Planning a road trip? Maybe you’ve heard about the new gas pricing scheme used by many gas stations. And with gas at over $4 a gallon, I’ve retrofitted the gas gauge in my ancient, 13-mpg Roadtrek camper van. This week: Internet resources to help me (and maybe you) get the best deal on gasoline — and better mileage.
Regular-grade gasoline in and around Los Angeles just bumped up to a painful $4.20 per gallon. And it happened just as we decided to head 100 miles north to our beach house in Ventura and party with a few neighbors. (Yes, I took some time off, so these was no newsletter last week.)
As I planned our trip, I consulted with Gas Buddy, a handy service that finds a list of gas stations with the lowest prices. Just stick in your zip code or state (Canadian provinces, too). There’s also a GasBuddy App you can use on a smart phone while you travel.
Here’s more help: Try GasPriceWatch for nationwide searches. Just pop in your zip code or city and you’ll see listings in Google Maps. MapQuest Gas Prices works the same way and is useful for searching on alternative energy sources, such as biodiesel, electric, or hydrogen (sorry, nothing nuclear), as well as regular fuels.
The one thing not to try is the trip cost calculator — it’ll make you want to stay home.
You say you’re traveling and never quite sure where the state you’re in is on the map? No problem (and no, I can never find half of those southern states either). Use Sheppard Software’s map quiz to practice.
Quick Aside: Gas prices are high today, but I want to tell you my oh-you-think-you-have-it-bad version of walking to school in the snow. It was the oil crisis in the early seventies. Gasoline shot up from about 30 cents a gallon to more than $1.20; there wasn’t much available; and tempers flared as we lined up around the block.
Let Up on the Pedal
I’m guessing everyone with a driver’s license has their own ideas about how to get better mileage. But at $4 a gallon, it’s probably worth a look at a few tips.
For a quick read, scan EHow’s “How to Get Good Gas Mileage with Your Car.” And if you have the time, read Edmunds.com’s “Change Your Driving Habits (and Save Gas!) Driving Tips.” Edmonds also has a lengthier, more detailed analysis, and worth the read.
I really like what Edmunds has to offer. Its detailed report will give you some insight into the approach I’m using: stepping up to the higher level membership at Costco in order to buy gas from them. Costco’s gas prices are generally 5 to 10 cents — and occasionally 20 cents — per gallon less than other stations in the area. And whatever money you save on gas will disappear when you go into Costco to shop. (Come on, you know you never walk out spending less then a $100.)
Air Conditioning: Even though it still cold in much of the country, come summer, to help with gas mileage you may consider not using your air conditioner. There’s some controversy over whether it’s more fuel efficient to drive with the car’s air conditioning on or to keep it off and open the windows.
Way way back in 1986, The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams said it doesn’t matter. However, Bankrate did what appears to be the most digging, and its writer says it depends on your vehicle and the speed at which you’re driving. The University of Central Florida said, “repeated evaluation at 65 miles per hour, our test car experienced 11% better fuel efficiency with no A/C and the windows open than using the air conditioner.” Edmond’s says it makes no difference.
No Idling: Then there’s the dilemma of whether to turn off your vehicle’s engine at a coffee-and-donuts traffic light. You know the kind I mean: those monster intersections where you wait 4 minutes for traffic in every direction to pass.
The question is whether you waste more gas by idling for a few minutes — or by stopping and restarting the engine.
One guy tested it over a month and saved gas by turning off the engine. The Environmental Defense Fund endorses the practice, big time. And the U.S. Department of Energy slyly implies the same thing by saying, “Avoid Excessive Idling: Idling gets 0 miles per gallon. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas at idle than do cars with smaller engines.”
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]