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How To Save Money On Gas

July 21st, 2008 by Alison · 8 Comments · transportation

The way we drive has a huge impact on our fuel consumption. The cool thing about saving money on gas by using less of it, from the diamond-cut perspective, is that we reduce our carbon emissions at the same time. And all of us would prefer to subsidize our own bank accounts rather than the profits of oil companies.

Drive slower A gentle right foot when driving around town can cut fuel consumption by 27-35%, according to Edmunds.com. This can mean getting 31 mpg instead of 22 mpg. Specific examples: accelerating slowly from green lights and decelerating slowly when approaching red lights. The smoother a car’s overall motion, the more gas money you save. The more herky-jerky the motion, with faster starts and stops, the more gas money you are throwing away.

Carpool My carpool partners and I are each spending $1.07 per gallon of gas when four of us ride to work together. And less when all six of us are in the pool.

Streamline your vehicle The aim is minimal wind resistance. Keep the windows and sunroof closed, especially at higher speeds. An engineer I know told me he gets 5-7 more miles per gallon when he takes the rack off the top of his Subaru Outback. “It’s the wind resistance, much more than the weight,” he reports. For open bed pick-up trucks, keeping the gate up has been shown to improve gas mileage over lowering the gate, and there is also evidence that removing the tailgate and replacing it with a cargo net improves gas mileage.

Use your body for short trips: bike or walk This is easiest and the most fun in summer. Treat most destinations close to you, whether groceries, social opportunities, dry-cleaning or restaurants, as your top picks. Even if they charge a bit more, using no gas to get there may make it the cheaper choice overall. To get a sense of how walkable your neighborhood is, use this “Walk-score ” website.

Use cruise control on highways — when they’re flat. The single, consistent speed can improve mileage by almost 14%. It’s easy to forget to use cruise control, if I am any example; I should put a post-it reminder on the dashboard. It’s not good for hills, though, when going slower conserves fuel.

Pick up the phone The humble telephone is a powerful money-saving device. Does the Home Depot across town actually still have that item you want in stock, or are you just hoping it does? It takes a few minutes to call and ask them to check for you — but it takes much longer, plus several dollars in gas, to drive over and check yourself.

Try using public transit In many cases, the fare is less than you’d pay for gas. If you like to read, work or knit while riding, you can come out ahead overall in time-use. In congested areas, transit may be faster than driving alone.

Reconsider the air conditioning Using it reduces fuel economy by 10-20%. However, that applies to in-town driving. At highway speeds it’s more cost-efficient to roll the windows up and use the a/c, due to the lowered wind resistance of being more streamlined.

Turn off the engine rather than idle for 20 seconds or more I’m amazed by people leaving their engines on, burning precious gas, while waiting four minutes for a bridge here in Portland to let a ship through. Also, don’t “warm up” your vehicle for more than 20 seconds. It’s a myth that modern engines get any benefit from this.

Declutter your vehicle Less weight means less gas used to haul it around. I finally took our winter chains out of our trunk last Friday. (I left the first-aid kit and gallon of emergency water in, though.)

Find places for privacy and solitude other than your car Many people unknowingly use their cars for needs that have nothing to do with transportation. The needs are legitimate and human; using cars and gas to meet them is costly both to the person and our shared planet. Nature, libraries and a designated room in one’s home can be good places for privacy and solitude.

Make only right turns Doing trips this way takes some forethought, but again, our gas-tanks literally pay us for using our brains. (I must modestly admit I had figured this trick out many years before UPS did :) .

Build your collateral in things other than your car. Cars (unless they are hybrids, apparently) depreciate rapidly in value. Spending money on a car’s appearance, performance or accessories may not be in your best interest as much as if you were to invest in your relationships, education, character, spiritual life, home, garden, investing skills, etc.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Adam

    Great tips! I’ve implemented a few already but picked up a couple of new ones. Thanks again.


  • Rachel M.

    I live in Houston and was affected by the recent hurricane (Ike) and for the 3-4 days during the aftermath when we had no electricty, there was little to do so my boyfriend and I went on long walks around town. What we realized is that walking everywhere isn’t such a bad thing. Now that things are back to normal and power restored, I haven’t given up walking. I’m now walking to stores if they are less than 2 miles away instead of driving. It’s not much, but where I live *everyone* drives and I feel good that I’m doing alittle to offset that common bad habit.

  • Deb

    Yet another fabulous post - you’re on a roll!

    We also plan ahead and group our errands in a circuitous (sp?) route.

    Many stores, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, have their items listed on line. Simply punch in your zipcode and find the ones nearest to you that carry your item. Better yet, visit your small, local hardware/feed store and support the small business owner! Call them ahead to confirm they carry the item, they’re happy to help and appreciate your business. But I digress…

    I wish I had cruise control, but instead, I don’t go above 60 on the hwy, and I avoid those jack rabbit starts and long idles. If I hit a light that just turned red, I turn my little truck off. I have increased my mpg by 20% doing these things.

    Longview, where we recently located to, doesn’t have the best public transit yet. But they are working on it, and they’re creating more bike lanes. What blows me away is that Longview is a railway hub, yet Amtrak has no station here! Many people here commute daily to Portland - imagine the reduced carbon footprint/reduced traffic if there were trains that stopped here & then went on down to Portland. However, there are vanpools and the numbers are growing. I’m hopeful that there will be an increase in demand for trains/trams/streetcars for commuting as well.

    We were recently in Amsterdam, and the public transport there is nothing short of stunning. Trams and trains and buses galore at all hours. People, by the thousands, commute on their bicycles. There are entire families commuting on one bike - a cart (similar to a motorcycle sidecar) is in front and the kids sit in that - often there is a rain cover for them. Dad does the peddling, and momma is sitting on a small bench or seat behind him with her umbrella up if it’s raining, or they’re peddling tandem. There are large multi-storied bicycle garages - where THOUSANDS of bikes are parked. It is truly fantastic!

    The Dutch are also some of the most fit people on earth (and some of the happiest). They do a lot of bicycling and walking, and it shows! This country would be so much healthier, and probably happier, if we would adopt some of the habits of the Dutch!

  • Unplugged

    People often forget how effective common sense solutions are; this article is a great example of that…

  • Allan

    I have to disagree on your advice to use cruise control to save gas. If you’re driving on a perfectly flat road, this might save you some gas, but otherwise it’s going to result in worse mileage.

    Imagine you’re riding a bicycle along a road. Which would be easier overall — going 15 mph consistently, or going 10 mph up hills and 20 mph down hills. When you think of it this way, it becomes obvious that to save gas, you should go slower as you’re going up a big hill and then faster going down (so your final speed would be a weighted average of the two). Using cruise control forces your car to work really hard going up a hill to maintain your speed.

    For more information, read about hypermiling and “driving with load”.

  • Alison

    Allan, I’m thinking you’re right. So I’ve amended that paragraph so it advises using cruise control just on flat highways. Thanks for the help.

  • Creatine

    Its great as your other articles : D, regards for posting .

  • Alison

    I sent you an email to your exact address telling you I’d love to see the guest post you have in mind.
    It bounced back though — no such address.

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