Image: A Siegel
Political upheaval in the Arab world has crude oil trading near $110 a barrel. What does that mean for you? The price of gas is going up in tandem – according to AAA, the average cost for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.81, up nearly a dollar from a year ago. And as the summer travel season approaches, some experts say the price could reach $5.
But there are ways to cut down the price you pay at the pump, and meaningful ways to make that tank of gas last longer before you need another fill-up.
Start bargain-hunting by going online. One of the best sites to find gas-related information is GasBuddy.com. Besides listing the lowest gas prices in your town, it tracks industry trends and tells you why prices are going up, and what to look out for. The “Heat Map” shows fuel prices nationwide,with counties color-coded from cheapest to most expensive. Zoom in to see prices for your own hometown. The “TripCost Calculator” will give you an estimation of gas costs based on your car model and distance traveled.
If you’re planning a road trip or have a long commute to work, Mapquest Gas Prices will allow you to plan a journey and find out where the gas will be cheapest along the way.
Bankrate has a handy gas calculator that shows you whether driving to that cheap station across town will save you money. Just plug in the capacity of your car’s tank and its miles per gallon, the distance to your primary gas station and to that cheap gas station and you’ll find out exactly how much you’ll save (if any) by making the drive.
Both Gas Buddy and Mapquest have free, downloadable smartphone apps. But Jason Cochran, editor of AOL Travel, recommends loading several on your device. “Simply because there’s no one place to get the best gas pricing information. A lot of times, users send it in, so you need to have a bunch to make sure you’re getting all the info.”
A free app he likes is Cheap Gas!, which sorts gas stations by distance or by price. It also tells you when the data was last updated, since prices change daily.
FuelFinder costs $2.99 but for the extra money, you get details about the gas station, such as whether there’s a car wash, a repair shop or an ATM. You can also find the estimated time to get to that gas station, which is important if you’re running on fumes.
Watch how you drive
How true is it that maintaining good air pressure in your tires and driving slower will save you gas money? According to Phillip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for car info website Edmunds.com, by changing your driving habits you can improve fuel economy by more than a third. “Add in performing routine maintenance and you will save dollars instead of just pennies,” Reed says.
Reed and his team put some of the most common gas-conservation tips to the test on a 55-mile stretch of road. Some worked great, others didn’t. For example, moderate driving and an easy-on-the-brake method saved up to 37 percent more gas than aggressive driving. Lower speeds and cruise control on a long road trip saved 12 percent more gas compared with breaking the speed limit. Tire pressure didn’t have a big impact on gas conservation, but avoiding excessive idling did, saving up to 19 percent more gas. Read detailed results of Edmunds’ tests.
Habits that will help you save
Tweaking a few of your daily habits can save you money too. Start by putting away the plastic. Many gas stations will charge you a slightly lower rate if you pay cash instead of credit, which could add up over multiple fill-ups.
Avoid the gas stations right on the highway or at the major intersection on the way to work. “Sometimes the cheapest gas is on the side roads,” says Cochran, because “the high-traffic areas may not need to lower the price.”
If you’re a member of Costco, Sam’s or another wholesale club, consider using their gas stations. “Gas is a loss leader for them, so they’re willing to cut the price to get you on the premises and shop,” says Cochran. If you have a rewards card and you pay in cash, you could get a discount. Ask at the customer service counter what gas rewards and discounts they offer members.
Vanessa is a freelance writer in San Francisco who writes about small business and personal finance.