Trimming the Average Budget: Gasoline and Motor Oil

This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.

Transportation – gasoline, motor oil – $2,384

The average American family drops $200 a month on gasoline and motor oil – and that’s at early 2009 prices for gas, which were significantly lower than prices today.

However, this is one of the easiest numbers to trim in your entire budget. There are several simple steps anyone can take to reduce their gasoline usage without making radical lifestyle changes. Here are twelve options.

Form a carpool (or join an existing one). Even if this is an irregular carpool – my wife, for example, carpools with a friend two days a week, saving her one day of driving – it still saves you signifcant fuel costs on your commute and wear and tear on your car. In some localities, you also gain the option to use HOV lanes, which can add to the fuel efficiency of the drive.

Use public transportation. If you have easy access to public transportation, it is almost always a fuel saver, particularly if you can use such transportation routinely. Even if you can just occasionally use the bus system or the subway, it still leaves gas in your tank.

Use a bicycle – or your feet. Alternately, use a bicycle – or your own feet – to reach nearby locations. I often walk to the post office instead of driving there – it takes substantially longer, but if I use a brisk walk, I can get a moderate workout from the situation, making me healthier, while also saving money on the fuel.

Buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. If gasoline is $3 a gallon, moving from a 20 mile per gallon car to a 25 mile per gallon car saves you $360 a year (assuming you drive 12,000 miles a year). If you’re buying used, such a savings can make it well worth your while to invest a bit more in a more fuel-efficient car.

Change your own oil. Not only will you save on the maintenance costs if you’re not paying someone to do it, but it also gives you much more control over the actual oil that goes into you car – and much more power when it comes to comparison shopping for that oil. Study up on the type of oil that’s truly best for your car, then shop around for it. You’ll find a great price on the best thing for your vehicle – a win all around.

Drive the speed limit, especially on the interstate. Stick in the slow lane and stick with the speed limit and you’ll find yourself saving quite a lot on gas. “But everyone’s going 90!” If that’s the case, and you still choose to drive there, then you’re paying a substantial amount to drive at that pace. And you’ll avoid tickets that will raise your insurance rates.

Keep your windows closed – or your air conditioning off. If you’re driving in town at low speeds, keep the windows down and your air conditioning off. However, if you’re out on the open road, do just the opposite. The wind drag when you go at higher speeds becomes significant, exceeding the fuel costs of running an air conditioner. Alternating between the two will save you the most money.

Minimize the “stop and go” when you’re driving in town. Instead of gunning it out of a stoplight then just slowing down again to a complete stop at the next stoplight, accelerate more slowly out of a stoplight and slow down gradually well before the next one. You’ll maintain much more momentum (and thus retain fuel) by slowing gradually rather than slowing quickly, stopping, and then accelerating from a stop.

Re-evaluate your routes. Are you taking the most efficient route to your regular destinations? Many people lock themselves into the first route to their destination that they discover, not bothering to investigate further and discover shorter routes. Doing so saves on fuel costs, wear and tear, and your valuable time.

Keep your tires properly inflated. Ever tried a bicycle with partially deflated tires? It’s hard work to pedal. Improperly inflated tires on your car cause your car to burn a lot more gas to get going. Given that it’s really easy to properly inflate your tires at your local gas station, you should take advantage of the free air to save yourself some cash.

Remove excess weight. If you’re carrying items in your car without a good purpose, remove them – they’re just slowly milking your fuel efficiency. Go through your trunk, your back seat, and the bed of your truck and look for items that don’t need to be there. (The same goes for fuel itself – you’re better off refueling when you’re close to empty than when your tank is mostly full – though the effect is tiny.)

When you’re stopped, turn off the engine. Whenever you’re going to be idling for more than fifteen seconds or so, turn off the engine on your vehicle. Idling just causes your car to burn gasoline without providing any forward motion for you – and even just a few seconds’ worth of idling eats more gas than is eaten during ignition.

I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.

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57 thoughts on “Trimming the Average Budget: Gasoline and Motor Oil

  1. marta says:

    All right, my tip would be to reduce clutter so that you don’t need to buy a big house just to store your stuff.

  2. John says:

    Trimming shelter costs:

    Find the right balance on repair and maintenance items. Repair it professionally, repair it do-it-yourself, leave it alone. Each person has to weigh the costs and benefits of home maintenance and repair items against their skills or skills they could learn. I have done several small and large home improvement projects, but each one needed an analysis of risk and requirements. Striking the right balance is key. Some things you are good at some things you might not be good at. Personally I’m good at landscaping and manual labor. I’m not so good at drywall repair. So I can and have tackled much larger outside projects than inside ones.

  3. Johanna says:

    You can trim your shelter costs by moving to Iowa. Of course, if your workplace is not in Iowa, that would do bad things to your spending on gasoline and motor oil.

  4. Anne KD says:

    If possible, work from home so you don’t have so much cost in the way of transportation to the job. Even working from home one or two days a month can mean saving money.

  5. J says:

    I carpool to work as often as possible. Luckily my carpool is pretty casual, so when life rears it’s ugly head and interferes with the ability to carpool, it’s not seen as a big deal. In addition to the benefits to the wallet already mentioned, carpooling can also be a tremendous stress reducer, since you don’t have to put up with traffic as much. In addition, getting to work at a set time and leaving at a set time can force more disciplined time management since others are depending on you to get to and from work. You must get up on time to make the carpool, and there’s no “working late” on carpool days.

    The bit about the “irregular carpool” is so true. Too often people think about going “all the way”, when in reality it’s possible to “win” by just carpooling two to three days a week.

    Another suggestion would be to pick up a ScanGauge if your car doesn’t have MPG readout. It’s a device you can plug into the OBD-II port of your car, and it shows you your gas mileage, fuel consumption and a host of other information about your car. You can also put in the cost per gallon of gas and it will tell you how much each mile costs you. Seeing immediate feedback can definitely help with developing more fuel-efficient behavior. The ScanGauge can show you where the big wins can come from versus things that really don’t do much at all.

  6. Steffie says:

    #3 Johanna, you make my day…..

  7. KC says:

    Live close to work. One of the main things we looked at when we relocated was housing near work. My husband is 2 miles from his office. We save a bundle in gas costs and maintenance on his car. It also gives you flexibility. You could get by on one car much easier. You can get by on having a really old (maybe not so reliable) car – or even one with not so good fuel economy that you’ve kept because its paid for. Since he doesn’t have a long commute we really don’t care what he drives as long as its paid for.

    The icing on the cake is that you have all this extra time to spend with your family cause you aren’t involved in a long commute.

  8. Gretchen says:

    Living near work would acutally increase one’s shelter costs, would it not?
    Ha.

    I’m still not changing my own oil, either.

  9. Josh says:

    I still think getting a roommate is the best way to reduce shelter costs.

  10. lurker carl says:

    Reduce shelter costs and transportation costs – live at work.

  11. the Dad says:

    You guys are hardcore! The best move we made was buying a hybrid (which allows me to use the carpool lanes even if alone in CA) and starting a carpool.

    The car as 185k miles on it now, so I hope to get another two years out of it.

    Nonetheless, our family spends $240 on gas monthly. Living closer to work would be really nice.

  12. Jamie says:

    One comment on driving with your windows down in town: It may save you a few cents, but the pollution you will breathe in versus having your air conditioning on recirc is quite significant, and not worth it in my opinion.

  13. Kristin says:

    @The Dad

    What kind of car do you have?

  14. Troy says:

    For some people, keeping their tires inflated helps to trim their shelter costs.

    Now that I think of it, so does turning off the engine and driving the speed limit.

    I was saying that the other day. Rather than reduce my shelter costs through normal means, I am simply going to change the oil mor regularl and drive the speed limit.

    What is most impressive is how obvious it is that this typo hasn’t been fixed and no response. Comments must be on auto like the homeowners insurance.

  15. leigh says:

    turn off your engine every time you’ll be stopped for 15 seconds or more?! i strongly disagree. starts are hard on a conventional engine. (the concept works in toyota hybrid systems because the system ramps up oil pressure prior to applying spark.)

    the cost of a shorter starter life more than offsets the gas savings, and that doesn’t even include the consequences of increased engine wear.

  16. cv says:

    Good grief. Trent has said on numerous occasions that he writes and schedules posts to go live a week or so ahead of time, and he said that the whole family has been down with a stomach bug over the last few days. Cut the guy a bit of slack on not getting to the shelter costs typo.

  17. Angie says:

    @cv – I think a bit of good-natured ribbing is fine. Geez.

  18. Henry says:

    The EPA says a minute of idling takes the same amount of gas as starting the vehicle. What source says turn the engine off for longer than 15 seconds? This really is for ‘entertainment purposes only,’ isn’t it? Wikipedia has better citations.

  19. Driving more conservatively, more slowly, what a huge difference.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  20. Sara says:

    I think “Minimize the ‘stop and go’ when you’re driving in town” is the most practical tip that anyone can do (it’s also safer to drive this way when the roads are icy). I also have to agree with people who said living close to work is important — you probably drive to and from work more often than you go anywhere else, so it really adds up.

  21. almost there says:

    I don’t even see why motor oil is included as a budget expense. I understand the monthly expense of gasoline though. The only time I spend money on motor oil is when I change mine. If one is constantly adding oil the engine needs work big time. That means it is burning it by ring blowby or leaking it out. If one were to include other maintenance expenses they should include all wear items such as air and cabin filters, brake pads and shoes… Oh, and a paid for house reduces shelter expense as well as couch surfing.

  22. Henry says:

    If I have a noticeably deflated tire when I get in my vehicle in the morning, should I drive .5 miles to the nearest gas station that charges $.75 for air, or drive 3.4 miles for free air? How deflated can it be before the 75 cents is lesser than the potential damage to the tire? If time is money, how much time should I spend thinking about my 75 cents? Have I defeated my purpose if I spend all night pondering those three quarters and how I can avoid spending them? How many beers do I have to hand over the back fence to my neighbor before I should feel comfortable banging on his door at 8 in the morning to see if I can use his air compressor? What is the cost of that beer? Is it greater than 75 cents? Does it matter if it is imported or domestic? Canned or bottled?

  23. Brittany says:

    Actually there’s a ton of empirical evidence that if you’re going to be idling more than ten seconds with a modern fuel-injection engine, it’s more fuel efficient to turn off your car. (I’m sure you can verify this with ten seconds of google searching.) Also, modern fuel-injection engines don’t need a warm up period–that’s old school.

    However, this one I had never heard:

    “The same goes for fuel itself – you’re better off refueling when you’re close to empty than when your tank is mostly full – though the effect is tiny.”

    Why is that?

  24. prodgod says:

    @Henry: Where do you live that gas stations charge for air? I think it’s illegal in CA now. Definitely bad business practice. Same goes for water.

  25. Shevy says:

    @Henry
    What source says turn the engine off for longer than 15 seconds?

    “If you actually idle your car for more than 10 seconds, you’re wasting fuel,” says Quentin Chiotti, air program director at Pollution Probe, a Canadian environmental watchdog group.

    That’s from an article in the Ottawa Citizen back in 2006, at about the time there was a government program encouraging Canadians to turn off their engines instead of idling.

    I also wanted to comment on Trent’s assertion that public transportation is almost always a fuel saver. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not always a *money* saver. For example, if we were to bus to work and school instead of spending about $5 in gas per day, we would spend 2 adult fares at $2.50 each, 1 concession fare of $1.75 and 2 free riders (kids under 6 are free). Each way. So we’d spend $13.50 per day instead of $5 and it would take somewhere between 1 and 1.5 hours to bus whereas it takes about 45 minutes for me to drive the route (making 3 stops along the way). That’s clearly not a good use of either money or time.

  26. Bill says:

    @#24 prodgod
    In Oregon most gas stations charge for air.

  27. Henry says:

    I don’t live in CA, and it sure is bad business to charge for air. Every gas station in this area is just like the Kwik-E-Mart on the Simpsons, with Apu behind the counter.
    It is not my job to cite the work or statements of this blog. I have it in a book sponsored by the EPA that shutting off the engine when you idle for a minute or less uses more fuel in start up.
    I did some Googling. 7.5 cents worth of gas to idle FOR FIVE MINUTES?! That’s nothing. And someone’s going to get in a sweat over ten seconds.

    driving 60 mph at 20 mpg that would use 3 gal/hr or 3/60 = 0.05 gal/min. So 5 minutes would use 0.25 gal, ie a qt of gas for 5 minutes (at 60mph)

    1/10 use at idle as at speed, your car would then burn about 0.1 x 0.25 gallons = 0.025 gal/5 minutes at idle.

    .025 gallon of gas x $2.65 per gallon = 0.06625 cents

    The price was so minute it was calculated in five minute increments, rather than by minute.

    The consensus I saw seemed to be that shutting it down just ‘made people feel better.’
    Maybe you should try shutting ‘er down next time you’re at a stoplight or drive-thru. Probably get the finger from the people behind you, but you can probably get away with it in Iowa or other areas with large numbers of people of Scandinavian descent. But you might get a gun drawn on you in some places, all over a penny or two.

  28. lurker carl says:

    Free air = manual tire pump. Every other public source I’ve come across since about 1980 requires electricity and quarters to run the compressor.

    Brittany – Keeping a minimal volume of fuel in the tank reduces vehicle weight which slightly decreases fuel consumption. Gasoline is roughly 6.1 pounds per gallon, filling a twenty gallon tank adds 122 pounds but adding only three gallons to a nearly empty tank makes the vehicle 104 pounds lighter. The saving is miniscule at best but so much time is wasted refueling more often and running out of fuel isn’t worth the effort for saving a penny or two per day. Excessive pressure on the accelerator and brake pedals wastes more fuel than the weight of a full tank, along with prematurely wearing out tires and brake pads.

  29. triLcat says:

    If you live in a place with good public transit and you don’t have small children traveling with you, it’s worth doing a cost-benefit analysis to see what you gain/lose by using public transit to get to/from work.

    It’s particularly worth looking at whether you can completely get rid of a car if you have two, since there are costs to owning and maintaining a car.

    I wouldn’t give up a first car, though. My family is currently living without one, and we have two toddlers… not an easy life.

  30. deRuiter says:

    I don’t change the oil myself, too dirty, too much trouble, too time consuming, and then you have to pay to get rid of the used oil in an environmentally sane manner. I watch for promotion coupons and have the local auto place chnage oil and filter for $19.95 for the minivan, plus tax. It’s fast, efficient, environmentally sound. And my hands don’t get dirty, I don’t have to wiggle under the vehicle, it’s safe. If they can make a profit doing the oil and filter change at $19.99, good for them and good for me.

  31. Charles Cohn says:

    I change my oil myself and buy my oil and filters from Wal-Mart’s store brand. They have the best prices.

    If you join a warehouse club, join one with a gas station. They always have the cheapest gas around.

    If you have a late-model GM car or truck, it will tell you when it’s time to change oil. Don’t let anybody tell you to change it more often.

    There is a tradeoff between fuel economy and safety. We were in a collision in our Chevy Express full-size van when a car had a collision on the other side of the interstate, caromed across the median and hit us. We escaped with minor injuries, and I’m sure we would have been much worse off in a politically-correct economy car.

  32. Substantial amount to drive over the speed limit? How much are we talking here? It might be worth my time to drive 10mph over the speed limit to get where I’m going a half hour sooner.

  33. Kevin says:

    As a related point to the “switch to a more fuel-efficient car” item, how about ensuring that you buy a car that doesn’t require premium gasoline? That could save you hundreds per year.

  34. Gretchen says:

    Constant on and off of the engine is bad on the starter.

  35. KC says:

    I still believe individual cars are different. I can drive my car at 55 or 85 and I get the same mileage. I always check my fuel mileage when I do highway driving. I’ve lost a little efficiency as my car ages. I used to get 32mpg at highway speeds now I get about 31.5mpg. The car is 9 years old. But I’ve never noticed a difference at any speed over 55 – all got the same mpg for my vehicle.

    City driving is entirely different though. Not driving my car like I stole it makes a significant difference in my highway mileage. We have a lot of hills where I live and I try to use momentum from one hill the help me get up the next one. I get about 1mpg better mileage than I got when I lived in Memphis (very flat). I’ve always been easy on the brakes, too. No need to fly up to an intersection or light its a waste of gas and wears out your brakes quicker.

  36. Lori says:

    I am a single mom with 9kids,6 of whom still live at home,we live in the country 11 miles from town.I have chosen to be a stay at home mom because my children need me,even though we don’t have much.so most of your tips for gas/auto cannot apply.I do not change my oil,because my mechanic who does a lot for me when he does it also checks my van over when he does it to make sure every thing is well,and has often done repairs with out labour charges or for less,and small repairs for nothing.He even managed to find tires for me for 10$ each the best tires I ever had.
    so for me the best tip is planning.I drive my children to clubs(get rides for those I can)and I go to church in town.I go shopping when I drive someone in or when I go to the doctor.When I need to go to the bigger cities,I go to the discount stores and stock up on reduced breads and on less expensive gluten free goods.I will be gone all day,and save some money.
    Hope that helps some.

  37. Kevin says:

    @Brittany

    For the same reason it takes so much rocket fuel to get the space shuttle into orbit – fuel is heavy!

    If you’re driving around town with a full tank of gas, you’re actually burning more gas than you would if your tank was almost empty, because that full tank of gas makes your car heavier. A heavier vehicle requires more gas to move it around.

    The majority of the fuel burned during a space shuttle launch is spent lifting the rest of the fuel. Of course, during the course of the launch, as the fuel is burned, there is less fuel left, meaning less mass, meaning less fuel is necessary in order to continue lifting the shuttle. Also, as it rises, the air gets thinner, so the air resistance is less – it’s a very complicated calculus problem!

  38. Kevin says:

    @KC

    “I can drive my car at 55 or 85 and I get the same mileage.”

    That’s physically impossible. The air resistance alone grows exponentially as speed increases. Ignoring the rolling resistance of the wheel bearings and tire friction on varying road surfaces, it’s a mathematical certainty that your engine has to expend more energy pushing the same vehicle through the same mass of air at a higher velocity. More energy means more fuel. Your claim is provably false.

  39. AJ says:

    Writer’s Coin (#32) – You’re still saving gas, the closer to the speed limit you are, because auto engines are designed for maximum fuel efficiency in the 55-60 mph range.

    The point you bring up, however, is a perfectly valid question on the cost-benefit analysis of the money you save by driving slower versus the time you save by getting there a half-hour earlier.

    It’s probably outside of the scope of this topic, though.

  40. Chad says:

    Don’t be so eager to shut off your car. As a few people already stated, frequent starts are hard on the starter. Also, starting puts a big draw on your battery, and it can take a while for it to recover that charge (especially if you have headlights, etc. on). Plus there are other reasons to leave the engine running: traffic flow (unless you know ahead of time when the light will change, you may stop traffic trying to re-start while the light is green), safety (if someone suspicious comes up to your car, you want to be able to move if necessary).

    AJ (#39) – While 55-60 may have been the “sweet spot” a couple decades ago, newer cars can be optimized for fuel efficiency at higher speeds. All depends on the engine tuning and most efficient RPM range, the gearing, etc.

  41. Michael says:

    My two big tips…

    Consider switching your phone plan, and your car insurance.

    We switched from one T-mobile plan to another, and are saving about $20/month now. We gave up texting, but we only sent a handful of texts per month anyways. After paying T-Mobile’s plan-transfer fee ($35/plan, two plans), it will take us 4 months to break even.

    Car insurance, we will be saving about $300 over the next 6 months. The company we were leaving said that breaking our contract early will lower our insurance score…but the $300 is worth it to us.

    A few smaller ones…

    We are replacing the dimmer switches in our house with on/off ones so that we can start using CF bulbs instead of incandescent.

    We are paying an extra $30/month into my wife’s student loans. This will save us $370 in interest. (Bonuses etc. get added in too, so total savings will be slightly greater)

  42. J says:

    @KC

    I’ll confer with Kevin, getting the same mileage at 55 and 85 would violate the laws of thermodynamics.

    As for shutting off the car rather than idling, any benefit is exceedingly small. Using the ScanGauge on my car (as well as on other cars in our carpool) reveals that an idling four cylinder engine consumes about 0.3 gallons per hour. Idling for one minute would use 0.005 gallons of fuel. At $3/gallon, that’s 1.5 cents you might save.

    The big ways to increase fuel economy are gradual acceleration, driving slower, maintaining speed, coasting up to red lights and keeping your tires inflated properly, as well as doing things like chaining trips so you have the car at proper operating temperature for longer. A car that’s “cold” uses significantly more fuel than one that’s already reached it’s operating temperature.

  43. Raghu Bilhana says:

    Buy gas on a weekday, when the prices are usually lower, buy the gas in the morning if the prices are moving up and buy it in the evening if the prices are going down. But morning or evening buy it on a weekday.

  44. kristine says:

    I think the argument that a larger car is safer is nonsense. The roads are LESS safe with these behemoths. If then everyone gets a big car, and someone gets a larger car- pretty soon we will all be too big to fit on the road. The cramped streets are an added hazard.

    I was behind a huge SUV that flipped over changing lanes in the rain, on the expressway. They were not going fast. SUVs have in fact, a pretty poor safety record.

    Smaller cars have a lower center of gravity, and flip less. If you are worried about being hit in a small car- get a Volvo, or discontinued SAAB.

    Smaller slower cars make the roads safer. Driving a larger car for the illusion of safety makes you a danger to everyone ELSE.

  45. Troy says:

    Kevin and J:

    I will disagree with you both and side with KC.

    Thermodynamics aside, your assumption of increasing energy and exponential resistance, while somewhat accurate, is incorrect.

    It is quite possible that a vehicle with an overdrive transmission can use simalar amounts of fuel at varying speeds. Although the resistance exponentially builds, the revolutions do not increase at the same exponential rate.

    Your assumption assumes the fuel consumption rises in proportion with the energy needed.

    But engines at static levels use fuel based on revolutions, not resistance.

    So while in theory the engine may use more fuel at a higher speed, which creates higher revolutions, the vehicle is also traveling at a higher rate of speed, covering more distance, and theoretically running less time.

    I can assure you driving 60 mph will yield greater fuel efficiency than driving 15 mph.

    Why

    Gearing.

  46. Evita says:

    Turn-off the engine if you are idling for more than 15 seconds? you mean at every red light? come on! who does that? nobody who lives in a city, surely!! Do YOU really, Trent?
    I don’t know but I find this a theoretical, highly impractical tip!

  47. chacha1 says:

    Kristine, I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t even count the times I’ve seen SUVs cause accidents – or cause risky evasive maneuvers by other drivers – simply by incomplete lane changes. Some of the damn things are so big the driver can’t tell their back end is still in another lane. I think there should be a separate class of driver’s license required for anything over 4000 lbs.

    Re: saving costs on gas (getting back to topic) there’s another little savings potential to consider, which is, don’t buy anything at a gas station EXCEPT gas.

  48. Michelle says:

    Here’s one that I’m surprised hasn’t come up. Drive less. Combine errands, let your kids ride the bus if possible, try to have car-free days. I know this might be a revolutionary idea, but the less you drive, the less gas you use. Public transport doesn’t exist where I live, cycling is dangerous, and there is no way in hades I’m turning off the car at a red light. But I can take a few minutes to plan my errands so I’m taking the most efficient route, and I can stay home for a day and let my kids play in my backyard rather than drive them to the park.

  49. J says:

    @Troy — Fuel consumption is based on engine load, not RPM. It’s entirely possible for a car to use zero fuel at 5000 RPM (under engine braking) and be consuming fuel at 2000 RPM (accelerating or maintaining speed).

    I was assuming that the car remained in top gear from 55 MPH to 85 MPH. The gear ratio remains fixed, the load increases from drag, you consume more fuel.

  50. Bill in Houston says:

    Repeatedly stopping then starting your ignition at stoplights will WEAR OUT YOUR CAR’S STARTER faster. Please don’t do that. Most cars do NOT have the Prius’ starter system (some hybrids do). The Prius doesn’t have a flywheel, ring gear, starter solenoid, et cetera. In addition it takes time for the average car to start, engage the transmission, and go, which slows down everyone behind you. You aren’t doing anyone any favors. Here in Texas it’d probably get you (at minimum) a middle finger from the guy behind you.

    I live 25 miles from my office. I will not sell my house (great value, great neighborhood) to move closer to my office. My wife works 23 miles from work, in nearly the opposite direction.

    Carpooling is impractical in Houston. My nearest coworker is seven miles away, works a different “shift” (I work 8-6, he’s 7-5) and we have different Friday’s off.

    Driving the speed limit is not practical if you’re moving at 20 mph on a freeway in traffic. It isn’t recommended on our tollway system either, where even the Prius drivers go 75… hint, Houstonians want to get to work.

    I will not change my own oil when my Nissan dealer will do it for me. Motor oil is $2.50 a quart. An oil filter is six bucks. They lube all of my chassis points and top off all my fluids for $25. I’d save maybe six bucks doing it myself, or about twenty-five bucks a year. Thanks, but my time is worth a lot more than that, and they’ll recycle the oil. (My wife’s Nissan has service as part of the warranty.)

    Buying a new vehicle is a good idea, if you need one and it saves mileage. My Maxima is a 2006, so I’m not replacing that one yet. My wife’s Versa is a 2008. That one’s still being paid for. Still, there’s a lot to be said for buying an older, well-maintained lower mileage car for ten thousand bucks less because you’ll never reap those budgetary savings.

    Public transportation is impractical in Houston. We have a bus system, and it is pretty comprehensive… for a city of over 600 square miles. The nearest supermarket to me is 2.5 miles, but I can’t take the bus back (the route is a loop whose closest stop is 1/2 mile from my house). To be honest, our mass transit system has two functions: it moves businessmen downtown ( less than 20% of Houstonians work in the downtown area), and moves the poor into wealthier neighborhoods so they can work there. The old saying was, “In the morning, businessmen out and maids in.” It reverses in the evening. I tried to figure out how long it would take to get to work on a Houston Metro bus. Including walking to the stop, and then walking two miles from the end of the line to my office, about two and a half hours.

    Using bike or foot to get somewhere. Not really. We walk every evening in the neighborhood, but we never leave it. Outsiders get a little overwhelmed by the scale of this town. I could walk to the local CVS pharmacy, which is two miles away… maybe on a Saturday when I didn’t have anything to do. Because of the size of this town walking is a huge timewaster. In my old Memorial Bend neighborhood things like Blockbuster and a few restaurants and a supermarket were a five minute walk, but not in Fleetwood.

    What do we do to save a few petrodollars? Combine trips to save time and gas. While I can easily afford it, it galls me to pay $2.70 for a gallon of premium unleaded. We grocery shop once a week, and usually combine that trip with as many errands as possible, like trips to Home Depot, haircuts/styling, the fabric store for my wife, et cetera. It may take a Friday evening to go to our three supermarkets (bulk items from Costco, everyday things from Kroger, produce from a Korean market… all within a mile of each other), grab a bolt of fabric for a headboard, some paint for the bookshelves, and drycleaning, but it is worth it.

    Wow, another War and Peace from me. Sorry.

  51. Jenn says:

    It’s cheaper to drive my car than take the bus, sadly (but I still mostly take the bus).

    Re: changing oil. Just dispose of it PROPERLY please and have appropriate oil cleanup stuff standing by. Or if you are me…get your dad to change your oil!

  52. Henry says:

    The cheapest thing is to throw the oil over the hill, light it on fire or find an abandoned dumpster. You can also put it in old coffee cans and throw it in trash cans at Fast Food places or gas stations, or throw it out the car window. If you wrap things up that the trash service won’t take in enough newspaper (or old clothes that you’ve outgrown {forget Goodwill}) and hide it in the center of your bag of trash, they’ll haul just about anything off.
    It’s not the right thing to do, but it is the cheapest. Isn’t that the style here, recommend the cheapest way out without really thinking it through?

  53. Amy K. says:

    My favorite tip is “Remove excess weight.”

    I already try to drive in a fuel efficient manner, but this is one my husband and I forget to do. We’ll load up the car with tools, use them, and forget to take them out when we get home. They’re in the trunk – out of sight, out of mind. Thanks for the reminder!

  54. Lesley says:

    @Kristine and @Chacha1:

    You’re kidding, right? I’ve seen plenty of accidents caused by people in big cars, people in small cars, and people in mid-sized cars. I’ve seen accidents with 18-wheelers, motorcycles and mopeds.

    Stop vilifying people in SUVs. I have a high-quality SUV that gets good gas mileage. Why? Because I have kids. Because I live in a large, busy metro area and do all of my shopping once a week – need a cargo hold for all of my groceries and stuff.

    And because this is still a free country. As long as it fits with government regulations, I can drive what I please.

    So sick of the “evil SUV driver” garbage.

  55. Sara says:

    @Lesley: Why not a more fuel efficient station wagon? Same cargo space and room for the kids. I grew up riding around in small Hondas and Mazdas – driving cross country in the summers and holidays to visit families. Very few people “need” SUVs for kids. Adults, yes – leg and head room! Kids, not really. Yes, you are free to drive whatever you want to. But please don’t think a bigger car is better for the environment or is truly a frugal choice. It is a personal choice that fits you.

    I third, fourth, whatever number that the advice to turn off your car is marginal at best. That is a lot of wear and tear on your spark plugs and starter system (especially the battery!!) that will add up later in repairs. Poor starter systems in themselves cause lots of trouble and don’t provide much warning of trouble unless you pay very close attention as you are driving.

    I also worry about what could happen if you are at red lights with your car off. If you are the first at a light, someone could come along and see no brake lights and assume that you are about to turn, then ram into the back of you. If you can’t start soon enough at a red light in a city, chances are high someone will trigger off people moving in the other lane or the change at the light itself, not noticing that you have not moved yet. I feel this could be a safety hazard unless practiced in suburban or rural areas with great awareness as to your surroundings.

  56. kristine says:

    Oh, defensive Lesley,

    I never said SUV drivers were evil. Just that SUV marketing gives an illusion of safety that is often not true.

    Imagine yourself riding a tricycle, trying to see over a VW beetle in front of you. That is what my visibility has been reduced to- I cannot see over, through, or around many large cars on the road. Call me crazy, but I think that is less safe. But I also do not think that everyone getting larger cars is the answer.

    I have also never understood that people think they need an SUV/minivan once they procreate. Many generations made do without them, and cell phones…etc. It is just increased expectations of comfort and convenience, not really a need. House bloat…car bloat..it’s all the same.

    Much of my pro life was in advertising, and your “kids=SUV” …safety, cargo, etc….is evidence of true advertising success.

    But hey, to each his own. Drive what you want! I’ll be in my Ford Escort wagon. Great mileage, and a danger to no one.

  57. kristine says:

    PS- I have kids- two large teens, and am routinely “the ride” for 4. I also shop at BJs. We can do both in one trip, with our little wagon, or a Ford Focus. And haul paintings, mid-size furniture, even an entire camping trip with bicycles. An SUV, unless you live in the mountains, is a want, not a need.

    Just wondering- ask yourself, in all the SUVs you see everyday…how often are they packed with people? Or are there usually 1 to 5 inside- a standard car load?

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