How To Beat High Gas Prices and Save Money At The Gas Pump
Published 4/24/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
Because I rely on public transportation for the vast majority of my work related commute, I don't track gas and oil price fluctuations as closely as someone who drives regularly. While I do notice the indirect correlative effects of pricier gas in the way of higher food prices (and wow are food prices getting more expensive these days), I don't usually realize how high gas prices have spiked until I find myself pumping my own gas. While returning home from a cross country drive to visit a friend in another state this weekend, I noticed I was running low on gas. I scanned the interstate highway horizon for the cheapest regular gas price I could find, and was stunned at how far up gas prices had risen. Only a few weeks and months ago, gas prices were still holding steady at $3.00 a gallon. Now they've climbed to within the $4.00 striking range. I filled up my Honda Accord and looked at the final tally - $44.50. Nearby I could hear the profanity-laden mutterings of other disgruntled drivers as they filled up their vehicles with pricey gasoline. Next to me a big pick-up truck pulled up - definitely a $125.00 filler-upper.
Until the fuel scientists and federal government decide to seriously combat the problem of high gas prices and fuel shortages with subsidies and research grants for the development of alternative energy, all we can do as consumers is to try to find common-sensical ways to reduce our fuel consumption and minimize what we pay at the pump. Public transportation options through car pooling, riding public buses, and taking the subway are some of the frugal ways to save money on gas by ditching the car altogether, but for some people those aren't feasible solutions - and for others, they simply love their cars too much. Buying a hybrid gas and electric powered vehicle is another way to save gas money. However, buying a hybrid requires a sizable upfront investment that is not suitable for many at this time. Thus, I want to turn my attention primarily to helping drivers like myself who own plain old fossil fuel gas guzzlers. Even for regular drivers like us who jet around in our old fashioned gas powered vehicles, it doesn't mean we have to give up an arm or a leg at the gas station.
Here Are A Few Simple And Easy Ways To Save Money On Gas:
1) Lighten Your Car and Keep Your Vehicle Engine Well Maintained and Tires Properly Inflated - The heavier your vehicle, the more gas is required to power it. For example, if you drive one of those large Good Humor ice cream trucks as your primary vehicle, you are most definitely going to consume much more fuel than if you drove a tiny compact Honda Civic. Thus the lighter you can make your car, truck, or van, the more fuel efficiently your vehicle will run and the less gas it will consume, thereby saving you more money on gas.
For the longest time I use to store stacks of water bottle pallets in my car. Whenever I bought 24-packs from the grocery store, rather than lugging them up to my apartment, I usually left the 4 or 5 large pallets in the trunk until I needed one. Little did I realize at the time how much unnecessary weight I was adding to my vehicle - forcing it to consume more fuel to power it. Any excess weight you can eliminate from your vehicle will help you save money on gas in the long run, and this includes from both personal cargo and passengers.
Other than reducing your vehicle's weight, you can also ensure optimum fuel performance by keeping your tires properly inflated, as air has a natural tendency to seep out. By keeping your tires well inflated, you minimize the surface contact area they have with the road, thereby ensuring that less friction is created when you drive, which results in better gas mileage. Keep in mind that in cold weather, tires tend to be a little saggy as air compresses in cold temperatures. In warmer weather, tires puff up as air expands. I always make it a point to check my car tire pressure at the start of every new season to keep them in line with developing weather and changing temperatures. Your proper tire pressure number can be obtained from that little sticker in your driver side door jam or from your vehicle owner's manual. I always keep my car manual in the glove compartment with a little yellow tab on the tire pressure page just in case I need to reference it.
You should always keep an eye on your engine light as well, to make sure the engine is running at peak efficient performance. If it's making strange gurgling noises or running a bit sluggish, it may be time to take it to the car repair shop. Proper and regular oil changes help to keep your car running smooth and well lubricated, however be sure not to spend unnecessary money performing oil changes too frequently. Follow your vehicle's manual for oil change guidance to avoid falling into the oil change trap.
2) Adjust Your Driving Habits To Maximize Fuel Efficiency and Reduce Drag - For those of you fortunate enough to have a fuel efficiency gauge on your dashboard, you may have noticed that certain driving activities cause fuel consumption to drop and other activities cause fuel consumption to increase.
The two actions that requires the most fuel to perform are those that demand rapid performance such as quick stops and quick accelerations. Forcing your car to suddenly stop by hitting the gas pedal requires more fuel than letting your vehicle roll to a natural halt. Similarly, when you jam the gas pedal to accelerate quickly, a lot more gas power is needed to bring your vehicle into sudden rapid motion than a slow, gradual building of speed.
If you want to save money on gas by maximizing your car's fuel efficiency, learn to become a driver of moderation. Don't accelerate or brake suddenly. Look and scan ahead to anticipate your next movement so that you can cruise to stops and allow gentle accelerations. By adopting a more temperate driving approach, you can easily boost your fuel performance and gas mileage by 10-20% or more. Obviously highway driving is best because you are able to maintain a consistent speed, thereby ensuring peak fuel performance. The stop and go driving style of rush hour traffic is the worst when it comes to fuel efficiency.
As for reducing wind drag, the key to remember is that drag is most pronounced when you are traveling fast. For most vehicles, peak fuel efficiency usually occurs at the highest transmission gear at lower speeds. At higher speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, wind resistance increases exponentially, forcing your car to work harder to maintain the same speed. If you are a fast driver like me or spend most of your time on the highways, you should drive with your windows up to improve gas performance and save money. On slower local roads, driving with the windows down isn't as big of a wind resistance issue.
3) Use Regular Gas and Avoid Premium Gas Unless Recommended By the Manufacturer - Other than the oil change myth, the premium fuel myth is one that many drivers unwittingly buy into. These days, cars don't need more expensive premium fuel to run smoothly and resist engine wear. Other than price, the thing that separates regular fuel from premium fuel is octane content. Regular gas has an octane rating of 87, mid grade gas is 89, and premium gas is usually about 91 or 92. Octane has nothing to due with fuel power or the cleanliness, but rather refers to the ability of the fuel to resist engine knocking or pinging, which occurs when the fuel air mixture ignites abnormally or prematurely in your engine, causing inefficient explosions. Improperly timed firings can potentially inhibit proper performance and may ultimately hurt your engine hardware. However, modern cars contain engine sensors that regulate knocks and pings that work just as well with regular fuel as with premium. Most cars derive no appreciable benefit from using premium fuel, and usually only high performance vehicles, particular ones equipped with superchargers or turbochargers require higher octane fuel.
As always, the best advice is to follow what your car manufacturer advises on the matter. If you car owner's manual calls for only regular fuel, then there is no reason to use higher grade fuel. Some manuals will indicate that premium fuel is either recommended or suggested for best performance, however regular fuel will usually work just as well. Only when premium is actually indicated to be necessary and required should you spend extra money on premium gas.
4) Seek Out Generic Gas Stations That Offer The Cheapest Gas Prices - When I buy gas, I scout for the gas station that offers me the lowest price for regular grade gas. I pay absolutely no attention to the brand - acknowledging no distinction between Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Sunoco, Citgo, or Cletus' Gas Shack. In my opinion, the fuel they offer are all substantially the same. The only difference between one gasoline brand from another is the type of additives mixed in with the fuel. Supposedly as the marketing hype goes, the additives keep your engine running cleaner. However, current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations already mandate detergent additives for all fuel mixtures. Thus you shouldn't buy into clever advertising buzzwords or catchy additive names that pricier oil companies use to make their fuel brands seem more impressive than they actually are. All you will be doing is throwing good money away.
Of course, there will always be suckers out there who will insist that one fuel is better than the other for whatever brand loyalty or placebo reasons. If it'll make you feel better to use a brand of fuel like Exxon as opposed to a lower priced one like Citgo, then be my guest. Personally, the only reason why I would avoid a particular low priced gas station would be if they only took cash payment and not credit cards.
5) Use Gas Credit Cards To Earn Cash Back Rewards and Gas Rebates - I use credit cards for everything, and using a gas credit card to earn cash back rewards on fuel purchases is no exception. Gas credit card rewards vary but the best offers are currently floating in the 5% cash back range. Take a look at my list of gas credit card rewards for the best ones. If you fuel up often, saving 5% cash back rebate on every gas station purchase can help you save a lot of money over the course of a year. Of course, if you have trouble handling the use of reward credit cards, you may want to stick with cash.