, here are the top things you should skip when hitting the local gas station.
Many gas stations stock their shelves with a basic selection of food items, such as boxed goods and various sauces. That’s not to mention the wide assortment of snacks you can pick up while you’re there.
But when it comes to perishables, gas stations aren’t generally known for their quality or even their affordability. This is even the case when you visit gas stations like Sheetz that have a full-service kitchen in the back.
“There are definitely a few things I’d avoid buying at a gas station,” said Peter Fischer, CEO of LV Casino in Liechtenstein. “First on my list would be fresh food items like sandwiches or sushi. Gas stations aren’t really known for their gourmet kitchens, and these items may not be as fresh or safe as you’d hope.”
Mercy Lilian, a financial expert at FlexiPCB, said, “I avoid sandwiches, wraps, and other perishable foods sold in gas stations, no matter how glazed they seem. In 2016, an investigation by a food safety inspector found that many gas stations did not store food properly. Any perishable foods stored in anything above 39 degrees Fahrenheit is a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. If I have to buy any perishable foods at a gas station, the fridge thermometer must read below 39, and I only pick the items closest to the cooling element.”
Fruits and Vegetables
Some gas stations sell basic fruit like bananas or apples. They may also have packages of vegetables. But while some of this produce may be fresh, it’s usually not.
“Fresh produce is another item to avoid,” said Nikita Sherbina, co-founder and CEO of Aiscreen.io. “Gas stations don’t have the same turnover as grocery stores, so the fruits and veggies might not be as fresh as you’d want them to be.”
When picking up bottled water or soda, quality might not be an issue, but price certainly is. Many bottled drinks are marked up at the gas station, especially compared to what you’d get at a place like Walmart, Safeway, or Harris Teeter.
“Many gas stations have a convenience store. And that’s the key word — convenience. That’s what you’re paying for,” said Todd Stearn, founder and CEO of www.TheMoneyManual.com. “Typically, gas stations mark up the price compared to supermarkets. So with that expectation, choose wisely.”
Sherbina also recommended “passing on the overpriced bottled water at gas stations. It’s usually marked up significantly, and you can save money by carrying your own reusable bottle and filling it up at a tap or fountain.”
Soda Fountain Drinks
Soft drinks at the gas station may be more reasonably priced than bottled ones. However, the quality can vary significantly depending on the gas station itself and which drink you choose.
Oftentimes, drinks you could get from the soda fountain are watered down or flat — not what you probably want if you’re looking for something carbonated and fresh.
Dairy is another thing to avoid purchasing at the gas station. Not only are prices often higher, but quality is often questionable.
“Dairy items will be marked up in price and be sure to check the expiration date on the package,” suggested Stearn.
At the gas station, electronics are another hit-and-miss item when it comes to quality. It’s one thing to pick up an extra phone charger if you’re on a long trip and forgot yours at home. It’s another to plan your shopping around a trip to the gas station.
Lilian suggested avoiding “batteries, cables, and chargers. These items are expensive to begin with. Gas stations sell them at a premium price because they know the chances of urgency are high. I prefer buying them at a local store, even if it is an emergency purchase.”
“Another no-go for me is tech accessories. USB cables, phone chargers, or headphones at gas stations tend to be overpriced and of lower quality compared to what you can find online or at tech stores,” added Fischer.
Headphones deserve a special mention due to the fact that they often come at a much lower quality than what you’d expect — even if the higher price tag doesn’t reflect that.
“Once, on a road trip across the country, I found myself at a gas station, and out of sheer curiosity, I purchased a pair of headphones,” said Vova Even, consumer trends analyst, shopping expert, and founder of Vova Even. “Big mistake! Not only did they give out within hours, but they were also thrice the price of what they’d cost online or in specialized stores.”
We’ve all been there. You’re on a road trip and suddenly you feel a headache coming on, or your allergies start acting up, and the only place nearby is a gas station. You know you can find some basic medications there, so you turn in and pick something up.
If it’s an emergency, this makes sense. Otherwise, you’re probably better off waiting until you find someplace else to buy even basic medicine.
“These may not be stored properly and could have expired, making them ineffective or potentially harmful. It’s better to purchase medication from a pharmacy or seek medical advice if needed,” said Christian Miller from Italien Entdecken.
Skincare or Beauty Products
Like OTC medications, many skincare and beauty products aren’t properly stored or could even expire at the gas station, making them another purchase to avoid. Plus, you never know when someone might have already opened up one of these products to “test” it, but then put it back on the shelf.
“Skincare and beauty products are another thing I avoid while making purchases at the gas station,” said Lilian. “Not only are the prices skyrocketed, but the chances of someone else having opened and stuck their dirty fingers in it are very high. For such sensitive products, I prefer buying from a pharmacy.”
Some personal care items might be okay to purchase, depending on where you go. “Personal care items such as toothpaste, deodorant, or hand sanitizer can be useful in a pinch if you happen to run out at home,” said Miller.
Certain basic auto parts might be worth buying, especially if you’re in a rush and need something now. But be careful as the prices can still be higher than what you’d find at an auto parts store.
“Another item I would avoid buying at the gas station is car maintenance supplies such as oil, windshield wiper fluid, or antifreeze,” said Miller. “While they may seem convenient to grab while filling up gas, it’s better to purchase these items from a trusted auto store or have your car serviced by a professional.”
On the other hand, you could get some basic accessories like windshield wipers, air fresheners, or tire pressure gauges, added Miller. Just be aware that these might not last as long.
Many gas stations sell lottery tickets at the counter. While it might be tempting to pick up one or two as you check out, chances are you’re spending your money on something that won’t provide any real value.
“And the last one that comes to mind: the lottery tickets. While it’s tempting to grab one for a chance at a big win, the odds are typically not in your favor,” said Fischer.
From chips to candy bars to jerky sticks, gas stations are a treasure trove of different road trip snacks and quick pick-me-ups. If you must buy something, check the expiration dates on any snacks before adding them to your basket. Otherwise, you could end up with something that’s due to expire soon — if not already.
As for things like jerky, keep in mind that these are likely to be marked up in terms of pricing. So, while you can still grab a bag for the road, just know that it’s probably overpriced.
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