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With the price of gas shooting off like fireworks this summer and then starting a slow descent — only to repeat the pattern again — it’s no surprise that drivers spent, on average, over 17 cents per mile on gas in August, according to AAA. That's 7 cents more than the average cost per mile in 2021 and comes out to $2,336 a year in fuel costs.
Higher fuel costs have become an assumption at the gas pump. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, drivers paid an average of $3.81 per gallon in October. That’s 52 cents more than the same month in 2021.
If the cost of car ownership is squeezing your wallet, there are several ways to ease the pressure. You can implement a few strategies to save money on gas at the pump, while driving, and even through proper maintenance to get the best gas mileage out of your vehicle.
Here’s how to get started with saving money on gas.
Saving at the pump
While you can’t control gas prices, you do have some influence on how much you pay for fuel. Here are a few tips for saving money at the pump.
1. Buy the right fuel
Most vehicles perform well on regular unleaded regular gas. Manufacturers might recommend premium gas for certain vehicles with turbochargers or specific types of engines, but the majority of drivers don’t need to pay extra for premium fuel. Check your owner’s manual to find what the manufacturer recommends for your car. Unless it says premium gas is required, you’re probably good to buy regular gas, which is cheaper than its premium version.
» MORE: Do fuel additives work?
2. Use a gas price app
Use your smartphone to save at the pump. Gas price apps compare gas prices in an area to show you which stations have the lowest prices. Several apps are free to use and let you search by your specific location or a city or ZIP code, as well as criteria like type of fuel and payment method. Taking a few minutes to compare local prices could save you a small chunk of change each month.
3. Choose a good rewards program or credit card
Many such programs abound, but drilling down — pun intended — to the savings is difficult. Here’s a quick look at the important factors to consider when choosing the best card for saving money on gas:
Annual fee: If a credit card carries an annual fee, it can quickly wipe out your initial savings. However, if the card offers robust savings in other areas, too, it might be worth it.
Reward caps: Some gas savings are capped either per quarter or per year. Figure out what your spending is and determine whether it fits under the card’s rewards cap.
Redemption value: Points can commonly be redeemed for cash or miles. Make sure you understand what each rewards point is worth. Many are a penny, but some are even less.
Pump or gas station: Some cards offer rewards on anything bought at a filling station, while others specify their gas rewards are for pay-at-the-pump purchases only.
Membership requirements: Are there membership costs that ding you or is it a hassle to join?
» MORE: Best gas credit cards
Note, if you are using a credit card, pay off the entire balance or the interest will wipe out any gas price savings.
4. Pay cash
Many gas stations advertise a cash price that is cheaper than the credit card price. So don’t be surprised if the price you pay for using a credit card isn’t what’s on the marquee.
At some stations, using a debit instead of a credit card will also get you the cash discount. If you opt for a debit card, make sure you’re getting the discount before you start pumping since not all stations allow this.
Also, note that debit card transactions are less secure than using a credit card when it comes to consumer protections if you fall prey to a card skimmer at the pump.
5. Screw the gas cap on
To get the most out of your tank of gas, be sure to screw the gas cap on correctly. Turn it until you hear a click. If the gas cap isn’t sealed properly, up to 30 gallons of gasoline a year could be evaporating through a poor seal. It may also trigger a check-engine light on your dashboard. Many newer cars have a capless fuel-filler system, but an imperfect seal of its spring-loaded flap can both leak gasoline fumes and cause a warning light.
Saving while driving
How you drive has a big impact on how many miles per gallon you’ll get. Here are a few ways to drive so your wallet can thank you later.
6. Watch your speed
Driving at higher speeds can push your car past the point of its best fuel efficiency. Avoiding high speeds when unnecessary can save you money with better fuel economy, as can accelerating at a reasonable rate instead of revving your engine. Tend to have a lead foot? Try using cruise control to better maintain your speed.
7. Avoid idling
Unless you’re sitting in traffic, turning off your engine and restarting the car is more fuel efficient than idling. How much gas you burn when idling depends on your engine, but some vehicles can go through as much as half a gallon of gas an hour. To save gas, turn off your engine if you are going to need to idle for more than 10 seconds. Note that some newer cars will do this for you to save gas.
8. Skip the roof rack and carrier
While it might give you more space for those long trips, a roof rack and carrier combo will eat up your gas mileage. Consumer Reports found in a 2020 study that a roof rack with a carrier dropped a sedan’s fuel economy by 19% and an SUV’s fuel economy by 13%. If you can get to your destination without it, skip the roof rack and carrier — especially if you’re not using it — to save on gas.
Saving with maintenance
You can also save on gas with a sharp eye and a good maintenance schedule. Here are a few ways to keep your vehicle going with good gas mileage.
9. Keep your tires aired up
In addition to being unsafe, underinflated tires can drop your fuel economy. For every 1 pound per square inch that your tire deflates, you lose roughly 0.2% of your gas mileage. Keep your tires properly pressurized to get the most out of your gas tank.
Read the sticker inside the driver’s side door of your vehicle or in the owner’s manual to find the best tire pressure for your tires. The maximum pressure that is printed on the sidewall of your tire is meant for special situations and shouldn’t be used for everyday driving unless recommended by the manufacturer.
10. Don’t skip an oil change
Replacing your engine oil when it’s recommended for your car will help reduce friction in the engine and give you better gas mileage. The good news: Oil changes are usually a small portion of the total cost of owning a car and will help keep your vehicle running for a long time.
11. Pay attention to your miles per gallon
Most modern cars track fuel efficiency for you, and this is an important number to pay attention to. Without a reasonable explanation — like a change in driving habits — a sudden drop or gradual slip over time in your miles per gallon can point to a potential problem or need for maintenance. Don’t just assume that you can’t help your car maintain a good miles-per-gallon number just because it’s got some years on it.
» MORE: How to make your car last longer