Whenever I see advice on saving money on commuting fuel costs, the suggestions often revolve around completely giving up your car.
I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. It’s a great way to drastically trim your finances.
Let’s be honest, though: a lot of people simply aren’t going to give up their car. They have too much emotionally tied into the freedom of having an automobile to take them wherever and whenever they want.
So, with that in mind, here are fourteen pieces of advice that will each help you save on the fuel costs of your commute. Every single one of these tactics will improve either the efficiency of fuel consumption on your commute or will reduce the number of miles you put on your car.
1. Air up your tires to the maximum recommended pressure each month.
Tire air pressure is measured in psi. For every psi below the maximum recommended pressure that any one of your tires falls, you’re losing 0.125% of your fuel efficiency. So, if all of your tires are 8 psi low, you’re losing 4% efficiency just because of air. Your 25 mpg car becomes a 24 mpg car just because you haven’t aired up the tires lately. Since airing up your tires is free at many gas stations and it only takes a few minutes, you should take the time once a month or so to air your tires up.
2. If at all possible, telecommute.
If you work at a job that allows you to work from home, even if it’s one day a week or one day a month, take advantage of that time. Every single day that you don’t have to commute to work is savings in your pocket.
3. Minimize every little bit of accelerating and brake usage.
Every time you accelerate your car, your engine starts burning more fuel, and the harder you accelerate, the more fuel you burn. Every time you touch your brake, you’re compensating for too much acceleration earlier on or you’re ensuring that you’re going to have to accelerate more soon, which takes you back to more acceleration. Instead, accelerate slowly out of stops and break as little as possible.
4. Familiarize yourself with gas prices along your route.
Which gas station along your route consistently has the lowest prices? Watch the stations along your route and continually compare them. Often, you’ll find that a station or two tends to have lower prices than others along your commute. Frequent those stations.
5. Use a credit card tied to the gas chain with the lowest prices.
If you’re satisfied with one of those low-cost stations, check and see if they have a credit card tied to the chain that offers rewards for using it for refueling. Many chains offer rather impressive rewards cards. If they do, sign up for that card and use it only for fueling, paying it off at month’s end and using the rewards as often as possible.
6. Minimize your heater and air conditioning usage.
Both of these burn fuel. Simply get your car’s internal temperature to something tolerable and flip it off. If it’s hot out, roll down the windows and use air motion to bring the car’s temperature down significantly before using the air to lower it further (if you must).
7. Use fuel efficiency as one of your big factors in your next car purchase.
When you buy a car, figure out the fuel efficiency of the models you’re examining and use that as one of your major factors. It doesn’t have to be the only factor, of course, but it should provide significant impact on your purchasing decision.
8. Ask about employer programs for commuting, such as a gas allowance.
Some employers offer a stipend or a reimbursement to employees for their commute. Often, it’s a program that’s not shouted from the rooftops to current employees but was perhaps included as a perk in a collective bargaining agreement. Ask the human resources office at your workplace if such a program exists.
9. Use your commute home for reasonable errands along the route.
If you know you’re going to need some specific item when you get home, shoehorn it into your commute. That way, once you’re home, there’s no reason to waste the fuel to drive out of your residential neighborhood again. You already have the item you need. I used to find that a Post-It note stuck to my rearview mirror in the morning was a perfect reminder.
10. Get rid of any and all extra weight in your car.
If you are storing any items in your car that aren’t necessary for the trip, get them out of your car. Your fuel efficiency gets worse with every extra pound that your car is carrying. Toss anything and everything extra out of your vehicle. (Remember, of course, that safety equipment, particularly in winter, is not an extra – it’s essential.)
11. Use the cheap fuel.
Read your manual and find out what kind of fuel is recommended for your car. Most of the time, the manual suggests 87 octane fuel and, if it does, that’s what you should be using. There is very little advantage to the premium fuel – what little there is does not add up to the cost difference for a car that runs fine on 87 octane.
12. Get your oil changed regularly and use the type recommended in your car manual.
Fresh oil keeps your engine properly lubricated, minimizing the work that the parts have to do in order to provide the power needed to run your car. Old oil causes the parts to run with less efficiency. Thus, if you want to minimize your fuel use (and prolong the life of your car), get oil changes according to the manufacturer’s schedule.
Carpooling means that some days, you don’t have to even drive to work. Someone just drives you right to your door. It also means that on the days you do drive, you can use the HOV lane for more efficient driving. Even if you’re just giving someone a lift each day, it’s still worthwhile. If you have a HOV lane available to you, you can now access that lane and drive at a more reasonable pace with substantially less stop-and-go driving.
14. Replace your air filter according to your maintenance schedule.
A final tip: change your car’s air filter on a regular basis. Proper clean air flow contributes to the fuel efficiency of your car. Change the filter according to the recommendations of the filter manufacturer.
Keep on top of these things and you’ll get more miles on fewer dollars.