With the cost of gas soaring, it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “I’ve really got to buy a hybrid.”
If your goal is to save money, this could be a disastrous move unless you needed a new car anyway. While you might save money at the pump, the cost of prematurely switching from a gas hog to a fuel-sipper would take years to pay off.
Why? You’re probably paying about $1 a gallon more for gasoline than you did a year ago. In a 25-mpg vehicle driving the average yearly mileage of 14,000, that would be $560 out of your pocket — enough to hurt.
But the average price paid for new cars has risen by 10 times that amount in the past year alone, topping $46,000 in October, according to Kelley Blue Book. Proportionately, used car prices are up even more than that.
It’s about the worst time possible to buy any car unless you absolutely have to. If your vehicle has been stolen or totaled, by all means look at a more fuel-efficient replacement.
But if that’s not the case, remember that gas prices rise and fall quickly; there are ways you can adjust that don’t require the commitment of 72 monthly payments. Instead of switching cars, the key to savings is pretty simple: Buy gas wisely (using a gas price app), maintain your car, and improve your driving style.
Note that I didn’t say “drive more slowly.” It is possible to boost your fuel efficiency and not turn into an annoying tortoise on the highway.
Buying smarter and cheaper
Choose regular over premium. Begin your money-saving strategy by purchasing the right grade of gas. While your car’s owner’s manual might recommend that you run premium, you can safely switch to mid-grade or even regular. “The modest fuel economy improvements found in AAA tests do not offset the higher cost of premium gasoline,” the American Automobile Association reports.
Compare prices with a gas app. The price of gas varies significantly from one station to the next, and one part of town to another. Instead of driving around to find the best price on gas, use a gas app such as GasBuddy to find the cheapest place to fill up.
But don’t drive 10 miles across town to save a penny on gas. While a gas app will show you the cheapest gas in your area, make sure the savings can erase the extra fuel consumed getting to that cheaper station.
Use gas cards and shopping clubs. Some credit cards will give you a rebate when you buy gas. Combine this with the discounted price of gas at shopping clubs, such as Costco, and the savings is substantial.
Maintenance and modifications
Besides a modest increase in fuel economy, the following maintenance tips have added benefits. Your car will last longer and you will drive safer.
Perform scheduled maintenance. In most cases, this calls for oil and filter changes and tire rotations. You should also change your air filter periodically. It’s cheap and you can even do it yourself.
Monitor tire pressure. Keeping your tires filled to the manufacturer’s specifications will give you better fuel economy, reduce tire wear and provide better handling.
Remove underused accessories. Roof racks and special carriers cause an aerodynamic drag on the highway, which puts a dent in fuel economy, according to AAA. If you’re not using them, lose them.
Skip the gadgets. That miracle device that boosts gas mileage to 200 mpg? It doesn’t exist. Consumer Reports once tested three such fuel savers and found no change in fuel economy. In one case, there was actually reduced performance. Their takeaway: “The best way to get the best mileage from a tank of gas is to follow the vehicle manufacturer’s service schedule and fine-tune your driving habits.”
Fine-tune your driving
Fine-tuning your driving style, especially if you have a larger vehicle, can lead to big savings at the pump. Many benefits await you if you open your mind and try something new.
Avoid aggressive driving. The biggest gas waster is unnecessarily aggressive acceleration combined with sudden braking. Doing so can lower your gas mileage by up to 30%, according to Fueleconomy.gov. Instead, accelerate moderately (unless you need to merge suddenly) and back off the gas when you see a red light in the distance.
Stop prolonged idling. If you plan to stop for more than 60 seconds, AAA says to shut off the engine to save fuel. Many newer cars already come equipped with an auto start-stop feature.
Drive the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases at speeds over 50 miles per hour. Every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph, you’re paying the equivalent of $0.18 more per gallon of gas. So if you reduce your speed by 5 to 10 mph, you can improve your fuel economy up to 14%, according to the U.S. Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Use cruise control. By driving at a steady speed, you avoid wasting gas with midrange acceleration. A steady pace is also more relaxing and a good way to remind yourself to drive at — or near — the speed limit.
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Philip Reed writes for NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @AutoReed.