It seems every day, gas pump prices hit another record high. The national average for regular unleaded, as of March 31, was $3.29 per gallon, up 23% over the past year.
Prices are expected to top the $4 mark this summer. But don't let $80.00 fill-ups pump the fun out of your warm, sunny days. Here are five ways to score solid savings when you pull into the service station.
1. Find the Lowest Gas Prices
GasBuddy links you to 181 local websites, each focused on a U.S. state, metro area, Canadian province or city. For example, search for Piscataway, N.J. on GasBuddy.com and get sent to NewJerseyGasPrices.com, where results reveal a price range from $3.01 to $3.20 within that area. (The Garden State sports the lowest prices on average, coming in at $3.05 versus the national high in Hawaii at $3.64.)
Prices are updated constantly and are dropped from the site after 72 hours -- it's assumed spotters will have updated information by then. And with the site's 124 million registered users keeping an eye out for you, you're bound to benefit.
GasPriceWatch.com hosts data from only about 162,000 volunteer tipsters. But it collects pricing info directly from fuel providers and gas station companies. By Memorial Day weekend, the site plans to roll out a Certified Pricing Program, which will guarantee you a specific price if you get to the station within one hour of seeing it on the site. Additionally, it offers a tool called MyPage that allows you to track prices at specific stations along your regular routes.
Both sites include prices from Costco and other big-box retailers that sell gasoline to customers at discounted prices. Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch.com, says Midwest retail supercenter Meijer is particularly "proactive about gas."
It provides text message alerts to customers' cell phones when gas prices are expected to rise -- promising to not raise Meijer prices until after 1:30pm. Proctor recently received one such alert when prices jumped one morning in Dayton, Ohio, to $3.25 from $3.03. He drove the extra block to Meijer and saved 22 cents per gallon.
2. Target the Best Time of Day to Buy Gas
The best time of day to fill up your tank is before dawn or late at night, when the sun and traffic volume are both down. Stations usually will raise prices during the day, especially for rush hour.
In some cities -- like Detroit, Minneapolis, and Toledo -- "Wednesdays are the best day of the week for cheap gas prices," says Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy.com. "Stations tend to raise prices on the weekends and especially during the summer."
Also, don't wait until your gas gauge drops down to "E." Toews says it's not good for your car's fuel injection system. Better to fill 'er up when the gauge indicates a quarter-full tank. Thinking about a refill at that point leaves you some time to shop around for the best gas price. Proctor figures: "You'll see that cheaper price a day after you had to fill up, and it's like watching the ball rolling just off your pick on the roulette wheel."
Finally, check that the price on the pump matches what is on the sign. And be sure that the gas pump starts at the $0 mark.
3. Improve Your Car's Gas Mileage
High speeds, quick starts, and squealing stops burn more gas and money. In his own test, Toews found that he could save 15% by driving 62 mph on the open highway rather than 75 mph. Using cruise control can save you even more. Smoother rides, with less pedal pushing, can save up to 37% in fuel economy, according to Edmunds.com.
Idling cars are the devil's Big Gulp... One minute of idling burns the same amount of gas it takes to start the engine. Also, consider a GPS system: It'll provide the fastest, most efficient route to your destination, which can save you money. It beats getting lost.
And why drive if you don't have to? When your destination is too far to just walk, try public transportation or find a carpool. Many employers offer subsidies for train or bus fares. And websites like ERideShare.com or CarPoolConnect.com make it easy to find wheels.
4. Keep Your Car in Healthy Shape
Toews says that proper maintenance of air filters, spark plugs, and fluid levels is best for your car and wallet.
Proper tire pressure is very important for good fuel economy, according to Proctor. Every pound-per-inch under the manufacturer's recommendation for your tires loses you one mile per gallon per fill-up. He suggests implementing your car's trip computer to track your mpg. "If there's a drop in mpg and you've kept the same driving habits," he says, "the first thing to look at is your tires."
Large loads impact cars much like mules or horses -- weighing the vehicle down and making it harder to speed up. Trim the excess luggage from your car, like those golf clubs in the winter and those snow tires in the summer.
5. Get a Gas Rewards Card
Carrying the right credit card can earn you rebates on gas purchases. One of the most popular rewards cards found using our credit card tool is the Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard. Swiping this card at your gas station earns you 5% cash back, as well as 1% on all other purchases.
Summer vacation? Check out BedandBreakfast.com for free gas promotions. For example, you can stay at the Brewster House Bed & Breakfast in Freeport, Maine and get $25 in gas money for a two-night stay, or $50 for three nights. If you'd prefer the opposite coast, you can park it at Cliff Crest Bed and Breakfast in Santa Cruz, Calif. For a two night stay, get $25 knocked off your final bill-then walk to the many nearby attractions. Both deals are restricted to Sunday through Thursday and expire in August 2008.