Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Filling up

I try to avoid the single petrol station in Pinoso if I can. They aren't ever actually unpleasant but they are a bit offhand. The staff sort of vaguely ignore me or talk across me to another customer. It's common for them to beckon for my credit card rather than ask me for it. Their reasoning may be that very few of we Brits speak any Spanish so it's not worth trying to talk to us but, whatever the reason, I don't like their attitude much.

It's not a cheap petrol station either. The diesel cost 1.439€ per litre today and the price comparison sites says that if I'd hunted out the cheapest petrol station in the province I could have saved 13 centimos per litre and got it for 1.309€.

According to the reports if I want to save money I should avoid Galp or BP stations where prices tend to be the highest. Repsol stations, which are the most widespread, have widely variable prices and the best bet for lower prices are the independent brands including the hypermarkets or Cepsa, the second most common brand. There is a common belief in Spain though that cheap fuel from the independents isn't to be trusted because it lacks the essential additives of the big names.

Apparently if I really want to save money I should make sure that I tank up on a Monday with diesel in a hypermarket in the province of Huesca. Conversely I should avoid stations at weekends, especially just before a Bank Holiday and especially on motorways or in rural areas. It's a Bank Holiday in Alicante on Monday and of course Pinoso is a small rural town.

The Monday thing is interesting. The EU asks Member States to report fuel prices on Mondays and Spanish prices are habitually a couple of percentage points lower that day. The petrol companies say it's because demand is lower on Mondays so they drop their prices to attract more trade. Critics say they do it to make their prices seem more reasonable.

Most of the petrol stations in Alicante and Murcia still seem to be attended service. The last few times I've filled up before today it's been in a service station near Fuente Alamo in Murcia. The first time I went there I didn't see anyone on the forecourt wearing the distinctive blue and orange overalls, I looked for, but didn't find, one of the signs to say service was attended so I set about serving myself. The pump fired up OK but as the fuel began to flow and I stared vaguely into the distance I felt a hand close on mine. "How much do you want?" said the attendant as he gently, but firmly, relieved me of the nozzle.

The fuel market in Spain is controlled by three big firms. Repsol and Cepsa  have well over 55% of the total outlets between them with BP being the third big player. Nearly all the refining capacity is with the same companies so that even independent stations and hypermarkets are ultimately buying their fuel from one of the big three.

Most people believe that these three companies operate a form of price fixing policy by not really competing too hard with each other. Even the independently owned but company branded stations get a message everyday to suggest appropriate pump prices.

But cars won't run without the stuff and we can't all live in Huesca so we mutter gently but ultimately pay up.

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