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How to Save Money on Gas for Your Car – 20 Easy Ways

By Debra Atlas

gas pumpIt’s no secret that the price of gas is continually rising. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, the national average for a gallon of regular gas in mid-January 2009 was $1.83. Three weeks later, the price was $3.44, and in 2012, the average price exceeds $4.00 in some areas.

With no estimated date in sight as to when prices will come down, consumers need to be smart about how to save on fuel costs before they reach the pump. Fortunately, there are many ways to save significantly – without requiring a great deal of effort on your part.

Driving Habits

1. Drive Less
Between the rising cost of gas and the slumping economy, there are a number of reasons why people are driving less today. It’s not so hard to do either. Combine your errands into one trip to avoid repeat drives into town. Consider walking instead of driving for nearby pick-ups, or drag out that bicycle that’s gathering dust in the garage or shed.

2. Warm Up Your Car for Shorter Lengths of Time
If you wake up to a cold morning, don’t warm up the car for longer than 30 seconds (up to one minute if you must). If you idle the engine for more than a minute, you waste fuel and pump nasty greenhouse gas emissions into the air. Engines of modern cars do not require the extensive length of time that older models needed to warm up.

3. Buy Gas Early or Late in the Day
Purchase gas early or late in the day, especially during warm months. Gas is cooler earlier in the day, and more dense. As temperatures rise, gas density falls and you get less of it when you pump.

Also, buy gas early in the week. Prices typically rise between Wednesday and Saturday, but stay lower during the early days of the week.

4. Slow Down and Drive Steady
Driving fast may be fun, but it also increases drag, which increases fuel consumption. Driving just below the speed limit and driving smoothly (not accelerating quickly) uses gas more efficiently, so you may have to fill up a lot less often.

driving car road

5. Monitor When and How You Brake
Braking excessively wastes gas and causes your brake pads to wear out quickly. Maintain a safe distance between yourself and the car in front of you when you’re in heavy traffic – that way, you won’t need to brake as often as if you were tailgating.

Also, by keeping a bit more distance between you and the car ahead, you can begin braking earlier, especially when approaching a traffic light. By not having to slam on the brakes at the last minute, you’ll improve the efficiency of your car and save gas.

6. Turn Off the Engine
If you’re waiting outside for your spouse to finish getting ready for your night out, or you’re waiting at a railroad crossing for the train to cross, turn off the engine. Idling is a major waste of gasoline, and contributes massive amounts of pollutants to the atmosphere.

7. Eliminate Wind Resistance
An open window increases drag and costs you fuel in the long run – so keep your windows closed whenever possible. Also, remember to remove unneeded car racks and carriers. If you normally drive around with a ski rack, bicycle rack, or luggage rack on your roof, take it off when it’s not in use to make your vehicle more aerodynamic.

8. Avoid Gas Stations Near the Highway
The first gas station that you encounter after a long stretch of highway will usually be pricey. If possible, plan ahead or drive a little farther toward the nearest town to find a cheaper station.

9. Don’t Wait Until Your Tank Is Almost Empty to Fill Up
If you wait until your tank is almost empty, you may be stuck paying for whatever gas you find conveniently nearby, as you won’t be able to search for the best deal.

Car Maintenance

10. Monitor Your Tires
Under-inflation causes tires to wear out faster and wastes gas. Properly inflated tires reduce friction and offer better gas mileage.

However, temperature changes can cause tire pressure to fluctuate by as much as two to three pounds per square inch (psi), so be sure to check the psi regularly – especially during seasons when the weather shifts drastically. You may also want to contact your car dealer to see if they offer free tire pressure check-ups.

Also, if you utilize snow tires during the winter months, be sure to replace them in the spring. Snow tires cause excess friction on dry surfaces, wasting gas.

11. Tune the Engine
Car engines need to be regularly tuned. A properly tuned engine uses less gas, so if you can’t remember when you last had a tune-up, it may be time to schedule one.

12. Change Filters
Check your filters regularly – especially if you live in a dusty area. Clean filters help to keep cars running more fuel efficiently.

13. Use the Correct Motor Oil
Be sure to use the proper motor oil. If you’re not sure which type your car requires, check the owner’s manual or do a search online. Using the wrong motor oil can cause the engine to work harder and waste gas.

pour car oil

14. Turn Off the A/C
As much as you may love air conditioning, it turns your car into a gas guzzler. Keep it turned off as much as possible. To keep your car cooler, park in the shade and roll the windows down a crack to circulate air.

Transmissions & Fuel Efficiency

15. Drive Manual
Manual transmission cars are more fuel-efficient than automatic transmission. If you drive one, shift up early and shift down late to save on fuel. Also, shift into neutral when the car is standing still to reduce the strain on your transmission.

16. Manage Your Speed
If you drive a car with automatic transmission, use cruise control to manage your speed and conserve fuel.

Planning Ahead

17. Choose the Best Route
Whenever possible, take the route with the fewest stop signs and traffic lights. The shortest route isn’t always the most fuel-efficient way to go.

18. Fill Your Gas Tank Near State Lines
When traveling, fill up near state lines if possible. Due to different tax rates, you may save a bundle just by crossing into another state. If you’re planning a road trip, do research ahead of time to see which states offer the best prices.

19. Consider Buying a Fuel-Efficient Car
Consider getting a more fuel-efficient car. Even several models of affordable non-hybrids can get 40 miles per gallon.

20. Download a Gas App
Using smartphone apps can really help you save at the gas pump – sometimes more than $0.20 per gallon. Several apps are not only available for the iPhone, but also for the Android, Blackberry, Windows phone,  and others as well.

Apps Available for Multiple Smartphones:

  • Where.com helps connect consumers with their favorite local retailers, including gas stations. It is free to download for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm, and Windows phones.
  • GasBuddy helps you locate the least expensive gas, as well as the closest gas stations in your proximity. The community of users network together to provide the latest gas price updates. It is free for Android, iPhone, and Blackberry.

iPhone-Exclusive Apps:

  • Fuel Finder has been voted the best gas price app on the iPhone and iPod. This premium app automatically refreshes price data every five minutes, and is available via the Apple App Store for $2.99.
  • AroundMe, an all-purpose app that does more than just find the cheapest gas, helps you locate hotels, movie theaters, pharmacies, and more. It was rated as the best iPhone app of 2011 by TIME, and is free to download. The ad-free version costs $2.99.
  • Gas Cubby is an iPhone app that helps track gas prices, car mileage, and maintenance requirements. The basic version is free, or you can purchase the ad-free version for $2.99.
  • SmartFuel is different from GasBuddy and other gas price-finding apps in that it relies on gas price databases, rather than reports from users. It costs $2.99 after a month of free service.

using mobile app

Final Word

The average cost of gasoline per gallon has fluctuated wildly over the last decade, but chances are that we won’t be seeing $2.50 gas again for a long while. But instead of simply waiting for gas prices to plummet, focus on finding clever, simple ways to save money. Invest in an economical vehicle with a high MPG when you make your next purchase, continue to take care of your current vehicle with DIY car maintenance tips, and carpool to work. You may even want to invest in a gas credit card. And if possible, walk or ride a bike whenever the opportunity presents itself, rather than driving. It’s good for the environment, and great for your health.

What other tips can you suggest to save money on gas?

(photo credit: Bigstock)

Debra Atlas
An environmental journalist, blogger, radio personality, and speaker, Debra Atlas pens Distinctly Green, a newspaper column that profiles the newest green innovations, technologies, and services. She also writes for numerous online publications including Sierra Club Green Home, her own blog Envirothink, and the internationally-acclaimed Red Ferret Journal.

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Comments

  • jay

    I’d like to add

    - Plan your journey to avoid traffic jams
    - Car pool to save costs

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Also, keep your eyes open for any gas coupons. Around here, you’ll find them in the back of grocery store receipts and in the local papers. And as part of my gym membership (Lifetime Fitness), we get a few local perks, one of which is a nickel off a gallon at the nearby Kwik Trip. Every little bit helps.

  • Claudia

    Also, in my area, they have certain days of the week where they discount the gas. like Wcky Wednesday for five cents off a gallon. WE always fill up those days.

    • Winston

      A friend of mine told me that there is a gas station that offers this type of discount on Sunday from two to four o’clock. The discount, if I remember correctly, was 10 cents off per gallon. The problem is that it is too far away from my house. And also for the six years that I have been here, I have never came across that place. So I can’t take advantage of discount.

  • Claudia

    That would be Wacky Wednesday…LOL…. not Wcky

  • Karmella

    Even just knowing the general prices in the area helps- the street by my office is least expensive, and I pay attention as I drive along it- sometimes one gas station has raised the price and the others always follow suit right away, so if I see one that hasn’t raised the price yet I stop in.

    • http://madsaver.com Mac

      Good call. Some gas station chains seem to be the very first with the price changes (up OR down), so it gives me a good indication of what to expect from the other stations on my route to work. For some reason, it always goes up a lot more than it goes down though.

    • Winston

      A block away from my house, there are two gas stations right across each other. The new one has better location as it is right on the corner of the intersection while the old one is a bit obscure from the streets. When the new gas station was built, they had the lowest price all around, so I made a change and started to get my gas over here. Over time, I didn’t bother to check because for the several times that I have checked, the new one always had the better price. That is until recently when I stumbled up Gasbuddy and found out that the old one now has the lowest price all around. So now, I get my gas at the old gas station right now.

  • http://fundtips.blogspot.com/ Daddy Paul

    Using the AC can really eat into your MPG. Some of my vehicles I had to turn it off to pass. Gives you an idea of how much it uses.

    • http://madsaver.com Mac

      AC is a big gas hog. I’ve noticed that my mpg goes down about 4mpg when the AC is running. So if it’s not too hot, the windows go down instead. But sometimes, that extra cost is sure worth it, especialy if I’m trying to listen to some music or podcasts. There’s always a tradeoff.

  • mary boyle

    I strongly disagree with Ms Aguire’s suggestion #1. When a driver buys cheap gas, that’s all he’s getting, cheap gas. Cheap gas has numerous additives, is sometimes even watered down, and will cause poor performance, thus, lower gas mileage. In order for a motor to run at maximum efficiency, along with regular maintenance, burning a good grade of gasoline is essential if one cares about their car, as well as the environment. I’ve tried gas from numerous stations, as well as varying octane levels, for my 2003 Toyota 4 Runner, and have found that it runs far better with Chevron Plus as opposed to Fred Meyer’s plus or even their premium. Perhaps the author needs to do a little more homework on this subject.

    • http://fundtips.blogspot.com/ Daddy Paul

      Gasoline must conform to the same requirements. That is the law in most states. If you feel you are getting sub standard gas report it to the state. I pulled into a station and put 15+ gallons in my car and had never added over 13. I reported it to the state. They confirmed that 12 of the 13 working pumps were cheating customers.
      PS. I think the author did a pretty good job.

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/Yourfinances101

    And,

    For those fo you who think you don’t know anything about cars–alot of this maintenance can be doen on your own–saving lots of dough.

    An air filter could be changed by a monkey.

    Most fluid levels as well.

    Air pressure is another one.

    Ask a friend or research the internet for five minutes to find out how to do these and get on a schedule.

    These “little” things really do go a long way.

  • gina

    Carpool or ride your bike when you can! Also, try to plan routes ahead of time. For example, pick up groceries when you pass by the grocery store on the way home vs running out at the last minute.

  • Em D.

    I read somewhere that not using your AC is only effective at certain speeds. If you’re going faster than 45, using your AC is more fuel efficient since having windows down creates drag.
    I used to always try to get the best gas price, but it’s too much of a hassle. Not stopping at Starbucks once a month is pretty much the same savings for me. I suppose it depends on how often you have to fill up your tank.

    • http://fundtips.blogspot.com/ Daddy Paul

      The A/C drags you down at all speeds. The windows open drag you down on some models more than the A/C at higher speeds. If you can drive with the windows rolled up and A/C off you will get the best mileage. If it is hot I am going to use the A/C and pay the money for gas.

  • Winston

    I only use the A/C and the heater when it has become unbearable for me to drive. Another thing that I use to determine whether or not I need them is the distance of the trip. For anywhere that is less than 5 minutes, I will try not to open the A/C and roll down the windows instead during the hot summer. Since I have heard about the potential drag that an open window might cause, I only have the windows half way down.

  • http://www.ukdirect.ie/ carzone

    Hybrid autos are comparatively less polluter than diesel and petrol autos. Carbon emission is lower .Dust particle emission is also lower. Most of all its low maintains cost; it will be the next generation automobile.

  • http://www.airporttrans.com airporttrans

    very good steps to save money.
    thanks Sally Aquire to share these steps

  • partsguy

    Using the heater will affect your mileage as much using your headlights. The only way that you would be hurting your fuel mileage while trying to warm your car would be while using the window defroster (not the rear window defroster) as it uses your AC pump, thus making the engine work harder.

  • Crothliesbcs

    Heater won’t affect your gas mileage and it has now been proven that there is NO affect on the environment by man made use. To be straight honest, there has never been any proof that there is any correlation. The only correlation there is is from the media and politicians. Proof Positive is something I need to see before I sell my soul.

  • http://www.toothygrinsstore.com/HydroFloss-p/hydrofloss01.htm Toothy Grins

    Hi Debra, What you say about finding cheaper gas near a State Line is true. Where I lived, gas was usually about 10 Cents cheaper per gallon over the state line. One state was taxing gas sales more heavily than the other.

  • Magnus2910

    It used to be that Manuals were more efficient than automatics…not anymore. Automatics match revs and drive far more economically and accurately than your manual ever would…

  • foxydollar

    Really great tips here. I will definitely pay more attention when I turn the AC or heat on. Thanks!

  • http://everythingfinanceblog.com/ Charlotte@EverythingFinance

    Good tips. My husband has always told me to fil up first thing in the morning.

  • Robert

    I disagree with the “keep windows closed” tip. I live in Richmond, Va and occasionally visit with friends in Williamsburg, Newport News, Va Beach, basically the eastern corner of state that is around an hour to two hours away. Normally I drive the entire distance with the a/c turned off and all four of my windows on my 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE opened fully and my gas mileage either stays the same for long periods of time or it increases, and this is at speeds of 65+ since I use 64 East to travel there.

  • http://www.docstoc.com/docs/126002387/Some-Advantageous-Terms-Need-to-learn-when-Currency-Trading-to-get-Started-in-Foreign-Exchange-Market Jacob Sandys

    Drive less aggressively. For most people, slowing down sooner before a stop and accelerating more moderately after a stop is the single thing they can do to save money.

  • Mac

    Another idea is to ensure that you avoid stop-and-go traffic. Not very good for the ‘ol mpg. I drive about an hour to work each day (hate it), so I’ve developed an efficient route to get there, but still waste too much gas doing so. Also, I’d actually recommend using cruise control. Otherwise, I find my speed slowling creeping skywards and expending more gasoline doing so…not to mention increasing my chances for an expensive ticket.

  • Abby Zhang

    I have a relatively expensive car (BMW 135is) that gets not particularly outstanding mileage and requires premium fuel.

    I use the Gasbuddy app to find the cheapest gas, which is especially important because lots of stations gouge on premium. Instead of the usual 10 cent jump from regular to mid-grade and another 10 cents for premium, some stations will do 15 or 20 cent increments, which sucks.

    I also discovered that if I don’t drive around in sport mode (which sharpens up the throttle response and holds on to lower gears) all the time it gets me 2-3 extra mpg.

    As for insurance, I used Insurance Panda and found rates for $30/month, which, quite frankly, are amazing.

    I could drive something boring and efficient, but that wouldn’t be very fun at all. The rest of you can keep your transportation appliances

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