Whether you drive a car or just love to watch cars drive, you’ve probably noticed that gas stations have changed a lot since the 1950s. Back then, drivers would pull up to the pump, grab a ticket, and then pull away. Nowadays, before you even reach for your wallet, a cashier will approach you, waving a credit card in your face. You’ll be prompted to choose a card to complete your payment – and you’ll have thirty seconds to make a decision. It will be a little stressful, isn’t it?
The good news is that most gas stations now accept debit cards, too, so you don’t need to worry about your CC being declined. In this guide, we’ll identify the credit card types accepted at gas stations in order to make your life a little easier.
Chip-And-PIN Vs. Magnetic Stripe
When a card is inserted into a gas pump, two important things happen:
- A tiny chip inside the card is activated
- A unique number is created, which is then scanned using an electronic device (this is called the PAN (Personal Identification Number) or the PIN (Personal Identity Number))
If your card is equipped with a chip, the cashier will need to key in your PIN when paying for your gas. Otherwise, they’ll need to take a peek at the magnetic stripe on the back of your card to manually input your PIN. The two methods of payment are called ‘chip-and-PIN’ and ‘magnetic stripe,’ and many people confuse the two. But they’re very different.
The first and most important difference is that you must verify the authenticity of a chip-based card. When a card is swiped through the chip, the machine will check for fraud. If you’re ever asked to provide additional ID, you’ll have to do so because a machine cannot recognize your voice and compare it to how you’re speaking now. This makes fraud much less likely to occur.
The second important difference is that a chip-based card is more secure. The information stored on the chip is encrypted and unreadable to anyone else (including gas station staff). This makes it less likely for your card to be stolen and used by someone else. Unfortunately, the convenience of a chip-and-PIN card largely comes at the expense of your privacy. When you use a chip-based card, every purchase and every transaction will be tracked by authorities. While some of this information is kept local, the fact that it is being recorded and tracked reduces your privacy.
If your bank or credit card company issues credit cards abroad, you’ll have an option of which type to use at gas stations. If you’ve traveled abroad recently and used a credit card to make a purchase, you may have noticed the option of which type of card to use when purchasing gas abroad. Usually, credit cards work abroad in the same way they do at home. You’ll have to decide whether you want to use a chip-and-PIN card or a magnetic stripe. If you go with the latter, make sure that the bank that issued you the card knows that you’re traveling abroad so that they don’t block your card while you’re away. Your travel companion overseas will also need a copy of your passport to be able to use your card abroad.
If you have a visa card, you’ll be presented with a screen that prompts you to make a selection regarding how you want to pay for your gas. The choices range from coins to credit cards, and the machine will then take care of the rest. Visa cards are accepted at most gas stations, provided you have a visa from one of the accepted banks. If you don’t have a visa, you’ll have to find another way to pay for your gas. You might consider using cash instead. But not everywhere accepts cash, so you should be prepared to use a credit card instead.
One important thing to keep in mind if you have a visa card is that you must notify your bank of your travel plans. This way, they know not to flag your account as being abroad. Otherwise, your account could be blocked while you’re traveling, and you won’t be able to make any purchases. Notify your bank as soon as possible so that they don’t flag your account and risk being unable to process your payments.
Mastercard is another popular choice when it comes to gas-station payments. Just like Visa, Mastercard is an internationally recognized brand, and its cards are accepted at most gas stations, provided you have a Mastercard from one of the acceptable banks. Like with Visa, you must notify your bank of your travel plans so that they don’t flag your account while you’re traveling. Also, make sure that you keep your Mastercard application receipt just in case you need to prove where you bought the gas. Some gas stations don’t take credit cards, so you’ll have to find another way to pay for your gas if the station doesn’t accept Mastercard.
American Express is another major player in the credit card industry. Just like the other two brands mentioned so far, American Express cards are accepted at most gas stations, provided you have one from one of the acceptable banks. Like Visa and Mastercard, American Express requires you to provide a receipt from the gas station if you ask for a refund. This is because the company’s cards are used for deposits and withdrawals in multiple currencies – even when you’re traveling abroad – so they want to make sure that they’ve processed the correct amount. This means they need to have a record of where you bought the gas. You won’t need a visa for American Express cards, but you will need to notify your bank of your travel plans.
If you have a Diners Club card, you’ll be presented with a screen that prompts you for which type of card to use when paying for your gas. The choices usually range from credit cards to ‘e-cards.’ E-cards are internet-based credit cards that don’t require a physical card. If you don’t have a Diners Club card, you’ll have to find another way to pay for your gas. Not all gas stations accept Diners Club cards, so make sure to check before making a purchase.
If you have a Discover Card, you’ll be presented with a screen that asks you to choose whether you want to pay with cash or a credit card. The choices usually range from credit cards to ‘e-cards’ as well. Just like the other three cards discussed thus far, the Discover Card also requires you to provide a receipt from the gas station if you ask for a refund. Due to the prevalence of e-cards, Discover Cardholders don’t need to worry about whether or not their card will be accepted at a particular gas station. Because the information is all online, the cardholder won’t need to present a physical card, either.
What About Maestro?
Maestro is another international brand of credit cards that work much like the other four cards discussed thus far. But instead of Visa or Mastercard, Maestro issues its own credit cards that can be used internationally. Therefore, it is not accepted at most gas stations when traveling abroad. If you don’t have a Maestro card, you’ll have to find another way to pay for your gas while traveling. Maestro cards are accepted at most gas stations – just check the signs before making a purchase.
If you’re deciding which type of credit card to use at a gas station, keep in mind the differences in security and in what type of identification is required. For instance, a chip-and-PIN card is more secure than a magnetic stripe card, and it requires additional verification via a personal identification number (PIN) before authorizing a transaction. The important thing is to choose a credit card that is suitable for the types of activities you’re planning on doing while traveling.