Updated on 12.10.13

A Gas Station Trick That Puts Money In Your Pocket

Trent Hamm

The next time you fill up, spend an extra few minutes at the gas station performing a simple, free task, and you’ll put a few dollars right in your pocket.

The secret is air. Most gas stations have a free air pump for your tires available on the side of the station. A lot of stations will also loan you an air gauge to check the tire pressure. The procedure is very very easy and, if you don’t know how to do it, ask the person inside (say that someone/your brother/etc. suggested you check your tires for air pressure but you don’t know how). Almost always, you’ll be able to get someone to show you how.

How does this save money? Each tire that’s underinflated costs you on your gas mileage – on average, it’s about 3.3% of your gas mileage, which amounts to about $0.07 a gallon given current gas prices. I usually spend about 40 gallons a month, so that adds up to about $3 a month, simply from checking my tire pressure once a month or so.

Another tip: if you are willing to look at your own air filter once a month or so – also very simple, and explained in your car manual, but a bit more work – and brush it off really well, you can save about $0.15 a gallon, which means about $6 in my pocket each month without much effort and no supply costs.

But what if you don’t want the inconvenience of airing up your tire? It does take a bit of time, so a way to get around it is to have it done at each car maintenance. Ask them to check the pressure on your tires; most places will do this and air your tires up as a complimentary service along with the maintenance you’re getting (at least, both of the places I’ve frequented over the years have done this). So, don’t hesitate to ask for it when you’re getting maintenance on your car.

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  1. C Taylor says:

    Good idea, but better to invest in a quality air pressure gauge. According to the Car Talk Guys, the pen size and the gas station gauges are notoriously inaccurate. If you’re going to fuss with your tires, you may as well do it right and make your time worthwhile. Best reason to have properly inflated tires is safety, not dollars. Car Guys sell what they say is a very reliable gauge for about $25. Should last a long, long time.

  2. steve says:

    If you have a bicycle pump, you can top off the air at home. I’ve even inflated half-deflated tires this way (i’ll admit, it’s a fair amount of exercise to do that, but it prevents damaging your rims or tires and prevents having to make a special trip that could eat up a half hour or so).

    Yes, people, it is true that your bicycle pump can inflate your tires!! I have a 92 Accord, and it takes me about 10 strokes of my bicycle hand pump to increase the PSI in my tires by 1 psi. This may sound like a lot, but really, it goes fast, and is satisfying and quite convenient: I can do it right at my house, while the tires are completely cold, and the pump has a very accurate gauge. (If it didn’t I could always use a separate gauge). Also, free air is a rare commodity where I live.

    I happen to keep the pump in my trunk for convenience, but if you really want to save gas, save the weight and leave it at home.

    Happy Pumping!

  3. steve says:

    Hi, it’s me again–the bike pump guy!

    This article reminds me of a study I read about(Boston Globe, maybe April 2 2008?) that some organization (a reputable one!) did a survey and found that an astonishing 95% or so of car tires were underinflated, accounting for a net 3% loss in fuel efficiency nationwide. So if you haven’t been checking your tire pressure, time to get out the pump!

    Even bigger fuel savings come from being disciplined and driving between 50 and 65 mph. If that seems like crawling, try setting it as a specific goal–it takes practice and awareness, and once you succeed it feels kind of good!

  4. Kris says:

    “Most gas stations have a free air pump”? I think California mandates it, but otherwise, you must not live where I live. I’m not aware of even one station near me that has free air. Typically, it’s $0.75 for about 2 minutes of low-pressure air. If you need to full-up a whole tire (such as a spare), then you’ve better have at least a few dollars of quarters in your pocket. All states ahould follow California’s lead. How many people are driving around unsafely (or un-green) because they don’t want to deal with a coin-operated air pump (which, by the way, may “eat” quarters, as I have had happen multiple times).

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