If you’re planning to travel this summer, you’d be wise to budget a whole lot extra for gas than you might want to — or expect some nasty surprises from your net credit card statement. As June comes to an end, the national average for one gallon of gas is $4.87, according to AAA. It’s even higher in cities like Los Angeles, where you’re hard-pressed to find a gallon under $6.
Unless you’re ready to invest in an EV, there’s just no getting around visits to the pump — but what you do between fill-ups can have a big say in how much you’ll have left to spend when you finally get to where you’re going.
Know When To Switch the Windows for the Air
If you own a car, you hopefully know that you burn gas every time you turn on the AC to cool off. Obviously, it’s cheaper to roll down the windows, but it doesn’t take record-breaking heat for the blue side of the climate-control dial to beckon. In terms of fuel economy, though, is there a way to know when to make the move to mechanical cooling?
Hillary Swetz, of the frugal living website Homegrown Hillary, cited a study from The Society of Automotive Engineers, which identified a helpful formula.
“They found that if you’re going less than 40 mph, roll your windows down,” Swetz said. “If you’re going any faster, you’d create more drag on your vehicle and waste much more gas with the windows down, so use the AC at higher speeds.”
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Restarting Is Cheaper Than Idling
Not only is idling your engine bad for the environment and rude to the people around you, but it burns up to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
“There is no reason to allow your car to idle if you are sitting in it and not driving,” said Phil Dengler, co-owner of The Vacationer. “It burns gas and is bad for your engine and other internal components. Turn your car off and restart it when you are ready to drive.”
Although you should try to limit it to 10 times per day, restarting your car burns only 10 seconds worth of gas, according to the DOE.
Make Sure Your Tires Are Neither Squishy Nor Hard
Not only are properly inflated tires safer, but they save you money in two ways: They last longer than improperly inflated tires and they get better gas mileage. In fact, properly inflated tires can boost your mpg by up to 3%, according to the DOE.
“Some folks only inflate their tires when they prepare for a road trip or get an oil change,” said Robert Walden of Vehicle Freak. “Checking your tire pressure weekly can help you save on gas. When you drive with deflated tires, your car has to work harder to move, so it uses more gas. Keeping those tires inflated ensures that your engine works only as hard as needed.”
How Is Your Gas Cap Looking?
For most people, the gas cap is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind part — especially if you live in a state that doesn’t let you pump your own gas. If it’s worn and weathered, however, a few bucks invested in a new one could improve fuel economy and keep your car running better.
“Your gas cap should be airtight,” Walden said. “If it’s not, the gas in your tank will evaporate and leak out when your car is dormant. Check your cap to make sure the seal looks healthy. Replace it if there are any holes, tears or other signs of damage.”
Be a 1 Percenter
In 1980, 35% of the cars produced for sale in the U.S. had manual transmissions, according to the New York Times. But, by the summer of 2021, that number had fallen to 1%. The dwindling dinosaurs who can still drive cars with three pedals might be able to lower their gas bills — but only if they’re shopping used.
“Vehicles with manual transmissions are more fuel-efficient than automatic vehicles,” Walden said. “Automatic transmissions use fuel to shift gears, so automatic vehicles burn gasoline at a faster pace.”
That was almost always true until recently, according to Edmunds, but modern automatics have improved enough in recent years to surpass comparable sticks. So how far back do you have to go to find a car with a clutch that pays you back in the form of better gas mileage? It depends on the model; but, as recently as 2015, Consumer Reports was still advising that “most manual transmissions can deliver better fuel economy and acceleration.”
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