Are you wasting money looking for cheaper gas?
Feb. 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM ET
When will it end? The nationwide average for regular gasoline is now $3.75 a gallon, up 4 cents a gallon from a week ago, according to AAA
. That’s 36 cents more per gallon than a month ago.
Soaring prices are driving people to actively search for cheaper gasoline. How far would you go to save a few cents per gallon?
• 68 percent would make a left-hand turn across a busy street to save five cents per gallon
• 68 percent would drive 5 minutes out of their way to save 5 cents per gallon
• 36 percent would drive 10 minutes out of their way to save 10 cents a gallon
Of course, if you drive too far out of you way, you’ll waste time and spend more on gas to get there than you’ll save.
“Driving around aimlessly doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy.com
. “We always tell people to work it into their daily commute. Most of the time you can find cheaper gas somewhere along your route.”
I asked Gas Buddy to look at my 13 mile commute. The highest price that day was in Seattle near my office: $4.23 for regular. If I filled at a gas station near my home in Bellevue, I would pay $3.85 a gallon, that’s 38 cents a gallon less. And if I drove as little as a mile out of my way, I could save even more at the station that was charging just $3.65 a gallon.
It turns out, that is the gas station run by Safeway. And because I had points in my Club Card account, I got a 40-cent a gallon discount for that fill-up. My final price was $3.20 a gallon.
In many parts of the country, supermarkets offer gas discounts. Why not take advantage of them. I’ve found that the gasoline at Costco is normally lower than most stations in the area.
You can use the fuel cost calculator at Gas Buddy
to see if that extra drive for cheaper gas saves money or not.
By punching in the numbers, I found that driving 10 miles to save 10 cents a gallon ($3.89 vs. $3.79) would cost me 45 cents more for that fill-up. Driving only a mile to save 2 cents a gallon ($3.89 vs. $3.87) would only save me 11 cents.
Is cheaper off-brand gasoline bad for your engine?
Auto experts say there’s nothing to worry about. Your car’s onboard computer can adjust for the variations in the fuel you use.
“Buying off-brand gasoline is not going to hurt your engine or affect the performance of your car in the short term,” said Phillip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com
. “Over time though, you may benefit from top-tier gasoline because it may have more additives.”
Don’t waste money pumping premium fuel unless your car needs it. You may be able to safely switch to regular and save 30 cents or more a gallon. It all depends on what it says in your owner’s manual.
“If high octane is required you must use it because in the long run it might hurt the performance of your car,” Reed advised. “But if it’s merely recommended, you can experiment with a lower octane. Most people will find that their car performs just fine on a lower-grade of gasoline.”
You can always give it a try and if there’s a change in performance or a drop in fuel economy, switch back to the higher-octane fuel.
Other ways to save on gas
It’s no secret that the way you drive can significantly help or hurt your car’s fuel economy.
Jack rabbit starts burn up fuel. Using cruise control when possible boosts fuel economy.
Make sure your tires are properly inflated. You can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by doing that, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Check your tires at least once a month.
Mike Quincy at Consumer Reports Autos had this tip: get rid of any unnecessary weight – golf clubs or big containers of kitty litter in the trunk – and remove any roof rack or bike rack that you’re not using regularly. “The added weight of excess cargo or the extra aerodynamic drag caused by those racks will really reduce fuel economy,” he said.
Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitteror visit The ConsumerMan website.