Bargain Hunters Topple AAA Gas-Price Finder

May 27, 2005 (11:05 AM EDT)

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Motorists looking for the lowest gasoline prices possible over the Memorial Day weekend overwhelmed the American Automobile Association's new Fuel Price Finder, temporarily shutting down the web tool that locates service stations selling the cheapest gasoline, an AAA spokesman said Friday.

The search tool was available for only an hour on Thursday morning before the Oil Price Information Service, which gathers fuel-price data for AAA, was forced to take it down, Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA's national offices in Heathrow, Fla., said. The tool, which is accessible through individual AAA club websites, was up Friday, but running "very slowly."

"This speaks to the high interest of Americans in gasoline prices and in getting the lowest price possible," Sundstrom said.

Despite the fact that gasoline prices have fallen over the last month, Americans are expected to pay the highest amount ever for a Memorial Day weekend, Sundstrom said. As of Friday, the average price of gasoline was nearly $2.11 a gallon, and just over $2.25 a gallon for diesel.

Links to the Fuel Price Finder were posted Thursday on about a third of the 60 AAA clubs across the nation. AAA is a federation of independently owned motor clubs.

The traffic spike on Thursday forced OPIS to take down their web servers and reboot the systems, Sundstrom said.

"It's running now, but slowly, and their adding server capacity," the spokesman said.

The problem was in the map function of the site. Besides giving prices at stations within a three- to 10-mile radius of a zip code, the site also provides station addresses and a street map of the area.

The site provides price data from 85,000 stations across the nation. Prices are based on gasoline charged through credit-card transactions at each station.

OPIS has provided AAA with fuel-price data for a decade, and has managed a variety of its data-gathering web tools for about five years, Sundstrom said.

"It's the first time we've had an issue with a site," he said.