Thursday, April 7, 2011
Gas-saving tips to fuel money savings
Four-buck gasoline is a reality again for some American motorists. Only this time, unlike 2008, the price spike follows years of deep national recession and its aftermath, including rampant job loss and home foreclosures.
That means many households' battered budgets are less able to absorb gas price hikes, especially when the costs of such necessities as food and clothing are rising fast too.
Paying $4 per gallon would mean a household spends $4,800 on gasoline in a year, assuming two vehicles getting 25 miles to the gallon and traveling 15,000 miles. There's a one-in-four chance that the average price of gas nationwide this summer will exceed $4 per gallon, according to a forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
For consumers, a long-term solution to higher gas prices is to drive less or drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle. But in the short term it matters more "how" you drive than "what" you drive.
Here are suggestions for saving money on gasoline, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, Consumer Reports, Alliance to Save Energy and Edmunds.com.
Don't spill the coffee. The biggest savings will come from avoiding aggressive driving. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.
Not sure what less-aggressive driving is? Imagine a lidless cup of coffee in your car's cupholder. Drive like you don't want to spill it. That means gradual acceleration and gentle braking.
Potential savings vary widely but are significant when you curb aggressive driving. At $4 per gallon, gas savings could range from 20 cents to $1.32 per gallon, based on Energy Department figures. That's a savings of $240 to $1,584 per year for that two-car household described earlier.
Speed kills. Each 5 mph you drive above 60 mph is like paying an additional 27 cents per gallon for gas. Consumer Reports found that slowing from 75 to 55 mph boosted gas mileage 33 percent in testing performed on a family sedan and a large SUV.
American idle. Idling yields zero mpg. Don't bother warming up your car or keeping it running while waiting for passengers. The rule of thumb is to turn off your car if you know you'll be stopped for more than 30 seconds, Consumer Reports says. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas idling than those with small engines.
Trunk junk. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your gas mileage by up to 2 percent, or about 8 cents per gallon. Roof junk — carrying large items on the roof of the vehicle — creates drag that can cut gas mileage 5 percent.
Use cruise. Cruise control is steadier on the accelerator pedal than you are. You might try it on lower-speed suburban roads. Edmunds.com called it a "surprisingly effective way to save gas."
Find cheaper gas. Compare gasoline prices at gasbuddy.com, gaspricewatch.com and gasprices.mapquest.com. Of course, you don't want to drive far out of your way to save a few pennies. Savings will be lost traveling to a distant service station.
Billshrink.com will send you an email alerting you to the lowest-price gas on your commute. Gas price information also is available via smart phone apps, such as Gas Buddy and AAA's TripTik Mobile.
Use GPS. Computerized travel directions from GPS devices or smart phones can help find efficient routes, even among multiple destinations. That can save time, hassle and gas. If you don't have a device, use a computer site, such as mapquest.com/routeplanner.
Of course, plotting a route by hand works, too, using a folding map or road atlas. Several devices and websites also alert you to traffic jams, a gas-mileage killer.
Seek discounts. Be on the lookout for promotions and sales that allow you to acquire gasoline station gift cards for free or at a discount. For example, you might be able to redeem credit card rewards points for a gas card. And Choice Hotels, which owns such properties as Comfort Inn and Clarion, is offering a $50 gas card when you book two stays before May 4.
Make radical changes. Change your work hours to avoid rush-hour traffic, use carpools and ride-sharing programs, take public transportation, walk or bike to work, or work from home.
Shop online. If you spend evenings or weekends running errands to various stores, consider ordering products online and let someone else pay for the gas. That's doable if you can find free shipping online or lower product prices to compensate for shipping fees. Free shipping often comes in the form of a coupon code used at online checkout. Use a search engine with keywords "coupon code" and the retailer's name.
Do the math. Make gas mileage a criterion as you select your next vehicle. The difference between choosing a vehicle that gets 20 mpg and 30 mpg is huge. Assuming $4-per-gallon gas, you would save $1,000 a year per car. Over the typical five years of ownership, that's $10,000 saved for a two-car family.
Stay cool: Don't sweat the argument over staying cool with air conditioning versus lowering the windows. Edmunds.com testing found neither made a huge difference to gas mileage.
Inflate tires: The U.S. Energy Department says underinflated tires can increase fuel consumption more than 3 percent. However, a test by Edmunds.com couldn't find much effect on gas mileage, although properly inflated tires are important for safety and to reduce tire wear. Find the proper inflation level on the driver's side door jamb or in the owner's manual, not the maximum pressure embossed on the tire sidewall. Similar is the usual advice to replace air filters to save gas. On modern cars, replacing a filter will improve acceleration performance but not gas mileage.
Gas additives: Advertisements for gasoline additives that supposedly deliver better mileage are exaggerations or outright lies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has tested more than 100 of them. Consumer Reports' tests of some gas-saving products that promise better fuel economy showed none worked, including Fuel Doctor and Fuel Genie. "Simply put: Don't waste your money," Consumer Reports says. Some "gas-saving" products may damage a car's engine or cause substantial increases in exhaust emissions, according to the EPA.
Here's how to calculate gas mileage:
Fill your gas tank and reset the trip odometer.
Next time you need gas, fill the tank again. Note the number of gallons you bought.
Divide the number of miles showing on the odometer by the number of gallons showing on the pump. The result is miles per gallon. Most mobile phones have a calculator function that can help with the math.