How to Save Money on Gas Each Year

Filling your tank with gas accounts for, on average, almost 20 percent of all driving costs. Luckily, there are many ways you can easily save money on gas each year.

Driving is expensive, and it’s not just because of car payments, insurance, and the inevitable maintenance. The fluctuating price of gasoline is costly. While cars are more fuel-efficient today than ever before, in America the average cost of gas (and motor oil) per car, per year is $1,968 according to a 2019 report by the Department of Labor’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When you’re in the market for a new car, or renting a car for a road trip, it’s especially important to consider overall fuel costs.

Thankfully, there are ways to help your fuel economy, get better mpg (that’s “miles per gallon”) when driving, and save money on gas each year. Here’s how you can save money on gas, maximize fuel efficiency when driving, and be smarter at the pump to save hundreds on the price of gas annually.

Before you drive

Plan your route ahead of time

That doesn’t just mean knowing how to get from point A to point B, but rather fully planning your best route ahead of time to avoid slow or stop and go, traffic. Yes, sometimes it may seem counter-intuitive to drive more miles to save money on gas, but some longer routes may actually be more fuel-efficient, explains Kyle Tetz, former Honda employee, vanlife and travel expert, and founder of The Next Trip. This is because if you’re able to maintain a steady speed on a secondary road or by taking a highway instead of suffering through a mix of city stop-lights and traffic, you can easily save money on gas…and receive the added benefit of less brake wear and lower anxiety. This is a must when you calculate gas cost for a trip. Utilizing an American road trip guide can also help you plan your route better and save on gas during a road trip.

Drive on properly inflated tires

Proper inflation of all four tires is the key to maximizing gas mileage, says Rick Cornilie, senior product merchandising manager (and resident tire + auto expert) at SimpleTire.com. He adds that while engine efficiency is the key to getting better mpg when driving, in order to maximize the engine’s potential, your tires should be optimally inflated. Under-inflated tires will deliver poor gas mileage and result in more trips to the pump. Checking that your tires are properly inflated is on every road trip essentials checklist.

Remove excess weight

The heavier your car is, the less fuel-efficient it will become, says Lauren Fix of The Car Coach®. She suggests removing bulky, weighty objects from the car whenever they’re not necessary for the journey. Fix adds that, in particular, if you avoid hauling bulky items on its roof, you’ll increase your vehicle’s aerodynamics and help to keep your car as fuel-efficient as possible. Planning a vacation? Check out the best road trip cars available right now.

Stop warming up your car

Your fuel economy is always going to be worse in winter than in summer, but you can help bridge the gap by not warming up your car. Modern cars don’t need anything more than a minute to “wake up.” Letting your car warm up any more than that is unnecessary, and will cost you extra gas money.

Pre-cool your hybrid vehicle

If you drive a plug-in hybrid (or an electric vehicle), you should turn on the AC (when needed) while the car is still plugged into the charger, advises the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. Doing so will help to extend your vehicle’s range once it’s on the road—and for hybrids that means spending less money on gas. Could you pass your driving test again right now? Try to answer these driving test questions.

Behind the wheel

Minimize A/C usage in traffic

Think before you blast the A/C if keeping gas costs down is your top concern. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it’s best to turn off the air conditioner in favor of rolling down the windows when you’re driving in stop-and-go city traffic or moving at slower speeds. Hot weather can increase fuel economy but the A/C combined with idling will work to offset this fuel-efficiency.

Keep your windows up on the highway

When you’re on the highway, however, using the A/C is your best bet for cooling, notes the U.S. Department of Energy. Why? Driving fast with the windows down can reduce fuel economy because open windows increase aerodynamic drag due to wind resistance. The wind may feel great through your hair while on one of the best American road trips but it will cause your vehicle to use more energy as it pushes forward through the air. The effect is actually quite small at low speeds but increases as you speed up on the highway.

Maintain a steady speed

Believe it or not, you get better mpg and can save money on gas simply by driving better. When you maintain a consistent speed, you will slowly make your vehicle more fuel-efficient and in turn, spend less on fuel. The best fuel economy can be achieved when you are driving between 50 to 65 mph, says Fix.

Use cruise control only on flat roads

Avoid using your car’s cruise control while driving over hills or in mountainous terrain, advises Tetz. He says that while cruise control is great to maintain a steady speed on flat terrain, as soon as the road becomes hilly, cruise control begins to use too much gas to accelerate up those inclines. The better way to conserve gas when driving on steep inclines is to allow your speed to slightly decrease as you go up, then slowly increase your speed as you go back down, Tetz advises. This approach will save your engine from having to work too hard, and save you money on gas.

Don’t drive aggressively

Hard accelerations at the turn of a green light and hard braking just as a traffic light turns red isn’t only poor driver etiquette, but the habits also burn extra gas, make your vehicle’s performance less fuel-efficient, and ultimately costs you extra money at the gas pump. Instead, drive calmly, steadily, and safely. Doing so will reduce stress in you and every driver near your car, and will increase your fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds.

At the pump

Compare gas prices on the road ahead

You can find the cheapest gas prices based on your current location, route, and destination before you even hit the road with gas apps like GasBuddy and GasGuru. Downloading a gas compare app before your next road trip is a must, as are downloading these road trip apps and following the steps on this road trip survival guide.

Find a credit card that rewards gas purchases

Many credit cards offer rewards such as cashback, travel miles, or extra point earnings. If you’re good at paying your credit cards off, a branded gas station card may be your best bet; but they often carry hefty interest rates so if you know you won’t pay it off each month, skip this one.

Maximize your grocery store perks

Some grocery stores have partnered with certain chains to let you use grocery store loyalty reward points to save money on gas (which ones depend on where you live). You may be able to save 5¢ to 10¢ a gallon the next time you go to fill up.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.