Saving Money on Road Trips

My wife and I live more than four hours away from our hometowns, so when we visit our parents and extended family, we spend a lot of time in the car. Over the years, we have developed several techniques for optimizing the cost of the trip. Here’s what we do:

Perform some basic car maintenance before you leave. Before we leave, I check the tire pressure on the car tires and take a peek at the air filter and oil level. Each of these tasks ensures that we’ll maximize our fuel usage on the trip. Properly inflated tires can add about a half mile per gallon, properly filled and replaced oil can save about three quarters of a mile per gallon, and a clean air filter can save about a mile and a quarter per gallon. If you car would get fifteen miles to the gallon before this maintenance, you can easily get that up to sixteen and a half miles per gallon, which with gas prices even at the two dollar level can mean a savings of a little over six dollars on a five hundred mile round trip.

Minimize your distance. Google Maps and MapQuest often push you onto interstates as quickly as possible in order to make their map algorithms work. In most states, however, some careful map examination can find a much better route still using four lane roads. On our trips, we are often encouraged to use two interstates, but there is in fact a four lane highway that literally traces a diagonal path between the two interstates that cuts off at least thirty miles of the trip. Not only do we save gas money, we get home quicker, too.

Pack snacks before you go. Before we leave, we pack up bottles of water and such from home so we don’t pay expensive convenience store prices for the goods. Our trip essentially requires us to stop at least once for gasoline, so if we have our own snacks, the desire to step inside and purchase an overpriced soda is greatly reduced.

Be aware of gas prices before you leave. Our trips cross multiple states, so we know before we leave which states offer the best deals on gas and we make sure to fill up in those states. With the vast difference in gas taxes from state to state, you can easily save ten to fifteen cents a gallon by doing your research before you leave. Take note of the state by state fuel price report before you leave so you can know whether you should gas up before you cross a state line or if you should wait a few more miles. Some good examples of differences between bordering states are between California and Arizona ($0.19 per gallon), Iowa and Illinois ($0.17 per gallon), and Tennessee and Kentucky ($0.11 per gallon). That’s some significant savings on a tank filling.

These tips can easily eliminate twenty percent of your cost of traveling long distances in the United States, but the same ideas apply to any nation in the world. Take care of your care, be thrifty, and be aware of gas price variations and you’ll put money right in your pocket.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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