Americans In Search Of Cheap Gas

U.S. - Mexican border
U.S. - Mexican border

Today I'm live on the U.S. side of the Mexican border (we couldn't find a satellite truck willing to broadcast live from inside Tijuana given the current drug war).

But the other day a cameraman and I went to TJ to tape footage of all the Americans heading south of the border for cheap gasoline. I saw as many California license plates as Mexican ones at gas stations there. I also realized I wasn't in the U.S. when a truck pulled up next to me at the gas station carrying...tigers.

But I digress.

Gas here is priced in pesos per liter, though all the station attendants have calculators to convert to dollars per gallon (they'll gladly take dollars). While a gallon costs $4.60 in California, this week it was $2.85 in Tijuana. By the way, it was $2.60 not long ago, so they're raising prices.

I met several people who live in San Diego, or nearby Chula Vista, California, who drive 10 to 15 miles one way to gas up, then wait as long as an hour to cross the border going home.

"It's really hard to put gas in (in the U.S.)," said Carmen Lugo, who was in Tijuana filling up her second car of the day. "It's really affecting us in our pocketbooks." She actually injected an additive she bought off the Internet from Germany which she claims has been stretching one tank of gas an extra hundred miles! She claims it works.

Javier Acosta says he saves $30 a tank gassing up in TJ. But he adds an octane booster for $4 to make sure the gasoline performs. I asked San Diegan Bob Brooks, buying gas AND vanilla--both at a discount--if he's concerned about the quality of gas in Mexico. "It seems to run just fine in my car," he says, adding that he only fills up down south once a month.

Gas is cheap in Mexico because the government subsidizes it. Mexico is an oil producer, but it sends its gasoline to the U.S. To be refined (good for us, bad for them). So in a way Mexico is losing twice here--Americans refine the product and some Americans are now benefiting from the subsidized prices.

Business at border town gas stations is up 50 percent in some places, and shortages have occurred, especially in diesel. Some stations have stopped selling diesel to Americans. But others are happy to see Americans back in Tijuana. There's been a terrible crime wave here. Police are everywhere. I saw many souvenir shops with no tourists in sight. "It's not safe here," says Gustavo Currel.

Apparently the lure of cheap gas is more powerful than fear.