Get It for Less: Gas

MainStreet

Gas prices are steadily on the rise, as skyrocketing crude oil prices have pushed the price of a gallon of regular gas to $3.58, up 20 cents from a month ago. If you’re a commuter who’s feeling the sting of these rising prices, here are a few tips for spending less on gas.

Find the Cheapest Station

Usually when you see two or more gas stations in the same general area, their prices will be very similar – they know people are going to shop around, so they can’t afford to be more than few cents pricier than the station across the street. If it’s a difference of just 2 or 3 cents per gallon, you’re talking about less than a dollar difference for the whole tank of gas in most cars.

But Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for car site Edmunds.com, says stations in different parts of town can have very different prices, so it pays to shop around.

[Also see: 7 things that will be cheaper in 2012]

“There is a big variance in different parts off the city, and it can be as high as 10 to 20 cents,” he says, adding that differences in pricing don’t tend to follow socioeconomic boundaries.

So how do you find out which parts of town have the cheapest gas? Reed recommends using a site such as GasBuddy, which tracks gas prices at stations in your area and has a free iPhone app. He does note, though, that driving far out of your way to get cheaper gas is probably counterproductive, so your best bet may be to just keep track of the stations that are along your commuting route and take note of which have the cheapest gas.

Fill It Up With Regular, Please

Do you have a tendency to treat your car to premium gasoline at the pump? If so, you’re probably wasting money.

“There are a lot of cars that recommend premium gas, but they would run just fine on regular,” Reed says. “If premium is required, then you have to put it in, but ‘recommended’ is the key word.”

High-octane premium gas was initially created to help keep your engine from “knocking” (a misfiring in the engine that can cause a pinging sound and possible engine damage), and also contains additives that keep your fuel lines clean. But modern cars have knock sensors in place, and regular fuel has improved to the point where it keeps your engine running clean on its own.

We should reiterate, though, that if you drive a luxury or otherwise high-performance car that requires premium gas, you should obey the owner’s manual.

Get a Rewards Card

Many rewards credit cards will give you cash back on purchases at the pump. The Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 2% cash back on gas purchases, while the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Platinum Cashback card gives you a whopping 5% back at the pump. If you spend a lot of time at gas stations, it might be worth it to you to get one of these cards. As with all credit cards, though, don’t get so blinded by the rewards that you neglect to read the fine print. 

[Also see: 10 Places Where a Gallon of Gas Is More Expensive Than in the U.S.]

Drive More Efficiently

Arguably the best way to save on gas is to use less of it. There are a number of ways to accomplish this – when it comes time to buy a car you can, for instance, switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle that gets better mileage. But in the meantime, you can use less gas by simply driving like less of a maniac.

That doesn’t mean doing 40 miles per hour on the highway while cars race past you, leaning on your horn. In fact, speed has little to do with it, Reed says. Rather, it’s rapid and repeated acceleration that tends to burn off gas quickly.

“Far and away the biggest culprit is unnecessary acceleration and unnecessarily aggressive driving,” Reed says.

If you make a habit of peeling out at stop signs, rapidly slowing and accelerating to pass people on the highway and generally stomping on the gas pedal, you’re probably using more gasoline than you need. Not only that, but cutting down on such stop-and-go driving will also reduce your maintenance bills – which can be a lot pricier than gas.

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