The average American family drives 15,000 miles a year, per car, according to the US Department of Transportation. Assuming your car gets about 25 mpg (miles per gallon), you consume nearly 600 gallons of gasoline per year. And if you are a commuter, sales person, or love to take long road trips or explore the city every weekend, you likely fill up more than that. Considering the average price of gasoline in the United States is currently about $3.30 ($3.40 on the East and West Coasts), you spend about $2,000 per year per driver on gas.
Increases in the price of gas have placed a strain on many family budgets. There are easy ways to save money on gas if you are willing to make a few changes to your driving habits and keep your car properly maintained. Knowing the best times to buy gas and the most likely days for price increases can also help save gas money.
Driving Habits – Safety and Efficiency
1. Preferred Customer Cards
I have a preferred customer card at Kroger’s that offers rewards points. Each time I accumulate enough rewards points, I get $.10 a gallon off on my next fill-up of Shell gas. My local Home Depot has a gas station and my customer card there gives me a $.10 per gallon discount each time I spend $100. Additionally, Costco and Sam’s Club both offer cheap gas for their members, usually saving you at least a dollar or two on fill-ups, depending on the size of your tank. Finally, at the end of the year, warehouse members get 1% cashback on all their purchases. Getting discounts for buying things you actually need is likely the best deal you can ask for, so ask about preferred customer cards where you shop.
2. Accelerate Slowly
When I learned to drive, the teacher told me to imagine there was an egg under the accelerator and the goal was to push down the pedal without breaking the egg. Slow and steady acceleration not only saves on gas, it provides better control in adverse weather conditions and cuts repair costs since there is less stress on the car. Fast acceleration places additional strain on your engine mounts, tires, the car’s suspension system if you are not on a completely flat road, the brakes if you need to slow or stop repeatedly, and will generally increase the wear and tear on your vehicle. All this isn’t even including the lower car insurance rates you will earn if you avoid traffic violations and auto accidents.
3. Brake Gradually
If a light turns red when you are half a block or more away, take you foot off the gas and coast, then brake gently to a stop. Leaving space between yourself and the car in front of you and allowing yourself to brake gradually saves on gas as well as brake maintenance costs, so it is a good habit to cultivate. Don’t be that idiot who is speeding towards a red light and is accelerating despite it just turning red.
4. When To Buy Gas
Gas is a volatile liquid whose density falls as it gets warmer because it expands. If you buy gas during the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler, you actually get more gas for your money. It may not be much more, but every little bit helps. Furthermore, when the price of gas fluctuates, gas station prices usually go up during the middle to latter part of the week, between Wednesday and Saturday. This increase targets the weekend consumer who is likely to pay up in order to go out and have fun. So if you fill up on Monday, you will save some money, especially if you drive a vehicle with a large tank.
5. Turn Off The Engine, Warm Up Less
Whether you are warming up your car, waiting for someone or at a railroad crossing, do not let the car idly run for more than one minute. Although an idle car does not use a lot of gas, if the car will be running for more than a minute, it is more economical to turn it off and re-start it. Likewise, do not warm up your car in the winter for longer than a minute. If you have a new, modern car, the engine warms up quickly and will heat up even faster while you are driving.
6. Speed Burns Gas
It is no surprise to most that, in addition to consuming more gasoline to accelerate to a higher speed, maintaining a high speed expends more fuel. Additionally, the faster you drive, the faster you use gas since speed increases air friction on the car, so try to stick to the speed limit. Another trick is to drive behind a semi on highways since the larger vehicle takes the brunt of the air resistance and vehicles directly behind the truck experience less friction and use less gas. Lastly, don’t drive around with a bicycle, luggage, or ski rack on your roof all the time. Use it and then take it off.
7. Where To Buy Gas
Gas stations that are adjacent to major highways generally have higher prices than stations which are in towns or cities. When possible, try to buy gas before getting on the highway, or travel a little further from the highway to a nearby town to fill-up. If an exit has three or four gas stations, prices will probably be lower since there is competition. Keep track of state gas taxes when traveling since higher taxes mean higher prices at the pump, which is one of the reasons California gas prices are amongst the highest in the country. You may be able to save by filling up near state lines.
8. Don’t Wait Till Your Tank Is Empty To Fill Up
There are two good reasons to fill up when your fuel gauge registers one quarter full. The first is obvious; if your tank is on empty, you need to stop at the nearest station and you cannot shop around for a lower price. The other reason is that gasoline has impurities that may include small particulates. These particles sink to the bottom of the tank. When gas levels get too low, the particles are sucked up by the fuel pump and can clog the fuel filter and even damage injectors or the entire fuel injection system. This not only affects fuel efficiency, but over time, it can result in costly repairs.
9. The Cost of Being Cool: Air Conditioning
Car air conditioning increases gasoline usage by about 1 to 3 mpg, depending on the temperature and strength of the fans, so only use the AC when absolutely necessary. Since car heaters use heat that is naturally created by the engine, using the heater will not change gas mileage. The AC uses a compressor which draws power from the engine, making it work harder and burn more gasoline. Opening windows or pop up sunroofs instead of using the AC will not help since additional wind resistance created by openings can also lower gas mileage. Lastly, consider parking in the shade and leave the windows open a tiny bit to avoid trapped heat and allow for air circulation.
10. Plan Ahead: Travel More Miles and Use Less Gas
A friend of mine commutes 16 miles to work. The most direct route passes through the center of three towns, has numerous stop lights and speed limits that change every two or three miles along the way. While the alternate route is slightly longer, there are only three stop lights, and the speed limit is constant for a 10 mile stretch. Even though the alternate route is longer in terms of miles, he uses less gas and increases mpg when he does not stop or accelerate as often. Frequent acceleration and deceleration burns more gas than traveling at a constant speed, which is why the freeway offers better fuel economy than inner city streets. If you can use an alternate route that cuts the time you sit in traffic or has fewer stop lights and stop signs, you will use less gas even if the route is a little bit longer than the most direct road.
11. Regularly Scheduled Maintenance
If you have an owner’s manual, it will tell you when you should change the fuel and air filters on your car. If you do not have the manual, the information is available online. Typically, the major maintenance check points are at 30K, 50K, and 75K miles, with minor maintenance required every 15,000 miles in between. A car’s fuel economy can be affected by both air and gas, and if one or both of the filters is clogged, you will not get the best gas mileage.
12. Check The Tires
Proper tire inflation is the cheapest and easiest way to increase fuel efficiency in any car. Refer to the tire markings or description, car owner’s manual or tire manufacturer’s website to find out the right PSI for your tires. You can buy an inexpensive tire gauge at any automotive store such as Pep Boys or AutoZone, so there is no excuse for not checking tire pressure regularly. Additionally, extreme temperature changes in the winter and summer can cause pressure fluctuations. Properly inflated tires last longer than tires that are under inflated, so you save on fuel and tires.
13. Tune-Ups and Oil Changes
Most cars need to have the oil changed about every 3000 to 5000 miles, depending on the age of the car, and the wrong oil can make an engine work harder and use more gas. If you change your own oil, make sure you use the motor oil that is recommended for your engine. Tune ups should be done about every six months or 5000 miles, and properly tuned engines run more efficiently using less gas.
If your car is equipped with cruise control, you can improve your highway mileage by using it. This device keeps the car at a more consistent speed than a driver’s foot on the accelerator. Maintaining a steady speed prevents deceleration and eventual acceleration.
15. Manual Transmissions
Manual transmissions are more fuel efficient than automatic transmissions, especially if you shift up early, shift down late, and stay in neutral when the car is idle. If you are buying a used car, cars with manual transmissions are usually cheaper since most American drivers prefer automatics.
16. Smartphone Apps
There are dozens of free apps available for most smartphones that allow users to find the lowest gas prices in the area. If you have a smartphone, the app is probably a good investment, especially if you drive long distances. Apps like GasBuddy and Where.com not only save you money at the pump, they save gas that would be used driving around to compare prices at different gas stations.
17. Use The Right Gas
Engines are designed to perform at their best with gasoline of a specific octane. If your car is designed to run on regular unleaded, using premium gas could actually lower your gas mileage. If the car needs high octane gas, using regular makes the engine work harder and burn more gas.
18. Gasoline Additives
While some gasoline additives can slightly improve the performance of a car or help it start better on cold mornings, claims that an oil or gasoline additive can improve mileage are bogus. Do not waste money on additives when trying to improve your car’s fuel efficiency.
19. Drive A Fuel Efficient Car
The best fuel efficient cars are good for the environment and your wallet, but they are often small and may not be practical for families with more than two children. On the other hand, gas or electric hybrids are available in larger models. Hybrids get better mileage in city driving than other cars because they generate electrical power through the brakes and use an electric engine for slow, low-speed driving or steady speeds. In highway driving, a high-efficiency gasoline engine does most of the work. Hybrids can travel up to 50 miles without using any gasoline, but the car has to be plugged into a power station to recharge.
The top hybrids include the following cars: Ford Fusion Hybrid (~47 mpg), Toyota Camry Hybrid (~43 mpg), Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (34 mpg), Chevrolet Volt (35 mpg), Toyota Prius (51 mpg), and Honda Civic Hybrid (44 mpg).
20. Walk, Bike or Carpool More and Drive Less
If you are only going a short distance and do not need to carry anything bulky or heavy, walk or bike instead of driving. It is good for your health, the environment and your budget. Use alternative methods of transportation like buses, trains or even a bicycle to get to and from work. If public transportation is not available, try to start a carpool with fellow workers that live in your area. Plan ahead and consolidate trips to stores to avoid driving more than necessary.
Furthermore, driving less not only saves on gas and car maintenance, it may lower auto insurance premiums since rates are partly based on how many miles you drive in a year. You may qualify for a “Low-Mileage” discount.
It is unlikely that gasoline prices will fall any time soon, despite the fact that domestic production is at an all-time high. As prices go up, saving gas and money will become a priority for more Americans. There are lots of ways to save money on gas, but the smartest and easiest way is to use the car as little as possible, drive efficiently and safely, and make sure that your vehicle is well-maintained.