20 Painless Ways to Save Money on Gas

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March 9th, 2011 in Living, Money, Productivity, Resource, Travel

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Cars are terrible. Sure, they can be sleek and beautiful, and there's a certain inspiration to the designs. And there's no denying America is car-culture central, with the mid-century land boats still occupying a place of fond remembrance for most consumers. But ultimately, cars are crazy expensive. They constantly depreciate, they brake down at inopportune times, and they become the focal point of your life. You take your car with you everywhere you go. Cars can be even more of a burden when the economy's flagging and gas prices start to go up; that's when driving becomes not just an activity, but a chore.

Maintenance

  1. Know Your Motor Oil: Motor oil comes in a variety of grades that have to do with the substance's viscosity at the engine's operating temperature. Numbers with a "W" attached refer to the oil's viscosity in winter for starting temperatures. That's good to know, but you don't actually have to remember all that to treat your engine well. What matters is that you use the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil in your car. Doing so will increase your car's performance and put less of a demand on the engine, which translates to more fuel efficiency. The savings is a few cents a gallon, but that's plenty, especially since the right oil will prolong the life of your vehicle.
  2. Clean Your Filters: Air filters are designed to trap dirt and debris from flowing into the engine, but a dirty one will prevent air from passing through and cause poor engine performance. The strain on your system will lead to lower fuel efficiency and mileage, will translates into more frequent and costly trips to the gas station. Change your filters often — or consider a longer-lasting permanent filter you can clean and re-install — to save money on fuel.
  3. Lower the Octane: Higher octane ratings deal with the fuel's combustibility and tendency for "knocking," which is when the fuel explodes earlier in the combustion process than it should. However, higher octane ratings don't improve your car's mileage or fuel economy, and many modern engines are designed to run fine on 87 octane instead of the pricier versions. Go with the lower octane stuff and save yourself a dime a gallon or more when you refuel.
  4. Secure the Gas Cap: The gas cap is way more important than a lot of people realize. It isn't just a safety feature; it's a stopper that will prevent gas from evaporating and emitting fumes that harm the environment and run out your tank. A busted or missing gas cap means your money is literally disappearing into thin air. Secure the fuel tank's cap to ensure you don't lose fuel and money.
  5. Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated: Your tires' air pressure is also important to maintaining good fuel efficiency and saving you cash. Tires that are under-inflated provide more resistance that the engine has to compensate for, and a harder-working engine is one that uses more fuel and, hence, money. It's worth a few bucks to invest in a tire pressure gauge than to ignore the issue and spend too much at the pump. (Or worse, suffer a blowout.)
  6. Get Regular Tune-Ups: Your car is a precision machine that needs to have its parts and systems maintained to work well. Don't just wait for major breakdowns or Check Engine warnings to have your vehicle examined. Regular tune-ups and preventive maintenance will make sure that your engine and related systems keep running smoothly, which will result in better mileage and financial savings.
  7. Gas Up Earlier Than Needed: Most drivers don't think about getting gas until the Low Fuel symbol on their dashboard lights up, at which point they tool on over to the nearest station and fill up. This is understandable, but it's also a bad habit. Instead, start looking for affordable gas stations when you get down to half a tank. You'll have more time to shop and find the right deal.
  8. Choose the Right Tires: Another way to get a small but definite edge when it comes to fuel economy and lower gas costs is to buy fuel-efficient tires. These tires have a lower rolling resistance than usual, which means they're better at handling the resistance that comes with moving a round surface (the tire) over a flat one (the road).
  9. Shop for the Right Car: A great way to save money on gas is to nip the fuel efficiency problem in the bud and buy a hybrid vehicle. Some of today's hybrids have yet to see their prices drop down to the level of standard cars that are 100% fuel-dependent, but it's worth it to save money at the pump in the long run. Do your homework and figure out what kind of vehicle you need: examine your daily commute, travel needs, etc. A hybrid could be the money-saver you were looking for.

Driving

  1. Try to Carpool: Talk with your coworkers to find out if any of them live near you, or take a route to work that passes by your house. If so, it's a good idea to see if you can get an office carpool going a few days a week. Whether you rotate cars or all chip in for gas, it's a great way to save money on fuel (and the reduced emissions are a boon for the environment, too).
  2. Don't Be a Leadfoot: Slamming the accelerator uses a burst of gas that you don't need to waste. Don't drive like a 16-year-old who's out to show the world who's boss. Accelerate gradually, applying gentle and increasing pressure to the pedal until you're up to speed. You will see your mileage improve right away, and you'll extend the life of the fuel in your tank.
  3. Use the Cruise Control: Even at moderate speeds (at or above 50 mph), your car's cruise control can improve your fuel efficiency and save you money by smoothing out the ride. You expend gas with constant acceleration and braking, so extended trips that depend on cruise can level out those surges and save you some money. Obviously, it's not feasible to do in short jaunts around town, but for longer trips on the highway, it's a great tool.
  4. Check for Deals: More often than not, the best way to save money on gas is to just look around for good prices. Sites like GasBuddy (which has a matching iPhone app) are great resources, especially for travelers. If you're in a new city or different part of town, plus in your address to find the best fuel costs in your area. It's amazing how a little homework will save you serious money.
  5. Become a Multi-tasker: We go to the store, we come home. We go to dinner, we come home. We go back out to the store (different one), we come home. We go shopping, we come home. All those trips add up to a huge waste of fuel as we repeat routes, sit in start-and-stop traffic, and refuse to plan ahead. You can save good money on gas simply by making your trips into or around town worth the effort. Go to the grocery store once a week. Make multiple shopping runs in one trip. If you have several destinations, visit them consecutively before returning home. You'll drive less, which means you save more.
  6. Plan Your Route: By the same token, you can save money on fuel in the long run by planning your route ahead of time. Everyone's got a path they take for their daily commute, but is it really the shortest, easiest way to go? Make sure you're making the right decision. What's more, when it comes time to travel, be sure to choose the simplest path, which for longer trips usually means those with interstate highways that allow for consistent speeds and the use of cruise control.
  7. Go Easy on the Brakes: Seriously. This isn't a race. Braking less means you're putting less strain on your car, and it also means you're less likely to need to suddenly accelerate. Drive safe and slow, and you'll save money every time.
  8. Slow Down: It can't be said enough: drive slow, save money. Simple as that. Driving at a modest speed — you know, the speed limit — makes for a less demanding trip and one that requires less sudden starts and stops. Keep an eye down the road and know when stops are coming or when you can speed up a bit. You extend the life of your tank, which keeps money in your pocket.
  9. Don't Carry Too Much Weight: It sounds so simple and obvious that it can't be true, but it is: the lighter your vehicle, the less fuel you use, which is a life-saver when gas prices start to climb. It's not that passengers are forbidden; rather, don't haul stuff around that you don't need. Take the junk from your trunk and put it in the garage (or throw it away). Keep your vehicle clean and empty unless you're making a specific trip in which you transport something heavy. A lighter load puts less burden on the engine and requires less fuel to get up to speed.
  10. Warm Up Your Car By Driving, Not Idling: Your parents and grandparents were idlers. They'd start the car on a cold day and then go back inside to let it warm up. This made sense because those lumbering guzzlers actually needed a few beats to get going, but today's cars are a whole lot better. Manufacturers recommend that you don't let your car idle to warm it up; in fact, the car will warm up quicker by being driven than by sitting still. It's a tremendous waste of fuel and energy to idle your car. It may feel cold, but just get in and go. It works.
  11. Give Public Transportation a Whirl: If all else fails — or if you just want to reduce your own carbon footprint — you might want to give public transportation a chance. Some cities are obviously easier for pedestrians to navigate with taxis and trains, but no matter where you live, there's a bus stop nearby. The cost of fuel (not to mention car payments and insurance) easily outweighs the few bucks it costs to get a bus pass. Sometimes, the only winning move is not to play the game.

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