Tips for Saving Money on Gas

Prices may be high, but there are some easy ways to save money on gasoline.

By Gary Foreman


Gas prices have many people complaining and worrying about how to cope. While there are numerous reasons for rising prices, our immediate concern is how to ease the pinch.

You may choose to blame OPEC, the oil companies, SUV's, lack of alternative fuels, the growth in world oil demand, or environmental regulations that prevent new drilling or new refineries. But despite the causes, the reality is that we all have to face the pump on a daily or weekly basis.

Let's look at what the average driver can do to control what he spends on gasoline. In most cases with very easy, practical steps he can reduce the amount he spends by 10 percent or more.

Check Your Tire Pressure (Not Your Blood Pressure!)
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about 30 percent of all vehicles had at least one tire that was 8 psi or more under-inflated. In about 5 percent, all four tires were seriously under-inflated.

The same survey showed that only 4 percent of respondents checked tire pressure as part of their routine maintenance. That would seem to say that most cars had one or more tires that needed some air.

Under-inflated tires can cut fuel economy by 2 percent per pound. What this means is that if your tires should be at 32 psi and they're actually at 27 psi, you've reduced your mileage by 10 percent. You'll find the recommended level in your owner's manual, on a tag pasted to the door panel, or on the tires themselves.

Checking your tires takes only a few minutes and no particular skill. A tire gauge costs less than $5. Air is available at your gas station, and most still offer it free of charge. Get in the habit of checking tires once a month.

If gasoline is $2 per gallon, just by inflating your tires, you could reduce your "real" price to $1.80 per gallon.

Maintain the Engine (Not Your Credit Card!)
The old-fashioned tune-up is a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean that you can ignore engine maintenance. Check your owner's manual to see when maintenance needs to be performed. For instance, a blocked air filter can reduce your gas mileage by 10 percent.

Increased friction decreases gas mileage. Using the wrong grade of oil or not changing it frequently increases friction. Check your manual for recommended grades and recommended change intervals.

Choose the Right Gas (Skip the Headaches!)
If your owner's manual doesn't call for premium gas, don't buy it. It won't improve your performance or gas mileage. About 10 percent of us buy premium gas when it is not needed.

With gas prices as high as they are, you can save money if you stay with the lower priced gas, as long as it's suitable for your automobile.

Clean Out the Car (Not Your Wallet!)
Remove excess weight from the car. Your trunk or van is not a storage area on wheels, so unless you need the excess baggage in your vehicle, remove it. An extra 200 pounds will cost you one mile per gallon, which is about a 4 percent reduction in mileage.

Emergency equipment is the exception. Keep it in your trunk at all times and make sure it's in good working order.

Other Gas Guzzlers (Keep a Lid on Them!)
Your car's air conditioner reduces mileage by 10 to 20 percent. Open vents in a moving car create an effect similar to wind chill, and so make sure they are closed.

Increasing your highway speed also increases your gas consumption. So do fast getaways from traffic lights. Slow down!

Sitting in traffic wastes gas. You may find that adjusting your schedule helps you avoid traffic jams.

Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 gas-saving devices and found that, at best, they don't help any more than good maintenance does. Because of this, the EPA has not endorsed any product.

The Real Cost of Gasoline (We're Still Not Europe!)
Keep the current prices in perspective. If you take inflation into account, today's gas prices are about the same as they were in 1986. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "real" gas prices are much lower than they were at their peak in 1981. The $1.40 that we paid in 1980 would be $3.18 today, if adjusted for inflation.

And, we're not without options. We've just shown that even individuals can take steps to control what they spend on gas.

Gary Foreman is a former certified financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site .