How to Save on Gas: Tips, Tech, and Techniques | Capital One Auto Navigator (2023)

Capital One

Originally publishedon August 10, 2020

Saving money is smart. Saving money on gas is both smart and easy. Regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive, where you live, or your financial situation, spending more than is necessary at the pump is a habit you probably want to kick.

You could go the big-ticket route and buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. Or, you can follow a few basic tips to make your existing ride more efficient.

1) Pay Less for Gas

You probably know someone who insists on going well out of their way just to get slightly cheaper gas—in a study by AAA, 73% of Americans reported choosing a gas station based on price—but that’s an inefficient solution. There are many ways to pay less for gas, but long drives just to save pennies per gallon is not one of them. Neither is simply picking the off-brand gas station with the lowest billboard price—at least, not in the long run. Top Tier gasolines are like regular gas, but with extra detergent additives designed to help keep an engine in top working order. They can save you money over the car’s life, but more on that later.

Regular vs. Premium

Some engines require more expensive premium fuel. If that’s true of your vehicle, use premium. But if premium is simply recommended, instead of required, you can safely use less expensive, regular gas, as long as it meets the required minimum octane. Your engine might not make as much power burning regular—especially if it’s turbocharged—but it shouldn’t damage anything. If your engine neither recommends nor requires premium gas, you’re unlikely to see much benefit in return for the added cost. If you’re not sure, check the owner’s manual.

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Cash vs. Credit

Often, gas stations charge more per gallon when you pay with a credit card. You may be able to avoid surcharges by paying in cash. Alternatively, a credit card with a cash-back reward for every dollar spent or gallon pumped can help offset those surcharges.

Apps and Programs

Many people already know where to consistently get cheap gas near their home or place of work. But when you’re traveling and your fuel gauge reads close to empty, you could end up at a station that charges too much. There are several smartphone apps with features that can help locate nearby, low-priced stations.

Another way to save money on gas is by signing up with a rewards program through your favorite gasoline company. If you consistently use the same brand of gas, a rewards program can lower the price you pay at the pump and provide other benefits.

If you have a membership with a big-box retailer, you can save money on more than just bread and diapers. Some of these outlets also sell gas at a big discount, and at least one sells Top Tier gas, too. Over time, your savings could easily pay for your annual membership dues, and then some. For example, if you drive around 13,500 miles per year, and also get 25.2 mpg—both roughly the national average–and if a $50 annual membership gets you an average savings of 15 cents per gallon, you’ll come out ahead by $30.36 over the course of a year.* And that’s before taking other factors into account, like any other cars in your household, or the aforementioned bread and diapers.

*Calculation of annual savings: 13,500 miles / 25.2 mpg = 535.7 gallons. 535.7 x $0.15 savings per gallon -$50 annual membership fee = $30.36 annual fuel savings.

2) Preserve Your Car’s Efficiency

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Maintain a car by the book (a.k.a, the owner’s manual), and not only will it last longer, it will also return the best fuel economy possible. Start maximizing your car’s fuel efficiency today by taking these basic steps:

Check Tire Pressures

One of the quickest and easiest ways to make sure your vehicle returns maximum mileage is to regularly check and maintain the air pressure in your tires. Over time, your tires lose air, which adds rolling resistance where the rubber meets the road. This means it takes more energy to achieve and maintain speed, which forces your engine to work harder, consuming more fuel in the process.

How can you find the proper tire pressure for your vehicle? Look inside the owner’s manual. Or check to see if a plaque is attached to the door jamb listing the recommended pressures.

Clean Your Fuel System

As noted above, using fuel with detergent additives is one way to keep your fuel system clean, and it’s recommended by many car manufacturers. Still, over time, dirt and other particulates can accumulate in your vehicle’s fuel tank, making the fuel filter’s condition critical. If you replace it as recommended by your owner’s manual, it will reduce the potential for this grit to make its way into your engine.

Fuel injectors spray gas into the cylinders, where it then combines with air. The spark plugs ignite this mixture, which is how the engine makes power. If the fuel injectors become clogged, they’re unable to spray with precision and in the most efficient pattern. This robs your car of power and causes it to consume more fuel.

Improve Weight and Aerodynamics

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If you want to maximize your gas mileage, don’t carry unnecessary weight in your car. The more people and cargo you have aboard the vehicle, the harder the engine needs to work to move it, and that requires extra fuel—about 1% more for every hundred pounds, according to the EPA.

Similarly, you want your vehicle to be as aerodynamic as possible. When you extend your arm out of your window, the force you feel pushing it back is wind resistance, or drag. The more aerodynamic your vehicle, the easier it is to cut through the air, especially at highway speeds. The result of lower drag is that it allows the engine to operate more efficiently.

If you’ve made modifications to your vehicle, the changes are not only expensive to make and likely add a bit of weight, but they’ll also cost you plenty of money over time in lost efficiency. Examples include roof racks and carriers, oversized wheels and tires, aftermarket body kits or spoilers, and lifted suspensions that give your truck or SUV a more rugged look.

3) Optimize Your Driving

To improve your fuel economy through your driving actions, simply employ these mindful driving tips on a regular basis:

Avoid Rush-Hour Traffic

Have you ever noticed that official EPA fuel economy ratings include a city number and a highway number?

Typically, the city rating is lower than the highway rating. This is because most vehicles are less efficient when driving in the city due to the stop-and-go environment. Highways typically allow for a more steady rate of speed, allowing the car to travel farther on a gallon of gas. Hybrids are an exception, because at low city speeds they rely on their electric assist motors and battery packs to get the vehicle moving, and most allow for low-speed, electric-only travel.

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When you drive during high-traffic times (think rush hour), you’ll find yourself in more stop-and-go traffic—reducing your overall fuel economy. If you have the option to drive when other people are not, you’ll get stuck in less traffic and your vehicle should get better gas mileage.

Combine Errands Into One Trip

The fewer times you leave home or the office to run errands, the less fuel your vehicle will consume. Leveraging this simple fact to your benefit requires a certain degree of organization and planning, but once you adopt the practice it can result in a significant improvement in your overall fuel expenses.

Use Your Vehicle’s Technologies

Many modern vehicles have different driving modes, such as Eco, Normal, and Sport. When you use Eco mode, software adjusts the accelerator response and transmission shifting to maximize fuel economy. In some vehicles, it also reduces the air conditioning in its quest for efficiency, so this option does include a small personal sacrifice if you live in a blazing furnace during the summer months. There are other things you can do to keep your car cool in the summer, however.

Automatic engine stop/start systems are also increasingly common. They automatically shut the engine off when you’re sitting at a traffic light or in traffic, helping to conserve fuel. Some people don’t like this feature and turn it off. However, using it can have a positive effect on overall fuel consumption, and vehicles that have them are equipped with heavier-duty starters to counteract any increase in wear.

If your car is newer and has a navigation system, it might automatically reroute you to a destination with better traffic conditions or offer integration with a navigation app to achieve the same result.

There are many ways to save money on gas, and it’s easy to do without buying a hybrid or electric vehicle. With a little effort and a few mindful driving practices, you can realize big rewards at the gas pump.

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