Even with average gas prices rising to $2.95 a barrel, budget-friendly road trips are still possible. Driving is (usually) still cheaper than flying and renting a car at your destination. It is also a great way to have impulsive off-the-road adventures. Getting your best fuel economy on a long road trip is a mixture of planning, safe driving behaviors, and luck.
Before you Travel
1. Map it Out
Before you make final plans, map out the most efficient path to get there. Researching your route will help you better estimate your budget for gas and tolls.
Estimate Mileage. Use Google Maps, MapQuest, Waze, AAA TripTik and other solutions to calculate the miles between your stops. Look for apps that will help you find the cheapest gas station nearby. For example, GasBuddy is an excellent resource for finding economical fuel stops.
Calculate Gas and Toll Fees. Then, use a site like AAA Gas Cost Calculator or Tollguru.com to set a budget for gas and tolls. It’s still (usually) cheaper than flying but with gas prices going higher this summer, it never hurts to check.
2. Vehicle Maintenance
Schedule a tune-up before you hit the open road. Bad tire pressure or clogged air filters can increase the amount of fuel that your car burns. One final tip: check your gas cap. It’s said that loose gas caps can reduce your fuel economy by 2 miles per gallon. You can lose fuel due to evaporation.
- Get an oil change
- Change air filters
- Properly inflate tires
- Check A/C systems
- Tighten gas caps
On the Road — Practice Smart Driving
3. Slow Down (but Not Too Slow)
Once you get above a certain speed, more energy is needed to propel the car forward. Simply put, gas mileage decreases when you go above 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour). When thinking about budget, consider that this means losing about $0.25 to $1.00 per gallon of gas per mile1. Going 90 may get you there faster, but you will have more road stops for gas ($) along the way. The optimum speed is between 50 and 60 miles per hour, although this can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle. Newer cars get better gas mileage, but you’ll quickly determine the ideal speed for your vehicle.
4. Mellow Out
Driving aggressively can also impact your gas performance. Behaviors such as driving erratically, speeding, rapid acceleration and deceleration, and tailgating can lower your gas mileage by 15% to 30% at highway speeds1. Also, this is a vacation, so staying calm and enjoying the open road will also help set the tone. It can also help you get there safely.
5. Use Cruise Control (Unless It Starts Raining)
Once you are safely on the highway, using your cruise control can also help with your gas efficiency. It allows you to maintain a constant speed and helps with some of the acceleration and slowing down issues that can burn more fuel. If it begins raining, however, turn it off. The National Safety Commission (TNSC) states that driving with cruise control during heavy rains may cause the tire to lose contact with the road and potentially cause hydroplaning2.
6. To Keep Cool, Use A/C on Highways
It’s best to keep the air conditioner off and the windows up to increase fuel performance. However, as the summer temperatures rise, you sometimes just don’t have a choice. If you’re driving at increased speeds on the highway, the A/C uses more horsepower but a little less horsepower than the windows. That said, the A/C units are more efficient in newer cars and don’t put as much of a strain on the engine as in older cars. When you start driving at lower speeds, like in a city, then it’s better to have the windows down. It’s also recommended to try leaving earlier during the cooler hours of the day to save on fuel. Even better, let’s make our summer bucket list in Alaska.
7. Drive Steadily — Accelerate and Decelerate Slowly
Safe driving behavior includes not accelerating and braking suddenly as this can quickly decrease your gas mileage. It’s best to increase your distance while following behind other cars on the highway to avoid having to speed up or slow down quickly. Increased distance also gives you room to react to emergencies such as obstacles, tire treads, lane changes, and (I’m looking at you I-75), someone stopping in the middle of the right lane to send a text. Give yourself time to switch lanes and save on gas in the process!
8. Refilling Tips
As suggested above, use GasBuddy and other apps to find the cheapest fuel station nearby. If you are driving alone, it is best to pre-plan your gas stops. Once you find the gas station, be sure to use the right type of gas. No need to fill up on premium if your car does not require it. Try not to over fuel your tank, or “top off.” Also, when you are finished fueling, turn your gas cap until it clicks at least three times—this helps stop fuel from evaporating from a loose gas cap.
There are many other suggested tips and tricks for increasing your fuel economy. Some are quite useful and others are based on luck. The best method for saving money on gas is to simply slow down and pay attention when on the road. Have fun!
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 2017. Sensible driving saves more gas than drivers think.
- National Safety Commission. March 03, 2009. Hazards of Driving in the Rain with Cruise Controls.