Summer is just a few weeks away, and you know what that means–higher temperatures, school is out, backyard barbecues, lazy afternoons at the pool–and higher gasoline prices!
It’s no secret that summer brings more weekend trips and vacations to distant locations and making it the traditional peak season for driving. Gas prices rise as summer approaches, topping out (usually) on or about Fourth of July weekend. According to projections, this summer figures to be a textbook case with prices rising well above $4.00 a gallon.
There are no miraculous ways to save big money on gasoline, short of buying a brand new, fuel efficient compact. But by taking a series of steps–each saving you a little bit of money–it can really begin to add up and put a serious dent in how much you spend to keep your car running this summer.
1. Do what you can to avoid traffic jams
Sitting in traffic burns gas to no advantage. It’s easier said than done, but the more you can avoid idling in traffic the less you’ll spend on gas.
Summertime traffic often eases due to a combination of vacation time (fewer people driving to work on any given day) and school being out. That can open some commuting options. Try mapping alternate routes around known traffic tie-ups or, if you can, see if you can set up a flex-time arrangement that will allow you leave for work well before or after peak commuting times.
2. Toss some extra cargo
Most of us carry extra baggage in our cars–usually in the trunk–and the extra weight can cost us in gas mileage. An over-loaded tool box by itself can weigh as much as an adult and have a significant effect on fuel efficiency.
Keep only what you absolutely need to carry in the car and move the rest into the garage.
3. You don’t need to warm up your car in the summer
This is just a habit we carry over from winter, but it’s usually totally unnecessary during the warm weather months. A car idling in the driveway is wasting just as much fuel as one stuck in a traffic jam.
4. Ease up on the gas peddle
Multiple studies have confirmed that cars burn more fuel at higher speeds, so it’s worth trying to slow down by 5-10 miles per hour. This is particularly true with highway driving, where speeds are often in excess of the optimum fuel efficiency achieved at 55 miles per hour.
In addition to slowing down overall, fuel economy is also improved when you drive at consistent speeds as repeated acceleration and deceleration also consume more fuel.
5. Consolidate your trips
The most basic way to save on gas is to drive less, and one of the easiest ways to do this is by consolidating several destinations into a single trip. While you’re running to the grocery store, plan to go to the post office, the bank or the dry cleaner, especially if they’re all located in roughly the same area. Stopping on the way to or from work can be even more efficient.
6. Learn the joys of walking and biking
Another way to cut down on driving is by eliminating short trips. Though it may take longer to walk or bike to the bank or a coffee shop, in addition to saving money on gas, you’ll also gain the health benefits that come with more exercise.
Develop a tiered strategy where you’ll walk or bike to any place you need to go that’s within, say, one mile of your home, or what ever distance works for you.
7. Turn off your air conditioning–sometimes
Air conditioning can develop into one of those reflexive habits we take on in warm weather–it’s summertime, therefore the car air conditioner is on. We might not even think about it, but using it constantly reduces fuel efficiency.
Take advantage of night time driving and those not so hot days when an open window can do just as good as having the air conditioner on. And if you’re like me at all, driving with the windows open just feels better!
8. Carpool at least one day a week
Admittedly this is one of the hardest driving changes to make, but it’s also one of the richest sources of savings. If you could carpool at least one day a week you would reduce your consumption of gasoline for commuting purposes by 20%. That’s a big chunk with just a single adjustment.
9. Gas up at a warehouse club
Food warehouse clubs usually offer gas to their members at below the going rate. As a member of Sam’s Club, I generally find that it costs 7 to 10 cents per gallon less than even the cheapest gas stations in town. If you buy 50 gallons of gas per month, that can add up to as much as $5 saved each month. You’re there to buy your groceries anyway, so while you are stop and fill up the gas tank.
10. Take advantage of gas credit cards benefits
This is the most complicated adjustment if only because there’s such a great variation in offers between the many gas retailers and credit card companies. Some will discount your gas purchases by a certain percentage, others by a fixed amount, like five cents a gallon. Most have minimum and maximum monthly purchase amounts to limit how much they’ll rebate you for gas. Shell has an arrangement with Kroger so you can get benefit from your grocery purchases toward your gas.
Credit cards with rebate programs on all purchases may be the simpler route. You don’t have to buy a certain amount of gas each month, nor do you have to limit your purchases to a single gas retailer.
Summer is coming, and with it so are higher gas prices; what are you doing to save some money?