Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, you are no doubt aware that gas prices have spiked sharply. The spike is even worse because post-pandemic inflation had already had prices at somewhat elevated levels. These days many Americans are feeling gas pains when they pull in for a fill-up. There are ways to reduce your gasoline bills, however, so here is some “News You Can Use.”
First, let me just say that you’ve got to race with what you brought to the track. In most cases, it isn’t going to make financial sense to rush down to the Tesla dealership and trade in your gas-powered auto for an electric vehicle just because gas prices are up.
Let’s do a little simple math. Gas prices in my area are up by about $1 per gallon since the invasion. If you have a car with a 15-gallon tank and typically stretch your time between fill-ups, you might buy 14 gallons at a time. The easy math shows a $14 increase per fill-up.
If you drive a lot, you might fill up twice a week. More simple math tells us that would be $28 per week. That’s not horrible, but it’s also not nothing. This is especially true for people on a fixed income or a tight budget.
If gas prices stay high, those numbers would yield $1,400 in additional gas costs over 50 weeks. That would be a substantial portion of some people’s income, even if paid in installments.
But compare that to a new car. Depending on your needs, an electric vehicle may be a good buy in the long term, but even a basic EV such as a Nissan Leaf is still about $20,000 after federal tax credits. A car payment at 3 percent interest would be about $360 per month for five years, not including tax, tag, and other associated fees.
Last year, I looked at some more detailed figures on electric vehicles versus gas-powered autos in an article about the new Ford F150 Lightning. Depending on your needs, EVs can be attractive, but don’t rush out and get an EV or any other car just to avoid high gas prices. Transaction costs and car payments will eat up any advantage that you gain on gas mileage if that is the only factor that you consider.
But if you have a gas guzzler, don’t fret! There are strategies that you can implement to cut your gas bill. These strategies will require changing your behavior, but if the gas pains are bad enough, the change will be worth it.
First, slow down. The easiest way to save money on gas is to take your foot off the accelerator. The most fuel-efficient speed for most cars is about 55-60 miles per hour. Fuel economy decreases dramatically above 65 mph and is about 40 percent worse at 85. FuelEconomy.gov points out that for each 5 mph above 50 mph, it’s like paying an extra 25 cents per gallon.
Another easy way to save gas (and dollars) is to avoid prolonged idling. When I pick my daughter up from school, there are parents who sit in the pick-up line for an hour or more. Most of them have their cars running the whole time to keep the air conditioner blowing. This wastes a lot of gas.
I’ve taken to parking on the town square a few miles away when I’m early for the pick-up. I walk around the square a few times to get my steps in and then go to the school right at release time, avoiding almost all waiting in line. Even without walking, the square is a cool, shady place to walk or sit that is much more comfortable than the school parking lot under the hot sun.
Another way to save gas is to plan your trips and combine errands. Don’t make several unnecessary trips to town or to the store. Make a list and do as much as possible on one trip.
If you want to get really fancy, plan your route to be most efficient as you go from one stop to the next. Don’t crisscross town repeatedly and try to avoid left turns. Left turns often involve lengthy delays at traffic lights, but often you can make a right turn almost immediately, even if the light is red.
Similarly, avoid traffic lights and stop signs when possible. Plan your trips to maximize the use of limited-access roads and interstates where stopping and starting is reduced. Of course, on these freeways, be sure to remember Rule Number One: Slow Down.
Next, shop around for the best deals on gas. Don’t just pull into the station on the corner without looking at the price. I’ve used the Gas Buddy app for years to find good gas prices. It doesn’t make sense to drive a long way out of the way to save a few cents, but you can look for good prices that are close to where you are going to be anyway.
I’m also a big fan of buying gas at discounters. We save enough money on gas at Sam’s Club to pay for our membership. Some grocery stores, such as Kroger, partner with gas stations for reduced prices. Other gas stations have discounts and loyalty programs. Check the stations in your area to find out what is convenient for you.
There are many other small techniques that will help to increase your fuel efficiency (and many of these will apply equally well to EV drivers like Steve Berman):
- Don’t drive aggressively
- Avoid “jackrabbit” starts and heavy braking
- Set the cruise control
- Keep your tires properly inflated
- Keep up with regular maintenance
- Remove unnecessary weight and clutter from your vehicle
- Remove items from cargo racks to preserve aerodynamic efficiency
Finally, the ultimate way to save on gas is to leave your car in the garage. If you have safe and reliable public transportation, use it. If not, consider carpooling. Maybe you can ride a bike or walk on some short trips. Getting some exercise could be an upside to the gas crisis.
Gas prices may be topping out. The stations in my area have shown small price decreases over the past few days. We can hope that the worst is past, but regardless, gas prices will rise again on another crisis in the future. We simply cannot plan on $2 gas being a permanent fixture. Keep that in mind when you shop for your next car.
We can further increase production and we can reduce our dependency on oil. Both are good ideas that should be pursued, but those solutions are years down the road. Neither is going to make a difference when you fill up your tank this week.
But you can start increasing your own fuel efficiency and saving money by taking matters into your own hands. Change your driving habits starting the next time you get into your car.
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