Costco is where consumers prefer to buy their gas

June 18, 2012 at 1:54 PM ET

AP /
Warehouse stores and grocers like Costco lag behind Big Oil, but they are gaining with consumers.

In these lean times, nothing says thrifty better than idling your SUV in a 15-minute line to save a few cents on gas. For proof, we now have a survey that shows Costco is consumers’ favorite place to fill up.

That is true even though relatively few motorists actually have access to Costco gas.

Shell was the top place motorists actually reported filling up at, and the national oil chains still dominate the market. But warehouse chains and grocers like Kroger and Sam’s Club are closing the gap.

Oh, and service station bathrooms that are out of paper towels is a big problem.

Among the 4,500 drivers surveyed, 56 percent said they visit gas stations aligned with national brands such as Shell and Exxon. Thirty-two percent said they frequent grocers and warehouse chains.

Consumer research firm Market Force established the Costco result by taking responses to “what’s your favorite brand” and comparing that with the number of locations each brand had nationwide. So Costco, which doesn’t even sell gas at all its warehouses (368 of its 515 American and Canadian warehouses have pumps), indexed out ahead of Shell (which has more than 15,000 stations), which dropped to fifth.

The top 10 from that index:

1. Costco

2. Kroger

3. Sam’s Club

4. Hess

5. Shell

6. Wal-Mart

7. Sunoco

8. Valero

9. 7-Eleven

10. Exxon Mobil

The major oil retailers all did a lousy job at keeping the restrooms clean, with the exception of BP, according to the survey. That company and Exxon, Shell and 7-Eleven did get good marks for keeping the restrooms stocked -- Chevron was worst on the list. The biggest issue with out-of-stock restrooms was no way to dry hands (54 percent), followed by no toilet paper (29 percent) and no soap (17 percent).

Market Force randomly selected 20,000 members of its 300,000 member “Force,” who participate in surveys, to take part. The results are from the 4,500 in the U.S. and Canada who responded. In that group, 76 percent were women. More than two-thirds were married, 75 percent worked full- or part-time, half had children at home and seven in 10 lived in a household where the annual income was $50,000 or more a year. Read more survey results from Market Force here.

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