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Killer Gas Prices: Six Ways to Fight Back

Written by Ed Avis - 10 Comments

Killer Gas Prices: Six Ways to Fight Back

The news that gas prices are on the rise again reminded me of the summer of 2007. At the time both of my sons were playing travel baseball, which meant we were driving all over northern Illinois every weekend.

We owned a beautiful Chrysler Pacifica at the time — a sporty, comfortable, large car that was perfect for toting baseball players and their gear. But the behemoth was also gas hog — I think it was topping out at 12 mpg — and prices were soaring. We finally couldn’t stand it anymore and traded down to a Honda Civic. Way less room, but at least I didn’t clutch my wallet every time I hit the gas pedal!

The web is full of tips for saving fuel, but below I offer a half dozen of the best tips. I’m not a mechanic, so I’ve got nothing to say about changing your oil or keeping your tires properly inflated. Instead, these are lifestyle tips that can affect how often you pull up to the pump:

1. Turn off your engine

I can’t believe how often I pull up to a train crossing — there are a lot of trains in suburban Chicago — and see a line of cars with their engines running. Some of these trains take 10 or 15 minutes to pass — a big car can easily suck down a quarter gallon of fuel by idling that long!

If you know you’re going to be idling for a while — another example is when you’re waiting for your kid to get out of school — shut off your engine. You’ll save gas and reduce pollution. I even turn off the engine when I pull up to a drive-through teller or ATM at the bank — it usually only takes a five minutes to complete my transaction, but that can add up over the course of a year.

2. Don’t warm up your car

Modern engines do not need to be warmed up, especially if you live anywhere south of North Dakota. Sure, it’s nice and comfy in the car when you start it with the remote starter from your kitchen table and let the heater run for 15 minutes while you read the paper, but come on, that’s a serious waste of gas! Not to mention the pollution you’re spewing into the air.

3. Plan your route

The other day I picked up my son from football practice and he told me he wanted to meet some friends for lunch at a diner about a mile from our house and about two miles from the high school. They were all meeting in 20 minutes, but he wanted to go home first. This meant we would go home, sit for five or ten minutes, and get back into the car… and drive an extra couple of miles!

I convinced him that it was way smarter for us to drive straight to the diner. Sure, he would be 10 or 15 minutes early, but so what? Bottom line: Planning your route for efficiency saves gas.

4. Car pool

Yeah, I know, this can be a drag. You want to listen to your own radio stations, and you want to be able to stop at McDonald’s and buy a chocolate shake without anyone knowing, right? But if you’re serious about saving gas, car pooling is a no brainer. During that baseball season I mentioned above, I got to know many of my sons’ teammates’ parents while driving to far-flung diamonds. I saved gas and made new friends!

5. Park the car

The ultimate way to save guess is to use your legs, bike, or public transportation more often! I follow a kind of general rule — if I can walk somewhere, I walk there. It’s good exercise, it gives me time to think, and it saves gas.

When my boys were little I loved stuffing them into the jogger and running errands that way. In fact, I kept using that jogger even when my kids were seven or eight years old, way older than most kids in joggers. I would get funny looks from other parents — as they loaded their kids into their gas-guzzling SUVs!

6. Your car isn’t a storage locker

Look in your trunk — are you hauling around tools, toys, old clothes, or other clutter that you can’t seem to unload? According to the EPA, 100 pounds of junk in your trunk could reduce your gas mileage by 2 percent. Take a few minutes today to throw that stuff in the garage instead!

These six tips won’t keep you out of the gas station forever, but they should reduce your visits there. I’d love to hear your own gas-saving secrets, so please share them!

Published on October 23rd, 2012
Modified on October 27th, 2012 - 10 Comments
Filed under: Automotive, Frugality

About the author: is a writer and editor in Oak Park, Illinois. He specializes in personal finance, parenting, and small business topics. He is married and has two sons.

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10 Responses to “Killer Gas Prices: Six Ways to Fight Back”

  1. 1
    BG Says:

    Hole smokes, 1-GPH idle is crazy! I’d seriously consider finding a different car if mine were that bad. I typically see 0.29-0.31 GPH idling at a light (1997 pickup: 2.3L auto trans).

    It would take roughly 50 minutes for my ride to burn 1/4 gallon idling. I highly suggest people purchase an UltraGauge:

    http://www.ultra-gauge.com/ultragauge/index.htm

    if your car isn’t equipped with an instantaneous MPG/GPH indicator already. When you can instantly see how poor-driving habits burn fuel, you’ll adapt quickly.

  2. 2
    Daniel Says:

    “Turn off your engine” – yes, this is huge. It amazes me to see how many people let their engines idle for crazy long amounts of time.

    My personal favorite is to see the 15-20 cars waiting at the school bus stop — with all engines running — when it is 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And we wonder why we are obese.

    My other favorite is when people sit at the post office reading their mail, with windows down and engine running.

    Another big one is that cars with highly efficient engines only generate that high efficiency at speed. So, the old adage about avoiding jackrabbit starts does not apply to those. I have watched my fuel economy gauge, and it is much better if I get up to speed quickly, then ride easy on the pedal once I am at speed, versus taking my time getting up to speed, which causes the engine to generate terrible economy for a much longer time.

  3. 3
    Brian the mechanic Says:

    Savings listed number 2 is incorrect. Even on new cars you need to warm them up. It is no for convince it is for the livelihood of your vehicle. Warming up your car warms the oil before take off, which lubricates your pistons and its rings, preventing wear and tear and warping of your pistons and rings. This allows for better gas millage and longer use of your vehicle. If anything warming up your vehicle should be a cost savings method for any time of the year. It is doesn’t matter if it is warm or cold outside warming up your vehicle significantly helps:).

  4. 4
    Daniel Says:

    Brian, every owner should read the owner’s manual to his car — and every car I’ve had in the last 20 years says that it should not be warmed up by idling. Rather, it should be started, then given 15 seconds or so to lubricate, then the driver should begin driving. Every car I’ve had in the last 20 years or so said that idling for 10-15 minutes, in order to warm the engine, is actually worse for the engine. The manuals have said to not push the engine (not more than 100 mph and 50-60% of redline) until its temperature is out of the “cold” zone, but none has said to let it idle to warm. All have said to operate the car normally to warm it.

    Certainly one should not crank the engine and then immediately (as in, THAT SECOND) launch the vehicle at maximum acceleration, but it would be fine to perform a normal-speed start some 15 seconds after engine start.

  5. 5
    Kris Says:

    Al these tips save pennies, but don’t solve the real issue unfortunately. Too bad more employers weren’t more willing to allow telecommuting – if consumption went down significantly, then prices would likely drop.

  6. 6
    BG Says:

    From my ultra-gauge on the commute this morning:

    Distance: 13.7 miles
    Fuel burned: 0.53 gallons
    Trip time: 0h:25m
    Trip average G/H: 1.24 gph
    Trip average MPH: 32.3 mph
    Trip average MPG: 26.0 mpg

    If my wife made the same trip in the same vehicle, I suspect she’d be around 19 mpg (thats an extra 1.4 gallons burned per 100 miles). Driving style has a lot to do with economy.

  7. 7
    Teirrah McNair Says:

    Oh yes and let us not forget that keeping the engine running will not expedite service at our favorite fast food drive thru. I recently waited so long at a drive thru that I had to ask about the wait. The server at the window said they had laid off at least half of their staff. Fortunately for me I had cut the engine off immediately after ordering–me thinks the term ‘fast food’ is rapidly becoming obsolete.

  8. 8
    Jan Says:

    Even at $4.00 a US gallon, your gas prices are far lower than more other countries in the world. Where I live gas is at least twice as expensive. Stop whining, and take the bus! As for going through the drive thru: How about getting out of your car and using your feet. Your heart will thank you.

  9. 9
    BG Says:

    Jan) Gas prices are higher outside of the US (specifically european countries), because those countries tax gas at incredible rates to fund social programs (nationalized health system, pension/retirement plans, etc).

    When I purchase gas in the US, the cost is for the gas, with some (relatively low) taxes to fund road/bridge construction. You really can’t compare the two because you are buying more than just gas when you fill up your tank outside the US.

  10. 10
    BG Says:

    Jan, a little more detail on the tax comparison between the US and Germany (you can modify for your own country).

    1 US Gal == 3.785 Liters
    1 US Dollar == 0.7750 Euros

    Average National/Local taxes on 1 US Gallon in the US: $0.495 per gallon, which works out to $0.13 USD tax per liter, which works out to €0.1008 “10.08 euro-cents” tax per liter.

    Compare €0.1008 to Germany’s €1.55 tax per litre — German’s gas taxes are roughly 15.4 times higher than the US.

    If the US taxed gas like Germany does, then there would be nearly $7.60 (USD) worth of taxes in each (US) gallon — not counting the actual cost of the gasolene.

    There would be a new Revolutionary War if someone tried to tax gasolene that much in the US, heh.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_tax

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