Gas is officially over $4 at some L.A. gas stations. I’ve also noticed some stations holding the line at $3.99 for regular, while prices continue to shoot up for the two higher grades. My station hasn’t yet reached that point, but I can feel it coming. Since I can’t afford to buy a Prius just yet, here are my twelve tips to help you save money on gas.
Buy a Hybrid
If you’re in the market for a new car, consider a hybrid. Hybrids usually cost a few thousand more, but with gas prices continuing to rise, the increased cost may be balanced out by fuel savings in just a few years. According to Edmunds.com, the 2008 Prius costs .54 a mile over five years. That’s actually one or two cents higher than you’d get with a Corolla or a Mazda M3 (non-hybrids), but I’m betting that the Prius’ operating cost vs. the other two is lower once you get past that point, or if gas prices continue to rise at their current pace.
Buy a Stick Shift
If you can’t get a hybrid, consider a stick shift. Manual transmissions have historically used less fuel than automatics. In case you’re thinking that you could get both a hybrid and a stick shift, think again. Hybrid cars are almost exclusively sold with automatic transmissions because the technology eliminates any efficiency gains from a manual transmission.
Gasbuddy.com is a cool little site that tells you the prices at several local stations. I used it to find the cheapest prices on my route to and from work. If you have to drive more than a mile or two out of your way, then the tool won’t save you much money.
Properly Inflate the Tires
It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s something few people do. Inflate them to the pressure indicated by your auto manual not the pressure printed on the tire. When your tires are properly inflated, it reduces drag. Don’t overinflate them though; that reduces safety and control. Check your tires once a week before you leave in the morning and stop at the nearest station to fill the tires. If you have access to a home pump, use that.
Use the Lowest Octane Gas
Most newer cars are engineered to operate best on the lowest octane gas. Check the manual for more information. Performance cars and ultra-luxury cars may need higher grades, but if you’re driving one of those, then saving money probably isn’t a big concern for you.
Don’t Warm Up the Engine
Most newer cars don’t need to be warmed up for more than thirty seconds. Try not to be a speedster for the first few minutes, but you don’t have let it sit for five minutes. The exception is very cold weather, in which case you might need a few extra minutes to warm up.
Turn Off the Engine When Idling
By idling, I mean sitting in the driveway or parking lot waiting for someone. If you’re going to idle the car for more than thirty seconds to a minute, then keeping the car running wastes more gas than turning it off and restarting it. If you want to leave it on because it’s hot outside, get out of the car and go inside to wait.
Avoid Hard Acceleration/Hard Braking
In short, don’t drive like a NYC cab driver. Have you been in one of those? You’re practically pinned to the seat while they accelerate, and then thrown forward while they brake. All that wastes a lot of fuel. Instead, accelerate slowly and try to coast to a stop. Apply the brake lightly if you must. I’ve found that I can’t coast to a stop because my car holds the speed for too long, but I can accelerate slowly from a green light and catch up to the cars ahead just as the next light turns green.
If you’re commuting, you have to do this anyway, but driving slower than 65 MPH will save fuel. Less than 40 MPH is ideal, but obviously you can’t do that if the rest of the traffic is going 70.
Use the AC Wisely
If you’re driving in city traffic, either open the windows or use the fan only. Use the AC as sparingly as possible. If driving at highway speeds, open windows actually produce more drag, so use the AC instead.
Avoid driving whenever possible. Many urban dwellers are switching from cars to busses or subways. That’s not really feasible for many people in Los Angeles, but people in other cities can do it. I also try to drive less on the weekend. At this point, I drive less than 8,000 miles a year.
Plan Trips Ahead
For example, I group most of my errands into one outing and plan my route for the simplest loop. My grocery loop is actually very inefficient, but necessary to save the most on groceries. Even then, I don’t drive more than four miles, total, and incorporate three stops. If I just need to pick up one thing, I walk.
It’s easy to save money on gas if you make simple modifications to your driving habits and consider your next car purchase carefully. You can also set aside more money for gas by reducing other car expenses. As much as I wish it weren’t true, I doubt gas prices are every going back down to what they were five years ago. That makes me and my budget sad, but hopefully it will spur us all to make the planet happier.