Metro Weekly

Fuel for Thought

Money: 21 Ways to Cut Your Cost at the Gas Pump

Prices are rising at the pumps around the Washington area. Motorist in many parts of the city are shelling out more than $2 a gallon to fill up. For auto-addicted Americans, this rise in price hits the pocket hard. But you can ease the pain by following a few simple tips to drive down gas costs:

  1. Choose your new car wisely. Let’s all just admit the obvious truth: You don’t need a monster SUV to go to the grocery store. I know, Land Rovers look cool, but they eat gas like an Abrams tank. So unless you’re a photographer for National Geographic or a part-time mountain man, consider a sedan.
  2. While you’re at it, avoid vehicles with power-consuming options such as air-conditioning, power windows and automatic transmission. In hot climates such as Virginia, choose a light-colored exterior and interior — it will reflect light and heat so you don’t need to use the air-conditioning as much.
  3. Shop around. Perhaps the simplest way to save money is by not buying gas at the first place you see. Some stations vary in price by as much as 20 cents a gallon. It all adds up.
  4. Do not warm the car up for too long. When starting your vehicle, 30 to 45 seconds is usually plenty of time to warm the engine. Modern cars and engines are designed to be driven almost immediately.
  5. Do not drive. Unlike most American cities, much of Washington offers residents the choice of walking or biking to neighborhood restaurants and shops. When meeting friends out, I often take my bike. It’s faster, healthier and easier since I never need to find parking.
  6. Especially on short trips, it is important to ask “Is this necessary?” Saving money on gas requires a rethink of attitudes and values.
  7. Don’t ride the brakes or the clutch. This causes unnecessary wear and uses more fuel.
  8. Slow down. If speed cameras do not catch you, your wallet will. In most cars, travelling at 55 mph on the open road uses 25 per cent less fuel than driving at 70 mph.
  9. Multi-task. Perform as many errands or jobs as possible during one trip to reduce the number of journeys you make.
  10. Do not let your tank empty. This forces you into the nearest gas station and you cannot hold out for cheaper prices.
  11. Choose higher gears when possible. They use less fuel.
  12. Prepare for your trip. Where possible, plan to drive outside peak hour traffic and work out the most direct route before you leave. Also make sure your vehicle is serviced well and your tires are fully inflated: Soft tires not only result in up to five percent of your fuel being wasted, they also wear out more quickly.
  13. Minimize air-conditioning. Using the air-conditioner can increase fuel consumption by up to ten percent.
  14. Drive smoothly. Fast starts burn four times as much fuel as gentle acceleration. Observe the traffic flow ahead to avoid sudden braking.
  15. If stuck in stationary traffic for prolonged periods, switch off the engine.
  16. Stay aerodynamic. Keeping windows closed improves your car’s fuel efficiency: an open window can increase fuel consumption by up to five percent. Roof racks also increase drag.
  17. Travel light. Do not carry excess weight in the trunk or on spare seats, it simply makes the engine work harder and use more fuel.
  18. Cruise control. If you have it, use it. Cruise control reduces jumpy driving to save gas.
  19. Keep your steering wheel still. The more you weave on the road the further you have to travel and the more gas is used.
  20. Use public transport. Washington has one of the best subway systems in the world. Wherever possible leave the car at home, especially to and from work so you avoid sitting in peak-hour traffic needlessly.
  21. Car-pool. Find like-minded people to join your drive each morning. Costs can then be shared and you can also use transit lanes for quicker travel to work.

One of the reasons people get so angry about higher gas prices is that they feel they can’t fight back at the pump. But as you can see, each of us has many tools to cut our consumption and cut the oil companies profits.