Gas Prices May Top $3 a Gallon This Spring—Here’s How to Save
We reveal top tips for saving money on fuel, according to experts.
Buckle up. Gas prices are predicted to surge beyond $3 a gallon as early as May, according to a recent report by GasBuddy. And while there’s little you can do about prices fluctuations, it turns out there are a few things you can control when it comes to finding the best prices and ensuring your vehicle uses that fuel efficiently. Of course that might also mean adjusting your habits behind the wheel.
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One of the easiest ways to find the best prices for gas at any given moment is through an app or online. Many apps, such as GasBuddy, (free on iOS and Android devices) generate prices through crowd sourcing and sometimes from the gas stations themselves. You use the app by inputting your current location and viewing a list or map view of all nearby stations and their prices. From there, it’s up to you to decide whether to steer off course for a deal or stick to your route and opt for a middle ground price.
Patrick DeHaan, head petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, says most people report saving between 5 to 10 cents a gallon using the app. In some parts of the country, the savings are even greater, as much as 35 cents or more.
“In the extremities of cities like Chicago, you might find a dollar-a-gallon spread between low and high prices within two miles of your location,” DeHaan says. “But that’s more common in larger cities.”
If you’re looking for a more general picture of your fuel cost for a trip, consider using something like AAA’s TripTik Planner, an online tool that allows you to customize a route for your trip and find the best fuel prices along that route. You can also try AAA’s Gas Cost Calculator online, to add those prices up. “Members can also request a customized route by contacting their local AAA office,” says Ellen Edmonds, a spokesperson for the organization.
Saving on gas doesn’t just mean planning to hit or skip certain gas stations. It can also mean choosing a time of year or part of the country to travel. DeHaan says gas prices are highest in the summers and lowest in the winters, ranging anywhere from 35 to 70 cents a gallon higher in the summer. “Some years it’s closer to a dollar a gallon or 25 cents,” he says. If you’re game for colder weather, you stand to save a lot that way. And if you’re driving through multiple states, check prices because it may be cheaper to fill up before or after you cross state lines. “Those state lines should be a kind of alarm bell for motorists to shop around because it’s very easy to either overspend or spend less,” DeHaan says. “Oftentimes when you cross, you’re either leaving cheap gas behind or you’re about to see cheaper prices.” Want to check out the states you’re planning to hit? Try GasBuddy’s map. Because gas prices can fluctuate a few times a day, DeHaan said it’s usually a safer bet to buy fuel in the morning.
Before you leave, be sure to get your oil changed and check all fluid levels. Also important to fuel efficiency is your tire pressure and alignment, says Dave Cappert, campus administrator for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. When packing, leave behind unnecessary items, as they can literally weigh you down.
“Load items evenly to reduce the impact,” Cappert says. “Loading items on the roof increases wind resistance, resulting in additional load on the vehicle.” If you have to use roof storage, go for one of the hard shell carriers, which are built with aerodynamics in mind.
If you’re prone to road rage, aggressive driving or racing to make stop lights, you might want to reevaluate your habits. “Fuel economy peaks a around 50 mph on most cars and then drops off as speeds increase,” says Edmonds. “Reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy 7 to 14 percent.” Racing to catch a light, and engaging in those “jackrabbit starts” can also hamper your fuel efficiently, Edmonds says.
Using cruise control can help ensure you aren’t mindlessly slowing or speeding up unnecessarily on the open freeway. And try not to idle. “A car engine consumes one quarter to one half gallon of fuel per hour when idling, but a warm engine only takes around 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart,” Edmonds says. “Where safe to do so, shut off your engine if you will be stopped for more than a minute.” So if your pitstop at the rest stop will take a while, shut the car off. Same goes for gridlocked traffic, if it’s safe to do so.