By Aaron Crowe
Rising gas prices since February may be over by Memorial Day, as the national average price of gas hopefully peaked in early May.
By the time many Americans hit the road for Memorial Day on May 26, they’ll see lower gas prices than they have in three months or so, according to the Christian Science Monitor, quoting an AAA spokesperson.
AAA’s forecast says the national average price has already peaked for this spring, or is at least close to doing so. Prices often go up around this time of year as refineries prepare for the summer driving season with more expensive gas blends.
Even if prices don’t go up much more, it’s still a smart idea to use less gas and help lower air pollutants while saving money. Here are 11 ways to save at the pump:
1. Use a gas app. GasBuddy.com is the most common way to find low gas prices near you by using your Zip code or location from your GPS. Add it or another gas finding app, such as the one MSN offers. While it’s not worthwhile to drive around too much to save a few pennies per gallon, the apps will help you find the best prices in your neighborhood or wherever you are with your smartphone app.
2. Don’t buy premium. If your car’s manufacturer specifies regular gas, don’t buy premium because you think it will make or your car go faster or operate more efficiently, says Ian Aronovich, CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org.
“Most cars have built-in sensors that adjust the engine timing to the gas in the tank,” Aronovich says. “Even if the owner’s manual recommends high-octane gas, ask the dealership about switching to regular.”
“Octane grades don’t represent a ‘good, better, best’ choice.’ They simply measure the resistance of fuel to knocking or pinging, a condition in which gasoline burns uncontrollably in the engine’s combustion chambers,” he says.
3. Take care of your car. Properly maintaining your vehicle allows it to run more efficiently and get better gas mileage, recommends Stephanie Nelson, owner of CouponMom. Make sure the tires are properly inflated, change the air filter when needed, use the correct grade of motor oil, and do the routine maintenance recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
Ignoring a dirty air filter for too long, for example, can result in the need to replace a mass air flow sensor, according to the CarMD Vehicle Health Index. Not having that sensor working properly can cause a 10-20% drop in fuel economy, costing an extra $250 to $450 at the pump each year, according to CarMD.
4. Fill the tank. Trying to save money by spending $10 today and $20 the next day on gas by hoping for better prices the next day is wasteful because you have to drive to the gas station again, Nelson says.
5. Combine trips, carpool. Driving less is the simplest way to save money on gas. Nelson recommends carpooling and combining errands. Organize a school carpool that can extend to after-school activities, or carpool to work and use carpool lanes to save time while using half the gas. When running errands, combine them in one trip with an efficient route.
6. Coast. Lynne Radcliffe of Milwaukee, Wis., says that even in her fuel-efficient Hyundai Accent, which averages 34 miles per gallon, she takes her foot off the gas pedal and coasts in neutral for a bit on freeway exits. She also puts her car in neutral or puts in the clutch after getting to the top of a hill so she can coast down.
“When I’m approaching my exit on the freeway, I put the car in neutral and coast to the end of the ramp,” Radcliffe says. On some of her more common exits she knows when to start coasting so if the light is red she can come to a stop at the end of the ramp without using the brakes.
7. Look ahead. Paying attention to traffic is a must while driving, and it can save you gas by looking a mile or more ahead on the freeway so you can slow down and let a congested spot work itself out before you get there and have to stop completely, Radcliffe recommends. “Even in city traffic, looking ahead allows you go slow and often avoid coming to a stop in a backup, which helps it go away,” she says.
8. Drive a steady speed. Accelerating quickly and then having to brake uses more gas than gently accelerating and driving a steady speed. Drive a moderate speed and within the speed limit.
9. Lose the weight. Remove extra things from your car’s trunk that you carry around without realizing it. Do you really need to carry snow chains and golf clubs at the same time on every trip? Every 250 extra pounds means you’re losing an extra mile per gallon of gas.
10. Heed the check engine light. Ignoring the check engine light is a bad idea for many reasons, including the top reason it comes on — to warn of a faulty oxygen sensor that can hurt fuel economy by as much as 40%. The sensor is the top reason why a check engine light comes on, according to CarMD.
The sensor costs less than $250 to fix, but ignoring to repair it can cost more than $900 extra per year in fuel costs by not allowing the car to run as efficiently as it should. The sensor measures the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust and tells a car’s computer when there is either too much or not enough fuel compared with oxygen for ideal operation.
11. Collect supermarket points. If your local supermarket has a gas points program that’s free to use, sign up for it and save money when buying gas, recommends, Mike Rabkin, president of From Car to Finish, which helps negotiate new vehicle purchases.
Usually every dollar spent at the supermarket equals a gas point, and every 100 points ($100 spent) gives a discount of 10 cents at a gas station it partners with. Buying multiples of some products will get you hundreds of points, says Rabkin, who once saved $1.20 per gallon with 1,200 gas points to use.