Gas-Saving Road Trip Tips
Forget the staycation.
Sure, average gas prices are already $3.97, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, and climbing toward the highest recorded average of $4.11 that crippled travel back in 2008.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your summer road trip. It’s one of America’s greatest travel traditions—so don’t let horrifyingly high fuel prices stop you. We’ve rounded up easy-to-adopt strategies that could save your vacation.
Start by planning ahead. Gas prices don’t just seem to go up around weekends and holidays, they really do. Don’t wait until July 3 to fill the tank for your Fourth of July road trip (unless there’s a prize for paying the most for gas).
How you drive may make the biggest difference in how far a gallon will take you. We all know that going 75 mph burns fuel faster than going 55 mph. But what also matters is how you push the gas pedal, how you pack your car, and how you handle the AC (no, you don’t have to go without). And did you ever consider using two GPS devices? They can give you vastly different routes, especially if you’re not the type to stick to the highway.
Money-saving strategies have even gone mobile. Apps like FuelFrog allow you to track your mileage to monitor gas prices in your city and your car’s gas efficiency over time. It’s one way that using a cell phone can actually improve your driving.
Still, incentivizing drivers to hit the road can’t hurt, which is why hundreds of hotels across the country are offering gas rebates. Several hotels in Panama City, FL, have teamed up for a “Giving Tanks” promotion—stay at the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, for instance, and you can get up to a $100 gas gift card. B&Bs are getting into the act, too; search on BnBFinder.com to find ones serving up special gas promotions.
Whether you’re headed to a B&B or want to take a road trip this summer, here are our essential gas-saving tips to help you maximize your miles—and leave the staycations back home.
Take Advantage of Hotel Gas Offers
- Spokane, WA: Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Spokane is giving away $50 Chevron gas cards with its Fuel and Fun package, which also includes complimentary valet service and a $20 dining credit.
- Panama City Beach, FL: Many properties throughout Panama City Beach are participating in the "Giving Tanks" promotion this summer; stay at the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort & Spa and you can get up to a $100 gas gift card, for example.
- Adirondacks, NY: Perhaps the ultimate gas giveaway happens at the luxurious retreat The Point in Saranac Lake, NY. No, it's not cheap to stay, but guests get to fill up for free at the on-site gas tank before they leave.
- Are you the B&B type? You can find special discounts across the country at BnBFinder.com.
Watch Your Driving Technique
Paying closer attention to the driving conditions around you can really be worth it.
- Drive 55. When on the highway, drive the speed limit or even five miles below it—as close to 55 mph, max, as you safely can (there's a reason the U.S. government lowered speed limits during a prior gas crisis). AAA estimates that driving slower can boost mileage by 5 percent.
- Don't stop and start. Avoid abruptly stopping and starting; accelerating from a standstill requires extra fuel. Instead, be aware of the timing of red lights so you can slowly coast to the light and reach it as it turns green-without coming to a full stop.
- Use cruise control. Where traffic and road conditions allow it, automatic fuel use is much more waste-free than trying to maintain a constant speed using your lead foot.
- Watch when you fill your tank. If you overfill the tank, gas can slosh around and escape. Be sure your gas cap clicks three times—every year 147 million gallons of fuel vaporize from tanks in the U.S.
- Drive when it's cooler outside. According to AAA, cooler, denser air can increase power and mileage. Hit the road early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature drops, especially in the summer. You'll save on air-conditioning costs too.
- Use the AC. A few years back the advice was the opposite: turn the air off and open the windows. Because air conditioners are more efficient, they now cause less drag on the engine than driving with the windows down.
Use a GPS Device—or Two
A GPS device is a useful road trip tool (and not just because getting lost is a waste of gas), but not all of them are created equal. Look for one that can calculate the shortest route between two points, and be sure the device can tell you if the route includes an unpleasant dirt road. While the rugged, waterproof Magellan eXplorist 710 GPS, one of T+L's Best Travel Gadgets in 2011, keeps hikers and bikers on track with topographical U.S. maps, it's also ideal for drivers with road and city maps that span the globe. And did you ever consider using two GPS devices? They can give you vastly different routes, especially if you're not the type to stick to the highway.
- Use a TripTik. The customizable AAA TripTik road-trip routers come with gas station locations and date-stamped fuel prices along the route. While it's impossible to nail exact pump prices from day to day with costs changing so rapidly (fuel prices along a sample route were up to seven days old), AAA does its best by getting numbers at more than 110,000 stations across the U.S. directly from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), which gets its prices from selected gas purchases at America's gas stations.
- Use a mobile app. While apps that rely on "user data," like Gas Buddy, can include flat-out-wrong data, it's getting easier to find reliable information—especially in urban areas where the crowdsourcing is more likely to be accurate. Gas Buddy also rewards its community members with a weekly $250 gas gift-card prize—the more gas prices you report the more likely you are to win. Apps like FuelFrog allow you to track your mileage to keep track of gas prices in your city and your car's gas efficiency over time.
Stay on Top of Maintenance
You may be tempted to skimp on visits to the mechanic and use the money to pay for gas instead, but getting a tune-up and replacing air and fuel filters at recommended intervals will help improve engine efficiency and boost mileage. A practically free fix? Make sure your tires are inflated to the manufacturer-recommended PSI to reduce road drag caused by underinflation—something that can reduce your mileage by up to 2 percent per pound of pressure, according to AAA.
Check the Calendar
Gas prices don't just seem to go up around holidays and long weekends, they really do rise. So don't wait until July 3 to fill the tank for your Fourth of July road trip (unless there's a prize for paying the most for gas). Fueling up can also be more expensive on weekends, so visit the pump midweek.
Many regular credit cards give cash back on gas purchases with some provisions. The American Express Blue Cash Card gives 2 percent back on gas, while most gas station and grocery store chains also offer cards that give up to 5 percent back. And don't worry if a station lists a cheaper "cash only" price. That rule is often applied only to big-rig drivers. The rest of us almost always get the cash price, even on credit card transactions.
It seems like a no-brainer, but we've all seen the car loaded down with half-a-household's worth of possessions. The less weight your vehicle has to haul around, the better your mileage will be. And keep stuff inside the car, not on the roof where it will create drag and zap your mileage.
Become a Billboard
Desperate times call for desperate measures—and for some drivers, that means turning their car into a rolling billboard. Matchmaking companies (including freegashelp.com and freecarmedia.com) can partner advertisers who want to spread their message with drivers looking for a few hundred dollars per month (in either cash or a gas card). It's not for everyone: there's quite a bit of planning, and after your road trip is done, your car is still covered in ads.
Learn from Hypermilers
With their goal of eking out 100-plus miles per gallon, hypermilers have adopted a playbook of effective (though controversial) driving techniques. We’re not saying you should try this, but one of their most effective techniques is “coasting.” Long favored by bus drivers across Asia as a fuel-cost-cutting measure, coasting is the art of turning off the ignition, popping your vehicle into neutral, and coasting down hills. But be warned: in many cars, your brakes and even your steering are useless once the ignition is turned off. Oh, and it’s illegal.