Gas Prices Going Up: How to Lower Your Fuel Consumption

A recent interview with the former president of Shell Oil is enough to make a grown man cry. The hair-raising predictions of $5-per-gallon gasoline, fuel shortages and rationing in the near future have been echoed by other oil industry experts. With this depressing prospect of high gas prices in mind, it’s high time to consider implementing fuel economy measures on a personal level to reduce fuel consumption.

While most people agree that reducing dependence on foreign oil, limiting pollution, and minimizing environmental damage are worthy but somewhat abstract goals, the specter of $5-gallon gas represents a direct, personal attack on the wallet.

Obviously, one of the best ways to lower your gasoline consumption is to purchase the most fuel-efficient car on the market. But since not everyone can dash right out to the dealership and pick up the newest hybrid, it’s good to have a Plan B. For most of us, Plan B is to maximize the efficiency of the car we already own.

Tune Up and Save

Aging spark plugs, a dirty air filter, and over- or under-inflated tires can all dramatically affect your gas mileage—by as much as 25%. Stay on top of these simple maintenance issues to get the best fuel economy out of your car.

Run Gas Charges Through a Gas Rebate Card

I’m considering a switch to the Discover Open Road card. The card offers a $10 cash rebate on your first five fill-ups, a 0% intro purchase and balance transfer APR for the first 12 months, and has no annual fee.

Drive Smarter

Everyone has seen drivers who floor it when the light turns green, race to the next light, and then slam on the brakes. More than just annoying, these drivers are also wasteful. Driving at a steady pace (try cruise control on the highway) will optimize gas mileage.

Many people wonder which takes more gas: letting the car idle for a few minutes, or turning off and restarting the car. According to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, it’s better to kill the motor if you will be idling more than 30 seconds. So when you are in the drive-through or lined up to pick the kids up from school, it’s more energy-efficient to turn off the car.

Another simple way to chip away at your bill when gas prices increase is to unload the trunk. Many of us haul heavy things around such as tools, old car parts, or heavy work files that may not be strictly necessary. Unload all non-essential items from your trunk to get better gas mileage.

If you have more than one vehicle, compare fuel economy using the calculator found on The U.S. Department of Energy’s website www.fueleconomy.gov. A 10 mpg difference can add up to hundred of dollars over the course of the year. If you have a truly inefficient car, crunch the numbers and consider a trade-in for a more fuel-efficient model.

Drive Less

The easiest way to save money on gas is simply to drive less. Almost everyone can find a way to pare miles off the weekly mileage total. Ask your boss if you can telecommute one day a week, or work four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

If you can’t reduce your number of days on the road, try to reduce your commute time, by altering your starting and quitting time to beat the traffic. Fuel (and life force) wasted in rush-hour traffic really add up.

Many of us have become accustomed to hopping into the car to buy a coffee, drop off a video, or pick up one or two things from the grocery store. A better idea is to think like the old country farmer, who went to town once a week and did everything he needed at once. Reduce or eliminate frivolous trips and consolidate essential errands as much as possible.

One way to observe the effects of these changes real time is to install a gas mileage meter. Some newer cars and trucks offer real-time mileage calculations as part of an electronic vehicle messaging center, but those of us with older models may be interested in an after-market MPG meter.

Gas Station Tips

Don’t drive across town to buy gas for a few cents less per gallon. The gas you burn getting there will usually exceed the savings.

Would you believe dollar-cost averaging applies to buying gas? It seems that gas prices over an extended period will tend to be lowest on Wednesdays–so gas up on hump-day whenever you can.

Don’t let your gas go into thin air. An incompletely closed gas cap can allow your gas—and your money—to literally evaporate. Always close the cap properly.

These and many other gas-saving tips are available on the personal finance website GetRichSlowly.com and on ConsumerReports.org (video). Implementing fuel-efficiency practices is a smart move given current gas prices, and an even smarter move if prices start to soar towards $5 per gallon.

Comments

  1. I’m personally thankful of the invention of crossover vehicles. (the SUV’s based on car platforms). We live in a very snowy but ecologically conscious area. (The Berkshires) People don’t want or need big stupid cars but they do need AWD.

    You see a lot of Subaru Outbacks and Honda Elements all over town here. It’s a good compromise between practicality and gas mileage.

    Driving less is actually possible. I’m amazed at how I reduced my mileage when I became conscious of it.

  2. I certainly don’t savor the idea of $5 per gallon gasoline, but at the same time, perhaps this nasty jolt will prompt more people to be more sensible about the vehicles they choose and how they drive them.

    The main problem we’re up against here in “God Bless the Red, White, & Blue” America – is the perception that bigger is better. There’s no reason for any average commuter to own a vehicle that’s powered by a 6 or 8-cylinder engine. Now, sure, there are people who use their vehicles for tasks that require more oompfh. But here in wild West Texas, you see an awful lot of rednecks driving $40k quad-cab Ford Lariats, Chevy Tahoes, and other monstrously oversized vehicles for doing nothing more than commuting to work – alone. The prevailing attitude here in Texas – and I suspect most other areas of this country – is something like, “By God, if you ain’t got yerself a big ol’ truck, well heck, ya just ain’t much of a man, now are ya?”

    My wife and I drive cars that have 4-cyl. engines that get almost 30 MPG and manage to shuttle our family to/from anywhere we need to go and I never feel deprived because I don’t have the horsepower to gun it up to 70 m.p.h. between stop signs. And what’s more, the 2 of our cars (collectively) cost less than the average large SUV or truck.

    Many people believe that a smaller car can be neither roomy nor comfortable but small cars actually are often quite roomy – a Volkswagen New Beetle offers more front seat passenger space than a Hummer H2. Seriously!

    And then there’s the misguided notion that small cars aren’t as safe as a big, hulking vehicle. But really, smaller cars almost always feature far superior safety engineering and SUVs are not nearly as safe as you might think.

  3. This is a great post because it is practical. Not everyone can run and buy a Prius, but people can be conscious of how they drive. I tend to let the motor run when picking up my kids because it is so cold outside and I like to keep the car warm. However, maybe I will be rethinking that idea. Five dollars a gallon is a pretty scary thought for sure.

  4. Well, that’s a scary thought! I was having a difficult time when it was over $4 a gallon at the height of the gas crisis.

    This is certainly going to encourage people to spend more time at home.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

    Blessings
    Mrs. White

  5. A lot of reports indicate that we are actually post-peak oil. Lead oil producing countries all over the world are beginning to produce slightly less each year. This report doesn’t surprise me a bit. Thank you for sharing , it only strengthens my convictions to become self-sufficient in terms of energy and food.

  6. These hydrogen kits are slowly becoming popular; you can get them at a reasonable price from your local store. While you are working on your car, don’t forget to keep a personal journal with you. Use the journal to write down your experiences, what you enjoyed doing and what you did not.

  7. Also, don’t top off your tank. If you’re filling up and the pump automatically clicks off, don’t pump again. Not doing this saved me a noticeable 1-2 MPGs.

  8. I moved from San Diego to Chicago and I have a question. How long should I warm my car before leaving for the day? This is obviously a waste of gas, but doesn’t my car need it?

    • No longer than 30 seconds. Modern cars don’t need to be ‘warmed up.’ As long as you’ve given the oil a chance to get from the pan up to the engine, you’re good to go.

  9. My commute is 56 miles round trip, and usually ends up being an hour each way, instead of 30 minutes, due to start time. My evaluation is coming up and I’m going to request a telecommuting option. My Plan B is taking the MetroRail

  10. I know some people will be hurt to $5 gas but I believe its the tough medicine this country needs to reduce its appetize for oil. I work near a refinery and occasionally will leave work when the refinery lets out. The MAJORITY of the vehicles the workers drive are FULL SIZE pickup trucks – and NO they dont get a discount on gas, Worse yet, in most cases they’re the only ones in the vehicle! Now I don’t think we should all be driving SmartCars or Priuses but come on!

    • Maybe we don’t all need to be driving Priuses or Smart Cars, but there ARE lots of great, smaller cars that offer fantastic fuel efficiency. (Actually, as cool as I think they are, Smart Cars really aren’t a good bang-for-buck investment.)

      We’ve got to find ways to reshape people’s notions about cars. After more than 50 years of profiting handsomely from skillfully shaping our desires & purchasing habits by building false perceptions and stroking our redneck egos about how horsepower equals manhood, the automotive industry & their marketing hucksters have a social responsibility to apply that same moneygrubbing fervor towards making Americans feel ok about smaller, more efficient cars.

      Consumers need to be convinced to use vehicles that are more appropriate to the task. If it takes $5 gas to force the issue, so be it.

  11. Another great topic near and dear to almost all American’s hearts – thanks for posting it.

    I think the BEST idea is the fuel usage monitor. Numerous studies have shown that people significantly improve their mileage/efficiency by seeing that numeric indicator in their face.

    And combining trips – another must. Not only do you save gas by planning ahead, you save time!

    I recently was due for a new car and was amazed to see the mileage and performance diesels offer. My Jetta SportWagen TDI gets me 45 mpg consistently on my 22 mile commute (17 is highway/5 city). Diesel engines are workhorses and provide great low-end accelleration. And they last longer than a standard 4 cylinder Prius engine, not to mention no issues with replacing expensive batteries after 5-7 years. TCO over 10 years is less than a comparable Prius, even if diesel costs .40 more.

  12. I have a t-shirt with a picture of a bike on it, and underneath it says “53 miles per burrito.” I realize that bikes aren’t feasible for everyone but for my family, living in an urban area that’s bike friendly (Seattle) they are a great option. It’s cheaper to bike than to drive the most fuel efficient car in existence.

    So when $5/gallon gas comes, we’ll be ready.

  13. Just when we thought gas prices were going to be stable for a while. :-( I’m lucky that I can walk to work if I have to, or ride the bus, but it still makes the prices of everything else go up too in the long run, since everything needs transportation somehow.

  14. Have any of you reviewed the new Chevy Volt? Although the post-rebate price is still hefty, it seems like it could be a pretty good hedge against these rising gas prices. The car supposedly can go 40 miles round-trip on a single charge, which comes out to about $1.20 a day. That’s way cheaper than paying for gas, no matter what the price, but I don’t know about being a first adopter of a product like a first-gen electric car. I must say it’s got some pretty cool bells and whistles tho…

  15. In Germany, we pay 1,50 € per liter, that´s 7,60 $ per gallon. If higher prices mean less big gas-guzzlers, this would be a good thing. I´m always shocked by the big cars I see in the US.

  16. We live 7 miles from *town* meaning groceries, walmart, hardware, etc. I drive a truck, but not a huge one and it is paid for so it isn’t going anywhere for a while. At 15 mpg, I have to figure it will take me a gallon to get to town and back, so I have to decide, is what I need to buy or want to do, worth that amount, whether it is $3 or $5. And the next town over is 15 miles, so it is double the cost!
    When gas was up a couple of years ago, people really started thinking about this, but once it went back down…
    Bernice
    Get your priorities straight

  17. Out of laziness I started paying at the pump for gas several years ago (swipe the CC) and noticed a definite decrease in the impulse spending I used to do by going inside to pay the cashier. No more lottery tickets, gum, chocolate bars, magazines etc. I’ll go in now only if I’ve actually thought it through and have decided to allow the splurge, but staying out of the store 99% of the time has saved me a bundle. It doesn’t change the price of the gas, but every little bit helps.

    I also started working from home nearly two years ago. Man does that save a ton! In addition to the gas savings which I was expecting, I don’t go out for lunch, or buy a coffees, or shop on my lunch hour or run errands on my way home. No more drycleaning bills and my work wardrobe has had NOTHING added to it in the entire two years. For the few times I need to be in the office for a meeting or event, my existing clothing is just fine and is certainly lasting since I rarely wear them (good thing I wear classic styles that haven’t become dated). Now I make a list and go out ONCE on the weekend and do the groceries and anything else that needs doing. One trip per week, no wasted miles and a lot less wear and tear on the car. At this rate it may last forever. Reducing grocery shopping to once a week took some getting used to – I’m now a keen meal planner, list maker and have finally mastered stocking and rotating food through the freezer. I rarely run out of something and if I do we just work around it. If I was prepared to eat more canned and frozen fruit and veggies I could easily go two weeks between grocery trips, but I also like to get out of the house for a change of scenery. I run the risk of becoming a hermit otherwise!

  18. What we are not thinking about is the cost of everything else when gas rises.
    How does your grocery store get stocked? Which port do your bananas come into? Where does your clothing come from?
    People say Europe is expensive. Europeans have not had subsidized gasoline in a very long time. Local foods and clothing are much more reasonable than global stuff- because the gas is tied into the price.
    I am hoping that $5 a gallon will BEGIN to shake people into reality that we permit our national budget to subsidize gas and wars all for the sake of driving big cars! As a mom of a soldier- I ask you all to consider the money YOU spend (in taxes) on securing the gas for your car. Why are we in the Middle East? You are driving it!

  19. I took a job in Australia about a year ago where they have completely switched to the metric system, so gas is sold by the liter here. It’s currently $1.40 per liter for the cheap stuff or about $5.30 US per gallon. It does hurt, but in order to relieve some of that, my wife and I picked up two older cars (mine is a 1999 and hers is a 2001) that we bought with cash. Not having a car payment has made a huge difference, especially when it costs us almost $60 to fill her little Kia micro sedan or $70 for my Ford.

    The higher gas prices do affect everything in the commercial arena here as well. Basic groceries and other staples are easily 50% higher than their US counterparts in Australia, making all aspects of life more costly Down Under.

    I’ve also just had to set up a side fund where $50 from every check is going into an envelope to cover our annual car registrations, which run about $700 per vehicle, since it includes your liability insurance in it. That was another shocker here.

    Ya, I have to admit, there are days where I really miss my 2006 Dodge Charger with the 5.7L Hemi engine. I readily admit it, but between the lack of a car payment, better mileage from my Aussie beater and the higher gas prices, I’m still averaging being almost $400 ahead each month. That’s adapting to the economy here as best I can – and moving more towards frugality all the time.

  20. Thanks for the great tips! The grocery store I shop at offers a fuel perks program which gives me $0.20 off per gallon for every $50 I spend. It really adds up quickly and ends up saving me a fortune in gas.

  21. You should pay 5 bucks a gallon, hell you should pay more than that. I just paid 113 USD for 15 gallons today. it would make sense to pressure the masses into convincing the government to force the auto makers into making more fuel efficient automobiles… perhaps they could even use some of the money earned and invest in busses and trains.

    Don’t even start with bio or ethanol… those are economic models, not alternatives for fuel.

  22. Hi I live in Australia and we are paying $7+ a gallon (or $1.40+ a litre) at the moment . We are also a big country that is reliant on cars to get around. We don’t like paying that much but we have to as we have no choice, the big oil companies set the price & we have to pay it! So for you in the US stop thinking that you have it hard, there are other countires on this planet who are paying much more than the US is for its fuel.

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