Ten Gas-Saving Tips For Road Warriors (And Family Trips)

March 21, 2011
2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

If concerns about rising fuel prices are getting you down, you’re not alone. Driving in America is all about personal freedom, and we’re not likely to give that up anytime soon. But higher prices at the pump are causing many to re-think how, when, and where they drive. On the other hand, those of us who regularly travel long distances – the road warriors – and the rest of us who like to take family trips could use a few tips on how to save money on gas.

Here are 10 gas-saving suggestions that may very well save you considerable coin at the pump:

1.    Map out the route -- Anywhere you need to go there are probably several routes you could use. Map out the route that will allow you to travel at constant speed and bypass heavily congested areas. When selecting routes of travel, avoid using two-lane roads – unless you’re doing a scenic route for part of the trip. Mapping routes is easy. Use MapQuest or your car’s navigation system to choose alternate routes (quickest, shortest), or get a TripTik from AAA.

2.    Start early in the day, return later -- The key to avoiding congestion – particularly in major cities – is to start time the start and return of a trip. Begin a long-distance trip early in the day before traffic heading to work during daily commutes begins. While you’re on the road, plan to stop for meals during times when highways are typically most jammed with motorists. On your return, use similar planning to time traveling through heavily-congested areas after normal rush hours.

3.    Streamline the load --Whether you’re hauling suitcases or job-related materials, figure out how to lighten the load to cut down on excess weight – which consumes fuel. Store luggage inside the vehicle and not on the roof where it contributes to drag and causes your car to eat up more gas. Only pack what you really need. In other words, pack light. Any non-essential items should be left at home.

4.    Be on the lookout for low fuel prices -- Before you head out, use a service such as the AAA’s “Daily Fuel Gauge Report,” which allows you to get current fuel cost for a trip and map out a trip and get fuel prices at individual stations. It’s also important while you’re traveling to keep an eye out for low fuel prices – but don’t travel miles out of your way just to save a few pennies at the pump. And, about filling up? Never top off the gas tank. Fuel expands in warmer temperatures, which can cause the gas to overflow. Plan to fill up early in the day when temperatures are cooler.

5.    Maintain steady speed -- Consistent moderate speed on the open road helps conserve fuel. Remember that the faster you go, the more fuel you use. Cruise control can help you maintain a steady speed, but be sure to go with the flow of traffic so that you’re not a hazard to others and yourself. Be alert for slowdowns up ahead. Whenever possible and you can do so safely, decelerate by coasting.

6.    Use air conditioning sparingly -- Of course you want to be comfortable on long-distance trips, especially during hot weather. But be smart about how and when to use air conditioning. In hot weather, use the “economy” or “recirculation” settings on the A/C system. This reduces the amount of hot outside air to be chilled, reduces the load on the A/C system and saves gas. If you’re in town or traveling under 40 miles per hour, crack open the windows. When you’re on the highway at speeds higher than 40 mph, turn on the A/C to cool it down.

7.    Change in-town driving behavior --If you’ve been a steady-state driver out on the highway, don’t throw out your smarts when it comes to driving in town. Avoid jack-rabbit starts and sudden stops which waste fuel big-time.

8.    Keep track of gas mileage --One way to ensure you’re getting good gas mileage is to keep a log of it. If you notice a drop in fuel efficiency, it could mean that your vehicle isn’t being properly maintained or there’s a problem that’s cropped up that needs attention. Another benefit is that when you notice a spike either way – less fuel efficiency or more – it should alert you that you’re either doing something right or need to make some changes.

9.    Use the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the household -- If there’s a choice and the household has more than one vehicle, using the more fuel efficient one can translate to greater fuel savings. If long-distance travel becomes (or is) a daily necessity, when it comes time to replace your car, consider one that gets higher fuel economy than your current one – and still meets your needs. Maybe a 2011 Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Cruze, or Toyota Prius, for example. And if you do go for another car, here are a few more tips. Light interior and exterior colors tend to reduce heat buildup and save on air conditioning use. Four-wheel drive vehicles generally use more gas than front-wheel drive ones. Smaller cars generally get better fuel economy. Cars that require premium fuel (as recommended in the owner’s manual) will cost more to operate over the long-term. Trucks, vans and SUVs come in various configurations and sizes. Generally speaking, smaller bed, cab and cargo capacity equates to better fuel economy.

10. Check out gas rebate programs -- Long-distance road warriors are pretty savvy about where the best deals are for gas – especially if they travel the same route regularly. If you spend a lot of money on gas, whether it’s for work or during family trips, consider checking out various gas rebate programs offered through credit card companies and other outlets.

Got other gas-saving tips for long-distance travel that you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below. Also check out Bengt Halvorson’s article in TheCarConnection on how to save money on gas without downsizing.

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