I hope no one had to pay the tax man. But if you didn’t or are lucky enough to get a refund, it’s a good idea to squirrel away the money you saved or received, especially if you plan on traveling this summer. Filling up even one tank of gas is expected to make quite a dent in your wallet. While a couple of weeks ago, the Lundberg Survey, a market research firm that specializes in fuel prices, reported gas prices may have reached a peak; except for minor dips, they’ve gone up since this article in Bloomberg Business Week.
But there are several ways to help save money when it comes to gas. I sometimes drive hundreds of miles a week, luckily most of that is in New Jersey where gas prices are lower than in most places. But I am always looking for savings, from old-school ways such as properly maintaining your car and modifying (or at least trying to modify) driving habits to newer methods like incentive programs and smartphone apps.
“Every driver is impacted by the increased cost of fuel” says Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs for AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “There are several easy things drivers can do to stretch each tank of gas and find the lowest fuel prices when it is time to fill up.”
The Old School
Lewis says 17 percent of all cars have all four tires properly inflated, and a survey found only 85 percent of Americans do not properly check their tire pressure. She says, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, properly inflated tires can improve fuel economy by up to three percent. So how do you make sure your tires are properly inflated? Some gas stations have built-in gauges in their air pumps; if they don’t, you can buy one in any auto parts store for a few dollars—I even saw one in a QuickCheck. Check the tires when they’re cold, not after they’ve been driven several miles. You can usually find what the proper pressure should be on the driver’s side door jamb or in the owner’s manual.
And tires aren’t the only part of the car that may save you fuel. Proper maintenance of the whole vehicle can help. Lewis says warning lights can signal problems that can decrease a car’s fuel efficiency.
How you drive can also effect how much fuel you use. Driving the speed limit and going lightly on the pedals can help save.
“If there is a red light ahead, ease off the gas and coast up to it rather than waiting until the last second to brake,” Lewis says. “Once the light turns green, gently accelerate rather than making a quick start.”
The U.S. Department of Energy reports aggressive driving can lower a car’s fuel economy by up to 33 percent.
Another way to save is planning your errands ahead of time. If you know you have to go to the dentist, the supermarket, the gym, figure out the most efficient way of driving to them and schedule your day so you can do it all in one trip. According to AAA, several short trips starting with a cold engine each time can use twice as much gas as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
If you happen to pick up groceries or heavy loads on those trips, it may also be best to make that the last thing you do. The lighter your load, the less effort your car needs to move and thus the less gas will be used. So if you are driving around with a set of golf clubs, it may be best to leave them at home.
I’ve been using GasBuddy, which tells you prices near your location—and it is free. You can choose to sort them by price or distance or see them on a map. It’s not always accurate: I saw a gas station where the price was 10-cents lower than all the others; it turned out to be closed. However, you can earn points toward free gas by updating prices at stations you do come across.
AAA has its own free app (you don’t need to be an AAA member, although I recommend it—I’ve locked myself out of my car a few times). AAA’s TripTik has a more high-tech way of determining stations with the best prices based on credit card transactions at more than 100,000 stations nationwide. It also has the same GPS capability as GasBuddy.
Stop & Shop, a large chain in the Northeast, allows you to earn 10-cents per gallon off your gas for every $100 you spend on certain items listed in their circular each week. You swipe your Stop & Shop rewards card before you pump and it instantly lowers the price. However, not all locations or gas stations participate, so visit Stop & Shop’s Web site for more information.
And many credit cards have programs that earn you points, even double points on gas purchases. If you redeem those points for cash, you can get some of that money back. Be careful of ones with high interest rates and annual fees. One site that can help you compare is creditcards.com. However, cash seems to be king these days—stations are charging more to pay with a credit card and sometimes the difference is so substantial, it’s best to keep some green on hand
And with the money you may be able to save, hopefully you can enjoy better or even more vacations this summer. Happy travels!