It happens every year: The weather gets warm, the open road beckons, and you get ready to spend some time outside ... only to find that driving has gotten a bit more expensive. The good news is that gas prices are down a few cents in the past couple of weeks; latest figures put the average price of a gallon of regular at $3.60. The bad news is, that's up nearly 10 cents from the same time last year.
There are lots of theories about why gas prices tend to go up during the summer, but regardless of whether you think it's due to Wall Street speculation or simply the effect of increased demand, one thing is for certain: You're going to have to spend more money filling up your tank before the summer is out.
A few weeks ago, we offered some of our readers' more outrageous methods for cutting your gas costs. This time around, we'll consider some options that are a little more realistic. Bon voyage!
Great Ideas for Cutting Your Gas Costs
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the average car's fuel economy is 17.1 percent lower at 70 mph than at 55 mph. Our readers have experienced similar results: one noted that slowing down from 75 to 55 mph translates into a 20 percent cut in gas expenditure -- that can make a big difference when gas is over $4 a gallon in some states! So ease up on the accelerator if you want to keep more money in your pocket.
Apps like GasBuddy.com and AAA's TripTIk Mobile can help you find the cheapest gas near you, while mapping software and traffic alerts can help you steer clear of slow or stopped traffic.
Some outlets offer their own apps to help you save money. Last year, for example, Cumberland Farms introduced SmartPay. Customers activate the pump from the app, which is linked to the user's checking or PayPal account, and receive a discount of up to 10 cents per gallon.
High gas prices can be a great excuse for exploring alternate routes for your daily driving. Be aware that the shortest route isn't always the most fuel-efficient -- one with lots of stops can burn through more gas, particularly if you brake hard and accelerate quickly at traffic lights.
One DailyFinance reader goes so far as to plan a route with only right-hand turns to avoid idling at left turn signals. Another practices what he calls "terrain driving": taking his foot of the gas and letting gravity propel the car whenever he comes to a downward incline. "You'd be surprised how far it takes the car," he observes.
Try filling up your tank early in the week. The Department of Energy releases a weekly report on Wednesday, and the news can negatively impact gas prices on Thursday and Friday. Also, prices tend to be higher as the weekend approaches.
Where you fill up matters too. Contrary to popular belief, independent, local stations are often cheaper than than the big name-brand outlets.
Why pay a penny more for gas than you have to? Unless your car requires high-octane fuel, there's no reason to buy premium, particularly when it can cost as much as 40 cents more per gallon. Ditto for mid-grade: Today's cars are designed to run safely and perform well on regular-octane fuel.
Consumers who own so-called "flex-fuel" cars have the option of using E85, a gas blend that contains 85 percent ethanol, which is usually cheaper -- particularly in the Midwest, where much of the country's ethanol is produced. On the downside, though, a gallon of ethanol contains less energy than a gallon of gas, so unless it's a lot cheaper, the reduced cost may be offset by lower gas mileage. That said, many car owners aren't aware that their vehicles can burn E85, so its worth checking whether yours does.