As we rightly anticipated, gasoline is one of (at least) 11 things that will be more expensive in 2012. Prices have been steadily climbing, and some experts are predicting that by May, the national price per gallon could be as high as $3.96. The LA Times even claims that there's a "2% chance that the average U.S. gasoline price will hit $5 a gallon for all of June."
As a consumer, you may not be able to control the escalating prices — but you're certainly not powerless. As a society, we can use less gasoline without disrupting much of our daily routine. There's nothing wrong with using every means at our disposal to find the cheapest gas, or to conserve it. Here's a list of strategies, products, and miscellanea to help push the price at the pump back a bit, while, of course keeping your wallet and tank full.
Avoid Traffic Jams
This is obviously easier said than done; no one likes sitting in traffic, so mostly everyone already tries to avoid it. But if you aren't turning to smartphone apps, a GPS, or even the radio for assistance, you're missing out on information that could help you avoid parking lots on the road. Before setting out on a drive, check traffic; smartphone apps, including the built-in Google Maps for Android and Maps for iOS, feature an option to view roads with the heaviest traffic, which you should take into account before setting out. Many GPS units — like the Editors' Choice Magellan RoadMate 2136T-LM 4.3" Portable GPS Navigation System ($89.99 plus $6.50 s&h, a low by $24) — also include a traffic mode.
Find the Lowest Rates at Gas Stations
GasBuddy is one of the most popular gas price checking tools, and it has been for many years now; it ranks among the granddaddies when it comes to finding low, low gas prices. It functions as an easy way to compare the cheapest prices on gasoline, as the site updates prices at the pump every 24 hours all over the country. There's also a free GasBuddy app for iPhone and Android. What's more, GasBuddy is not only free to use (just sign up and create an account), but once you do, you can enter to win $250 in free gas (which is as good as liquid gold these days!).
GasPriceWatch is similar to GasBuddy, and has been around just as long. With GasPriceWatch, you may find a rock-bottom price that was missed by GasBuddy (and vice versa). GPW also features a cool widget that shows gas prices throughout the U.S.
Inflate Your Tires
Countless studies have shown that cars with properly inflated and balanced tires get better gas mileage — around 3.3% more miles to the gallon. To fill your tires up, scope out gas stations that still offer free air, though they're rare; otherwise, filling up your tires with air might cost you about 50 cents.
It may seem like a contradiction: Driving slower means you'll take longer to reach your destination — how could that lower your fuel costs? Well, your car uses gas more efficiently at slower speeds. Take, for example, Garmin's GPS tool ecoRoute, which helps you plot your trips to use less fuel, mainly by avoiding those fast freeways and highways. Moreover, some tests have shown that even slight changes in driving habits — how you start and stop at lights, for example — can cut fuel consumption considerably.
Check Your Fluids
Ensuring your car has enough coolant and oil is critical to their running efficiently. Older cars especially, run better on 5W-30 motor oil. The right oil grade will get you another 1% to 2% per mile — see how all this is adding up? However, it's important to note, though that the next time Mr. Quickie Oil Change Man (it reads "Bob" on his jumpsuit) tells you to replace your air filter, it won't do much to extend your miles per gallon — though it will help your engine run better!
Buy Gas Outside the City Limits
In large urban areas, like Chicago, gasoline is heavily taxed and thus more expensive. Odd as it may seem, you can drive to gas stations just outside a city's limits and find gasoline that's much cheaper. Beyond that, keep your eyes peeled for especially busy stations, a sure sign that prices there are very low. But, of course, don't drive too far out of your way to get the cheap stuff, as a long trip may negate any savings you realize.
Buy Low-Octane Gasoline
If you're among the consumers who buy high-octane gas because you think it offers better gas mileage, we're sorry to say that it's a waste of money. Props to the folks at Bankrate.com for pointing this out, along with other gas-saving tips. Bottom line: Unless your car specifically requires premium, skip it and fill up with low-octane fuel.
Just. Don't. Drive. (Duh.)
True, it's hard to get around without a car in the 'burbs (or in LA for that matter), but now's the time to ask yourself the tough questions: Is it time to get rid of my fuel-hogging SUV? Should I hop on my bike instead and take a step towards eliminating a spare tire of a different sort? Can I walk to the pharmacy? Isn't it time I learned the public transit routes in my town? Consider this: Every time you take the train or bus instead of driving, you have the ability to handle all sorts of business via your smartphone, perhaps even crossing errands off your to-do list. You can't do that behind the wheel, so you may end up saving time in addition to fuel.
If the notion of ditching your wheels is completely unfathomable, consider ways to improve your car's function. Try carpooling. Estimate your savings if you traded in an old automobile for a newer, more fuel-efficient (or hybrid) model. And above all, plot your routes with greater consciousness. These small changes can mean big savings at the pump.
This article has been updated since it was originally published one year ago.