Take these tips to save on gasoline
BY Staff and Wire Reports
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/25/12 at 3:03 AM
As the Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close, travelers on their way home will be reaching deep into their pockets to pay for fuel that's at a record level for this holiday.
The national average last week was hovering above $3.40 a gallon for unleaded gasoline, 8 cents higher than a year earlier.
Americans are likely to spend a record amount for gas in 2012, experts say.
Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service estimates that consumers will spend about $483 billion on fuel this year, eclipsing last year's record of $471 billion. And that's even as Americans use less gas by taking shorter trips or driving more fuel-efficient cars.
The Energy Department estimates that gas prices will average $3.64 a gallon this year after averaging a record $3.53 a gallon in 2011.
A number of things affect the price of gasoline. It starts with the price of oil, which can be impacted by everything from the strength, or weakness, of the global economy, to hurricanes or tensions in the Middle East.
"There's a different set of factors every day, but they keep coming around like a bad penny," Chuck Mai, a spokesman for travel club AAA, said recently.
Crude oil is turned into gasoline and other products at refineries, which are another factor in the market. The U.S. has about half the number of refineries it did 30 years ago. When one goes down due to a fire or unplanned maintenance, it can lead to a shortage of gasoline, which sends prices higher.
All of these factors have come into play in a big way this year. That's why prices haven't just been high - they've been on a roller coaster. There have been four separate swings of at least 40 cents - two higher and two lower.
Even though gasoline was at an all-time high for a Thanksgiving weekend this year, it still was down 44 cents from mid-September, when prices spiked as some refineries had problems and worries intensified about Iran's nuclear program.
Consumers in Oklahoma have been shielded from the full brunt of the increases. Typically, Oklahoma ranks among the five cheapest states for gasoline, as measured by AAA. For example, while the U.S. average last Wednesday was $3.43 a gallon, many convenience stores in the Tulsa area were charging $2.99.
Still, $3 a gallon for fuel puts a pinch on many drivers. And it was just September in Tulsa when the price hit $3.69.
There are two ways you can cut your gas tab, at least a little: Use less of it, and pay less for what you use.
Experts recommend leaving behind what you don't need. An extra 100 pounds reduces fuel economy by up to 2 percent, according to the Energy Department.
Also, don't leave your car idling - it can use up to a half gallon of fuel per hour. And slow down. Fuel economy gets worse quickly at speeds over 50 miles per hour. Each 5 mph over 50 is like paying an extra 24 cents per gallon, the Energy Department says.
Your computer or smartphone can help you find cheaper gas while you drive, thanks to services such as GasBuddy.com. The service, which can be accessed on a smartphone application or on the Internet, reports gasoline prices at nearby stations. GasBuddy.com, which has 8.4 million users, gets its price information from users who enter fuel prices into the app after seeing them while driving by or filling up.
Users post prices to help other drivers, according to GasBuddy.com's Patrick DeHaan, and those who contribute can become eligible to win a $250 gas card. DeHaan says that 70,000 users supply data daily.
Be aware that sometimes, especially in rural areas, the price given might be a few days old. And don't get too obsessed about saving a penny or two a gallon - you might burn up your savings by driving an extra distance to find the cheaper gas.
Here's an example. A driver of a car that gets the national average of 23 miles per gallon notices that a station five miles from the one he's near is 10 cents a gallon cheaper. Sounds good, right? But the driver would save only $1 if he bought 10 gallons there, and he would burn 74 cents worth of fuel. Total savings: 26 cents.
DeHaan's rule of thumb: a driver must be saving at least five cents per gallon for every mile they drive out of their way to make it worthwhile.
Fuel-saving tips from AAA
Gas: Only use premium if your owner's manual says you should. Also, don't "top off" when filling your tank. Most of that fuel either remains in the hose or evaporates.
Tires: Surveys show that one out of every four cars on the road today has at least one extremely low tire. Check your owner's manual or the sticker in your glove compartment or on a door jamb for recommended tire pressures. Do not go by what is on the tire; that's the maximum.
Air filter: If it's dirty, buy a new one. This can increase your gas mileage by up to 10 percent.
Engine: Old, dirty spark plugs can reduce fuel economy by 30 percent.
Reduce your miles: If you have to drive far to do your shopping, make sure you purchase everything you might need for several days. Cold engines use more fuel than warm ones.
Drive efficiently: Stay within posted speed limits; avoid rush-hour driving; stop aggressive driving; and avoid unnecessary idling.
Lighten your load: Take unnecessary weight out of trunks, pickup beds and back seats. Every extra 100 pounds can cost you a mile per gallon.
Tulsa World Business Editor John Stancavage contributed to this story by The Associated Press.