6 Tips for Saving Money on Gas for Your Last-Minute Road Trip

By Rachel Slifka
July 25, 2019

What’s better than a last-minute road trip? 

Regardless of whether you plan to drive to the beach or the mountains, a road trip is the perfect way to see some of the country’s finest scenery.

At the same time, the cost of gas can make budget-conscious travelers worry about whether they can afford the trip. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average price per gallon of gas sits at $2.77. So, if you’re taking a long trip, that can easily set you back big bucks. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to write off the idea of a road trip. There are plenty of ways you can still afford that vacation, fuel and all. Take a look at our top 6 tips to save money on gas. 

1. Lighten Your Load

Do you really need an entire tool set, sack of mulch, or hockey equipment for your trip? If there’s anything you can take out of your car before you depart, do it. According to the EPA, an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce your miles per gallon by about one percent. 

Have a heavy car? Not to worry. The EPA says the reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to your vehicle’s weight. So, extra weight actually affects light-weight vehicles more than heavier ones. 

2. Check Your Tire Pressure

When was the last time you checked the tire pressure on your vehicle? 

Ensuring your tires are properly inflated is easy, and it goes a long way to saving on fuel costs. In fact, you can improve your gas mileage by 0.6 percent on average, or about two cents per gallon, by making sure your tires are inflated properly. In some cases, you can improve your gas mileage by as much as three percent! Plus, under-inflated tires are dangerous, so you’ll want to double-check them anyway before you take off.

To inflate your tires, you will need to know what PSI your tires require. To find the proper PSI, you can check the vehicle owner’s manual, or check to see if you have a sticker inside the driver’s door. 

3. Download a Gas Savings App

Inevitably, you will need to fill up on gas while you’re on the road. While you probably have a good idea of which gas stations have the best fuel rates near your house, you may not know where to find cheap gas while you’re traveling. 

Luckily, you can take advantage of mobile apps which will tell you the best gas prices anywhere. GasBuddy, for example, is a free app, which will pull up the prices of gas at gas stations near you. This way, you can choose the most affordable option. 

GasBuddy even offers five cents off per gallon if you pay through their GasBack program on the app. That’s a pretty slick way to save money

4. Set the Cruise Control

Feel lazy using cruise control? Get over it! Setting the cruise control can improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

To that end, Edmunds conducted a study to test how using cruise control improved fuel efficiency. In the test, they drove four different cars around a 55-mile loop. The first time, they set the cruise control to 70 miles per hour. The second time, they turned the cruise control off, and the speed varied between 65 and 75 miles per hour. By setting the cruise control at a moderate speed and avoiding aggressive driving, they saw a savings of up to 14 percent, with the average savings sitting at seven percent. 

There is one instance, however, when Edmunds recommends turning off the cruise control: When you’re driving over a hilly terrain. Why? Cruise control doesn’t allow you to “coast” downhill, and instead, your car will use extra gas as you continue to downshift to lower gears. 

5. Take Your Car for a Tune Up

Generally, it’s a good idea to have your car looked over by a mechanic before you hit the road. This keeps you safe and secure. But a tune-up can also help you save on gas. 

According to Popular Mechanics, it’s a good idea for a mechanic to check the car’s hoses, brakes, fluid levels, filters, coolant, radiator, and tires. Ensuring your vehicle is road ready and safe also means the car will likely be more fuel efficient. 

6. Choose the Car with the Best Gas Mileage

Are you taking your trip with multiple people who own cars? If so, perhaps you and your friends can agree to use the car with the best gas mileage.

While people are often tempted to take the biggest car on a road trip, if you can get by with a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle, this may be a better choice.

For example, an SUV gets about 30 miles per gallon on the highway, compared to a hybrid, which gets more like 50 miles per gallon. Yes, the hybrid may be smaller and less comfortable, but you can save a lot of money. For example, if you drove that SUV 500 miles and paid $2.77 per gallon for gas, that trip would cost you about $46.16 in fuel. Guess how much it would cost to drive the hybrid the same distance? About $27.70. You’d pocket more than $20!

Hit the Road!

Now that you and your vehicle are ready to go, it’s time to enjoy your road trip without breaking the bank. 

Another pro tip: Start saving money now and this way you may have some extra spending money to take along with you. Get ready to hit the open road!

Rachel Slifka, MBA, is a millennial personal finance expert and HR pro. She started a freelance writing side hustle in college to pay off $90k of student loans. Her work has been featured in TaxAct, Wise Bread, Chime, LendingTree, Young Adult Money, and more. She now lives (student loan debt free) in Seattle with her husband and a house full of pets.

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