A Refresher on Saving Money with Rising Gas Prices

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Image courtesy of brownpau via Flickr

As of the day I’m writing this–February 23rd–the price of oil just hit a new 28-month high of more than $100/barrel. Of course, no one is really surprised by this given the turmoil in the Middle East. But will the price keep going up? Or will things settle down in the coming weeks and months? It’s anyone’s guess what will happen next. I am by no means an expert when it comes to geopolitics, but I don’t think you have to be to recognize that we have a rocky road ahead, to say the least.

How bad will it get?

If the cost of oil continues to hover at its current level, prices at the pump will climb for sure. Image courtesy of brownpau via Flickr

As of the day I’m writing this–February 23rd–the price of oil just hit a new 28-month high of more than $100/barrel. Of course, no one is really surprised by this given the turmoil in the Middle East. But will the price keep going up? Or will things settle down in the coming weeks and months? It’s anyone’s guess what will happen next. I am by no means an expert when it comes to geopolitics, but I don’t think you have to be to recognize that we have a rocky road ahead, to say the least.

How bad will it get?

If the cost of oil continues to hover at its current level, prices at the pump will climb for sure. According to the San Jose Mercury News, California gas prices could top $4 per gallon in the coming weeks. And that’s assuming Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get drawn into the mess, because if they do “$4 a gallon will seem a bargain” according to the article.

Before you panic, let’s not forget that during the summer of 2008 we were being told that oil would hit $200, even $300 a barrel in the coming months. Obviously they were way off! So don’t stress yourself out and assume the worst-case scenario is going to happen, until [if] it actually happens.

Using some simple strategies for saving money on gas is always a good idea though, no matter what the price per gallon may be. But given the current circumstances, I thought now would be a good time to do a little refresher on all the different ways we can improve our MPG.

For starters, there are some great posts already on this blog that cover this topic pretty thoroughly such as Woody’s posts on adjusting driving habits and increasing fuel efficiency. Woody does an excellent job by actually testing out some of the gas saving tips I mention below. For example, he took his 2005 Chevy Colorado and deflated the tires, cranked up the A/C, windows down, as well as just about everything else you shouldn’t do.

You really have to read both of his posts–not only are they quite informative, but you will also get a good laugh from them.

Jessica of Billeater also posted a must-read discussing a number of important tips that I don’t even discuss below, such as the importance of using cruise control and also thinking about “the big picture” to reduce driving costs; car payment, insurance, maintenance costs, etc.

Now what follows are ten different strategies which I am not claiming are the best, but rather they are pet peeves of mine because many of my friends/family don’t follow them. So I thought it would be good idea to take some time to talk about these tips which I often see forgotten, at least in my social circle:

#1: Fill-up at the right time of day

The hotter the temperature, the less dense gasoline will be. Therefore during warm weather, it is best to buy gas at night after the thermometer has dropped. But that’s not the only reason you should buy at night: Many stations will jack up prices during the day, especially rush hour, and then lower them afterward.

#2: Coast to a stop as much as you can

Where I live in Los Angeles, it always amuses me watching people gun the gas when the light turns green, even though they can clearly see they won’t make the next light! All that happens is they end up braking hard a few seconds later. Not only is this putting a lot of wear and tear on the brakes, but it’s also wasting a lot of gas during the acceleration beforehand. Doing this doesn’t save time or money.

So if you can clearly see that you won’t make it past the upcoming light, you might as well take your foot off the gas and coast until you reach the stop. Other cars in the adjacent lane may zoom past you, but let them, because they’re not reaching their destination faster… they will just be waiting at the light longer than you.

#3: Use the A/C sparingly (or not at all)

With the ridiculously cold temperatures we’ve had in So. Cal lately, I doubt there’s anyone driving with the air conditioning on! And of course the same can be said for the rest of the country. But when summer rolls around, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to crank on the A/C. According to Gas Buddy using it can increase fuel usage by up to 20%.

#4. Keep the windows up

Avoid the air conditioning and keep the windows up?! Well, if you really want to save money on gas… then yes! Having the windows down can decrease fuel efficiency by as much as 10% due to the increased drag it causes.

With that said, I admit it’s rare for me to use both tactics at once in the summer. The faster you’re driving, the more it will hurt your gas mileage to have the windows down. So what I do is keep them down during city driving, but put them up during freeway driving.

#5. Gas credit card savings

As someone that runs a forum about credit cards, this strategy is something I probably know a little too much about, ha! Gas credit cards fall into two categories. There are those that are affiliated with a specific brand of gas. Their downside is that you only get the higher gas rebate at their stations, but the upside is that this rebate is usually pretty good. For example, the BP gas credit card gives an unlimited 5% but only at BP gas stations.

On the other hand, there are number of gas credit cards that give a higher rebate at every station but it will most likely be lower than the station branded cards. For example, I use my Chase Ink card to buy gas, but the rebate is only 3%. Even though I use it, I actually don’t recommend the Chase Ink card for fuel. The best gas credit card that I know of is through Pentagon Federal Credit Union because it gives 5% at every station, though in order to get it you will first need to join the credit union.

#6. Don’t use your car as a storage unit

The more extra weight there is in your vehicle, the lower your gas mileage will be. For this reason, it’s always a bad idea to drive around with extra things that you don’t need in there.

I’m not talking about light items such as phone chargers, iPod holders, etc. but rather the heavy things like groceries, toolbox, a bookcase or whatever else you may have tucked away in back. Unless these heavy items are being moved from point A to point B, try not to drive around with them unnecessarily.

#7. Avoid idling the car for more than a minute

The amount of gas required to start your engine is about the same amount burned while idling for 60 seconds. So if you are waiting for someone and it’s going to take longer than that, it would be best to shut off the engine.

#8. Keep your tires inflated properly

According to FuelEconomy.gov every 1 psi below normal equals a 0.3% drop in gas mileage. They say you can save up to 3.3% simply by keeping your tires properly inflated at all times. Sure, that’s not a lot of money, but over the course of a year with under-inflated tires the loss would certainly add up.

As a side note, most gas stations have air pumps that charge 50 to 75 cents to use. But if you buy gas from them, the attendant inside can press a button to turn it on for you for free. The policy will vary by station but I know in California, the state law requires that every gas station must provide free air to customers who buy gas.

#9. Don’t skimp on maintenance

According to FTC.gov, keeping your car tuned as according to the owner’s manual can increase gas mileage by 4% on average. Changing your oil when it’s due is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to help, because dirty oil leads to increased friction in the engine.

#10. Pre-heating the car will cost you

In areas that get snow and freezing temperatures, many people will turn on their engine and pre-heat their car before leaving the house. While it is true that pre-heating the engine in frigid temperatures is better for your car, it only needs to be done for one minute. So try and avoid the temptation of pre-heating your car for 5-10 minutes just to make it toasty and warm, because doing that wastes a lot of gas (my mom in the Midwest is guilty as charged when it comes to this one).

This post was written by Mike from CreditCardForum.com. He writes reviews about all types of cards but lately has been focused on compiling a list of the best gas credit cards.

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