Want to Save Big at the Gas Pump in NJ? Read This!

There's one quirky spot right on the Parkway where you'll pay significantly less for gas. You're welcome!

Get our editors' essential reads sent weekly to your inbox with The Gist newsletter.

Illustration: Dan Page

A few cents’ difference in the price per gallon of gas might seem minor, but it can have a big effect on your wallet.

Gas prices are typically higher in summer—there’s more demand with more people traveling, and the EPA mandates a special type of gas, called “summer blend,” which cuts down on smog, but is more expensive to produce. Add the conflict in the Middle East, where much of our crude oil is produced, and you have a bigger chunk of your change going toward gas money this summer.

New Jerseyans used to get a break, with the lowest gas prices anywhere in the country, except for Alaska. That changed during the Chris Christie administration, when the gas tax was hiked 23 cents per gallon to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund for repairs to roads and bridges.

Recently, Governor Phil Murphy approved an increase in the gas tax of 10 cents per gallon over five years; a 2-cent increase goes into effect in July.

Still, gas prices here tend to be a bit lower than in neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania; the fact that the state has three major oil refineries helps.

There is one place in the state, though, where you can still get old-fashioned gas prices. Surprisingly, it’s on the Garden State Parkway, right on your way to the Shore.

A rest stop on a major toll road is an unlikely place to find discounted gas. Service stations on highways cater to people on long drives who are willing to pay more for convenience, rather than spend a lot of time (and gas) price-shopping in an an unfamiliar area.

That’s true in New Jersey, too, where nearly all gas stations on the Turnpike and the Parkway are Sunoco stations regulated by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. (There are 9 state-regulated Sunoco stations on the Parkway and 12 on the Turnpike.) Sunoco has to pay the state a cut of all sales and can pass that cost along to the consumer.

But the Parkway’s Colonia rest stops, in Middlesex County between exits 131B and 135, are notable exceptions, due to a historical anomaly: The gas stations were there before the Parkway was built in the 1950s. Unlike the 21 Sunoco stations on the state’s toll roads, which were all built on land owned by the state, the four stations at the Colonia rest stop—two northbound, two southbound—sit on privately owned land, says Tom Feeney, spokesperson for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. They can set their own prices and don’t have to pay a cut to the state.

In late May, for example, prices at the Colonia rest stop Shell and Exxon stations (there are both brands at the northbound and southbound rest stops) were $3.15 a gallon for unleaded regular, cash, compared to $3.60 at the Sunoco stations. If you’re filling up a car with a 15-gallon tank, that’s a savings of $6.75.

“The difference can have a big impact when gas prices are either rising or falling quickly,” says Feeney. “It really defies expectations on a toll road. It catches people by surprise.”

Prices at the state-regulated Sunoco stations, by contrast, are subject to a strict and complicated formula. They can change prices only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 am; must rely on a thrice-weekly survey of the state’s stations; and can’t charge more than four cents above the state average, says Feeney. Current fuel prices at the Sunoco stations can be found on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority website.

The Colonia rest stops’ prices can even be significantly lower than those non-rest-stop gas stations. For years, Susanne Hughes, a middle-school band teacher who lives in Roselle Park, filled up at a Colonia rest stop on her daily drive to Matawan, since the other rest stops had higher prices.

A few years ago, she started filling up at Wawa instead before getting on the Parkway, because it was more convenient. But she’s thinking about switching back. Recently, she noticed that Wawa’s price was $3.07, while the Colonia rest stop charged only $2.93. “Fourteen cents is a big difference,” she says.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Jersey Shore, News, Shore & Travel articles.