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Buying gas at 24/7 automated gas stations?

We are just back from driving 2 1/2 weeks in Southwest of France in a rental car.

Our biggest challenge...getting gas from the increasingly common 24/7 automated gas stations. They don't take cash. There are no attendants. There is a slot for a "mystery" ticket. We tried the chipped VISA cards we carry, plus a debit card (because we were getting desperate), and they all said "card rejected."

How to get gas? Any tips? Thanks!

Posted by
283 posts

Well, the simplest way to get gas would be to:

  1. Buy gas during regular business hours when the station is staffed

  2. Get out to an Autoroute aire that has gas and buy it there. They're always staffed (I think -- it's not my habit to drive at 3 in the morning, though)

  3. Use a card that would be recognized by the card reader

No. 3 is obvious, of course. From reading comments on this forum it appears that many "chip & PIN" cards issued by U.S. banks somehow are deficient in the opinion of French card readers. I have a Visa debit card issued on my BNP Paribas account and it's never rejected. I suspect any of the cards associated with the old accounts I have in the U.S. would be rejected every time.

Posted by
619 posts

In France now and have to agree. I've just prioritized getting gas at the local Elan stations during business hours. I also have had good luck at rest stops. The big supermarket stations with the cheaper gas never work for me. I'm about 50% on tolls, which is an improvement on my trip 2 years ago.

I will state that I knew all of this going into the trip and spent a good deal of time with my bank ensuring that I had a chip and pin not a chip and sign card. Oh well.

Posted by
5687 posts

K, very few US banks offer chip and PIN credit cards. Chip and signature cards are the standard now, and they work great most places in Europe, even at many machines in my experience, but not in all machines.

Annie, you can get a chip and PIN credit card just for traveling. Try getting one from Andrews Federal Credit Union, which anyone can join simply by joining the American Consumer Council ($5 to join).

Posted by
5687 posts

By the way, just because your credit card provides you with a PIN for (expensive!) cash withdrawals at ATM machines - something they have been doing for long before US credit cards got chips - doesn't mean you can use that PIN to make purchases in Europe. It's an entirely different type of PIN and won't work for purchases. As I said, these cards are still pretty rare from US financial institutions.

Posted by
12172 posts

My theory is even if a US card has a PIN, the machine times out before the transaction is cleared. I've had some luck trying the card two or three times - but so far not at gas stations. I've also had times, in RER and metro, where it says the transaction is declined and then spits out the tickets anyway.

At gas stations, I've decided the best way is to fill up at a station with an attendant. They know how to process any credit card you're carrying. Now I always ask, generally of the hotel or airbnb host, where I can find a station that will be attended?

If you're outside of normal business hours, the major highway rest stops seem to be always attended (or at least have been when I've been there). I consider these a backup plan because they charge about 20 or 30 extra euro cents per litre than the best options off the highway.

Posted by
1005 posts

Andrews Federal Credit Union serves Air Force military who are also based overseas, so they issue a true chip-and-PIN card, not a chip-and-signature card. Mine has worked at automated French gas stations. If you don't want the hassle of getting a new card, then the tips from the other posters are correct--fill up during business hours or use the autoroute service stations.

Posted by
1129 posts

That was such an annoying problem that we encountered as well. We were so frustrated after trying several cards that my friend called Visa while we were sitting at the fifth gas station we pulled into. It turns out there was no problem with the Visa, it just wasn't accepted at these unmanned stations. We wanted to fill up our tank before returning the car at Orly. Luckily, we had no problems at the gas stations off the autoroutes during our road trip since those were manned. Look for a gas station called "Total" as those were manned. The BPs and Essos were automated.

Posted by
4597 posts

Tip: Ask when renting what the manned hours are of the nearest gas station, you will need this info later.

Posted by
2916 posts

Andrews Federal Credit Union serves Air Force military who are also based overseas, so they issue a true chip-and-PIN card, not a chip-and-signature card

That depends on how you define a "true chip and PIN." I've had an Andrews card for 5 years, and every time I'd reference it on a travel forum and call it a chip and PIN, someone would say I was wrong, that it's not a true chip and PIN because while it has a PIN, the default is "signature," unlike a true European chip and PIN. In any event, I got the Andrews card specifically to deal with unmanned gas stations in France, and it's always worked. Interestingly, this Spring I lost my Andrews card near the end of our trip in France, and switched to another chip card (BOA) for which I didn't have a PIN. I tried it an unmanned gas station, and the transaction simply went through w/o asking me for a PIN.

Posted by
5687 posts

Although I've never used a credit card to buy fuel in Europe from an automated fuel pump, I have found that my chip and signature Visa cards (from big banks) work fine in many machines without a PIN. But I have needed my chip and PIN card occasionally when the other cards wouldn't work. (Because it has no real rewards, I rarely use it unless I need to.)

The Andrews card (which I used to have) indeed asks for a signature if a human being is involved in the transaction, but at a machine, if a PIN is required, you can use it the PIN. (that's why people claim it's not a "true" chip and PIN card, but as long as it works at machines, who cares?) I used my Andrews card in the past to buy train tickets from machines in which my chip and signature card was rejected. (E.g. train tickets at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.). And it sounds like it does work for buying fuel from automated pumps. Plus: no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. So it is a useful card to have for international travel.

Posted by
35 posts

Thanks, all, for these good tips! We'd thought maybe it was just us.

Posted by
12172 posts

I went online and applied for an Andrews card. They do advertise their card as a chip and pin - most banks when asked will tell you it's a chip and signature card. Andrews looks pretty good - no foreign transaction fee or annual fee on the basic card either.

Posted by
5687 posts

Brad, I had no complaints about my Andrew's Visa card - worked everywhere I tried it including ticket machines that needed a PIN. I canceled mine because I have another one from a different financial institution that is true chip and PIN.

FYI, if you joined Andrew's Federal Credit Union just to get the visa credit card, you can also use their ATM card from your savings account to use ATMs in Europe for free - no foreign transaction fees, and no ATM per-use fee. You don't need a checking account at Andrew's or a "debit card" - just a plain ATM card to access your savings account. You can fund your savings account at Andrew's with whatever you need to withdraw from ATMs during a trip. Pretty handy as a "travel card" so you don't have to use your regular ATM card while traveling and maybe put your other financial info at risk.

Posted by
2916 posts

The Andrews card is great to have, as long as you don't have to deal with anyone at the bank. The application process can be maddening, especially if you're self-employed. And dealing with any issue that comes up with respect to a transaction can be hassle.

Posted by
3614 posts

@Tom
Why didn't I think of that? I've had plenty of aggravation trying to find a manned station.
Off topic, but I'll add for the benefit of everyone who has had problems returning a car, it's also a good idea to ask how to get into the place where you need to return it, at the time you pick it up.

Posted by
1 posts

Just back from a month in France. Getting gas was a nightmare. Tried several credit cards (Visa/ AMX) and my debit card at several unmanned stations (thats most of what I found) none worked (of course almost no place I went would take AMX even with an attendant). Manned stations would take my Visa card and of course cash but these were few and far between. On Sunday forget it!!

Posted by
1161 posts

I have used my chip and PIN Chase Visa card at many unattended gas stations in France without a problem. Including ones at grocery stores just this fall.

Posted by
7490 posts

I might add to the first reply-er that if you are returning a car to an airport depot for an early flight, you do not have the luxury of buying gas while the station is attended. (You also may not get your car inspected because the depot is not yet attended, and you have to "drop" the key in a slot, without proof that you had no scratches and had a full tank.

Posted by
1005 posts

I also used my Andrews Federal Credit Union chip-and-PIN card at automated gas pumps in France and almost never had a problem (one station in Bayeux wouldn't take ANY foreign credit cards). If you are driving in France, it's smart to get a credit card that works offline as a chip-and-PIN card (most American cards are chip-and-signature). Rick explains the difference here.

Posted by
12172 posts

I only tried my Andrews card at one automated gas station, in Provence, with no luck. After that I used attended stations or highway rest stops. It worked at most toll booths. The two where it didn't work (one in Provence and one in the Riviera) wouldn't take anything else I was carrying - so had to use cash. The Andrews card did work well at train stations but the RER at CDG said the card was declined before spitting out my ticket. When I used it inside any stores, it always spit out a receipt to be signed, so seemed to be recognized as a chip and signature card most commonly.