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Thursday, June 18, 2009

7 Ways to Save on Gas

by AnnaMaria Andriotis
Friday, June 19, 2009

That budget road trip you planned for the family this summer is starting to look a lot more expensive now that gas prices are on the rise.

Some of the spike is seasonal. Increased demand -- from all of those other families hitting the road -- tends to lift gas prices each summer, says Paul Hess, information analyst at the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Oil prices have also been creeping higher in recent weeks as optimism grows on Wall Street that demand for crude will rise worldwide once the global economy stabilizes, says Tom Kloza, chief information analyst at Oil Price Information Service, which monitors oil prices in North America. And further boosting prices at the pump is an Environmental Protection Agency requirement to add a fuel blend to gasoline in certain regions during the summer months that reduces ozone damage. This additive alone can add another five to 10 cents to the price per gallon, says Kloza.

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As a result, regular unleaded gas costs $2.67 a gallon, up 16% from $2.30 a month ago, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. According to the EIA, gas prices won’t begin declining significantly until fall.

In the meantime, drivers can lessen the pain at the pump by taking some inexpensive and easy steps.

Here are seven ways to save on gas this summer.

Shop Around

Sure, it’s convenient to visit the gas station closest to home, but it may not be the best place to fill up.

To find the cheapest gas prices, compare prices at stations near your home or along your commute. Price-comparison web sites like and let you plug in your daily destinations to find the most affordable gas stations on those roads. The price difference per gallon can be up to 50 cents, says Samir Kothari, co-founder of

Pay Cash

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Last summer, gas stations rolled out higher prices for consumers who paid with credit or debit cards (the idea was to pass along the merchant fees associated with such transactions). Many gas stations are still at it, which means those who pay in cash can often save. ARCO (a subsidiary of BP) stations, located in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, for example, only accept cash and charge between five and 10 cents per gallon less than competing stations. (ARCO recently introduced a debit MasterCard which consumers can use to purchase gas at no extra charge. Other debit cards are accepted at these stations, but there’s a 45-cent fee.)

Cash discounts are popular in California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and New York, according to (Discounts for cash-paying customers are legal in every state, as long as the gas station makes it clear that prices are different when you pay in cash vs. credit or debit, says Jason Toews, cofounder of

Fill Up at the Warehouse Club

In addition to frozen food, toiletries and appliances, Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club sell discounted gas at some of their locations.

“It depends on local market conditions but usually they sell it cheaply enough so that they’re beating out the competition,” says Toews. For example, at a BJ’s location in York, Pa., regular unleaded gas is selling for $2.59 a gallon. Local competitors there sell gas for $2.61 to $2.65 a gallon, according to

Keep Your Car in Good Shape

Routine maintenance on your car’s tires and engine can increase its fuel efficiency (and even exptend its life). Plus, most of the things you need to do to maintain your car's health don’t even require pricey visits to the mechanic.

Just keeping your tires properly inflated can help save you cash. Underinflated tires require more energy to roll and decrease a car’s fuel efficiency, says Kothari. Driving with properly-inflated tires can improve fuel economy by 3% over a year, saving 20 gallons of gasoline and up to $45 annually, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Check your car owner's manual to find out what the proper air pressure.

Also, be sure to regularly change your air filter. Clogged air filters can damage your engine and decrease fuel efficiency. A new air filter will improve gas mileage by 10%, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Even better: Air filters are fairly cheap, ranging in price from $20 to $60.

Also, stick to the motor oil that’s recommended by your car's manufacturer, and buy one that states “energy-conserving” on the label, says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. This can increase fuel efficiency by up to 2%, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

Avoid Road Rage

Aggressive driving isn’t just dangerous. It also wastes a lot of fuel.

Consumers pay an extra 24 cents per gallon for every five miles per hour (mph) over 60 mph they drive, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Rapid acceleration, hard braking and speeding can lower a car’s gas mileage by 33% on the highway and 5% in the city, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Clean Out the Clutter

Golf clubs, bowling balls or that bag of salt from last winter -- any unnecessary equipment or baggage in a car can decrease its fuel efficiency. According to the DOE, gas mileage decreases by up to 2% for every 100 pounds.

Another helpful tip: On your next road trip, try to pack everything inside the car rather than piling it on the roof. Stashing stuff on top of the car increases drag and decreases fuel economy by 5% or more, according to the DOE.

Limit A/C Use

Whenever possible try to keep the air conditioner at the lowest level. Having it maxed out can reduce your fuel efficiency by up to 25% compared to having the A/C turned off, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

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