Baja Campers’ Corner: Fueling Up Your RV in Mexico
Pemex aka Petróleos Mexicanos is the Mexican state-owned oil and gas company. We had something similar in Canada called Petro-Canada, that was created in 1975 and merged with Suncor Energy in 2009. This Mexican company was created in 1938, when all private foreign and domestic petroleum companies were nationalized into a single entity. A major labor dispute in 1938 inspired President Lázaro Cárdenas to side with oil workers, who were striking against foreign-owned oil companies for an increase in pay and social services.
On March 18, 1938, citing the 27th article of the 1917 constitution, President Cárdenas embarked on the state-expropriation of all resources and facilities, nationalizing the United States and Anglo–Dutch operating companies and creating Pemex. In retaliation, many foreign governments closed their markets to Mexican oil. In spite of the boycott, Pemex developed into one of the world’s largest oil companies. helping Mexico become the planet’s fifth-largest oil exporter. As of 2009, Pemex had a total asset worth of $415.75 billion, and was the world’s second largest non-publicly listed company by total market value.
Our experiences with Pemex have changed dramatically since our first encounter in 1985, particularly in Baja. Back then stations were few and far between, the fuel storage tanks were above ground, and we had to add a fuel supplement to the regular grade fuel we put into our 1977 Ford Camper Van so it would run without pinging. We were warned from the outset of our first trip into Mexico to watch out for attendants who cheated you when pumping gas. We only actually experienced this once, on the mainland between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.
Thirty years ago we found the stations old, often not very clean (particularly the washrooms), and without many other amenities. Cash was the only option when paying, either in pesos or U.S. dollars, and we cannot recall if we were able to pay with travelers checks (it seems unlikely). And it was not uncommon to come to a station that had run out of fuel. Fortunately our old E250 had two tanks and we always carried a full gas can.
Today, Baja has no lack of Pemex stations. They’re franchised now, and often you will see them within two or three blocks of each other. For decades Bahia de Los Angeles was a town you always needed to arrive at full, as it was a long way – El Rosario to the north, Guerrero Negro to the south – from a PEMEX station. These days, LA Bay has a pair of Pemex stations, owned and operated by two different families in town.
Many of the Pemex stations in Baja are new and very clean, particularly the washrooms, and sometimes they even have toilet paper! Many of the newer stations also have OXXO stores, the largest and most profitable convenience store chain in Latin America. Many Pemex stations now take credit cards as well as cash, and the receipts can come in handy if you’re claiming a rebate from your domestic insurance carrier.
The challenge for an RVer is to find a station that has lots of room for entry and exit, particularly those with bigger rigs. The good news is many of the newer stations have lots of room, usually enough to arrive with a caravan of six or seven RVs, fuel up, and then park. Generally, you’ll find the diesel and gas pumps separated, often on each side of the Pemex station. It is important to remember that regular gas pumps are green, premium gas pumps are red, and diesel pumps are black.
It is common knowledge that Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) is the type of diesel fuel which has very low sulfur content. ULSD is more environmentally friendly than Low Sulfur Diesel fuel (LSD). Since 2006, ULSD has been widely available across North America and Europe. This occurred because the countries from North America and Europe adopted new emission standards which involved extensive use of ULSD. Many countries around the world took similar measures, while others lagged behind, such as Mexico.
Since 2007, all diesel vehicles manufactured in the U.S. and Canada have been designed for ULSD. There has been a lot of debate over the impact of LSD on newer diesels that run on ULSD. Many experts and owners agree that LSD does not affect the performance or operation of the vehicle. The real issue lies in the fact that a person might lose their warranty for some components in case they use LSD on a ULSD vehicle. For GM vehicles, the warranty on the exhaust system may be voided.
We know ULSD in Mexico can be routinely purchased in the northern border area, as well as in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Baja. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Mexican government to make ULSD universally available across Mexico have met with limited success so far. Until 2010, owners of vehicles which run on ULSD could only purchase the fuel in northern Baja. Pemex gas stations located in Baja Sur sold only LSD fuel brought over from the mainland. The good news is that since 2010, ULSD has been available throughout Baja. Pemex doesn’t sell the gas to the end user, independent franchise stations do, and with the rise in Pemex prices (diesel has been historically subsidized) and the increase of ULSD vehicles in Baja, all the fuel now flows from depots in Mexicali, Ensenada and Rosarito.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The last couple of seasons we have had many USLD RVs on tour, including late model 2012 American Revolution (Cummings), Mercedes and Ford F-350, all without incident. Pemex fuel prices remain very competitive; 95 cents CDN a liter or $3.47 U.S. per gallon for regular gas. I recently paid $3.72 a gallon in Blaine, Washington for gas, and the pumps locally here in Metro-Vancouver, BC are advertising $1.41 a liter to fill up our Ford E 350.
We look forward to being back in Baja!
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