As gas prices surge, here's how to get the most out of your tank
Global crude oil prices have been on the rise following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with U.S. gas prices hitting a new national record on Tuesday.
As NPR's Camila Domonoske reported: "The average cost of a gallon of regular fuel is now $4.173, according to AAA, after jumping 55 cents in the last week alone. That's the highest ever recorded, not accounting for inflation, surpassing the $4.114 high-water mark set in the summer of 2008. (That would be about $5.37 in today's dollars.)"
Also on Tuesday, President Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports (the U.K. also said it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022, and European Union officials announced a proposal to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year).
Biden acknowledged the move could drive up crude and gasoline costs in the U.S. and pledged to do everything in his power to minimize the impact on Americans' wallets.
"Defending freedom is going to cost," he said. "It's going to cost us as well in the United States."
With that in mind, check out these tips for maximizing your miles per gallon, courtesy of AAA, State Farm, GasBuddy and Consumer Reports.
Behind the wheel
- Avoid high speeds. As your speed increases, so too does your aerodynamic drag — for most vehicles, State Farm says, mileage decreases exponentially above 50 miles per hour. Experts recommend staying at or below the speed limit, driving at a consistent rate of speed and using cruise control on longer journeys.
- Combine short trips. Warm engines run more efficiently than cold ones, so experts advise running multiple errands at once rather than making shorter, separate trips from a cold start.
- Keep your tires properly inflated. In addition to being safer, properly inflated tires can last longer and improve your gas mileage by more than 3% per tire, AAA says. Keep your tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer and check them at least once a month, when they're cold — AAA recommends doing so in the morning after your car has been idle overnight. Plus, State Farm recommends having your tires rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles to evenly distribute wear and tear.
- Cut down on the A/C, and keep windows closed. Running your car's air conditioner puts extra load on its engine, which GasBuddy says uses about 20% more fuel (the defrost position on most vehicles also uses the A/C, it notes). AAA recommends cutting the A/C five minutes before you reach your destination and parking in the shade or a garage. Also, keep your windows and moon roof closed when traveling at highway speeds to reduce drag.
- Don't accelerate or brake too hard. GasBuddy says applying "slow steady acceleration and braking" can increase your fuel economy by as much as 20%. What does that actually look like? State Farm's advice: As you approach a stop sign or traffic light, take your foot off the gas earlier and let your car downshift before braking. AAA also suggests accelerating only before you reach a hill, not while you're on it.
- Lighten your load. Extra weight in the car creates a drag on the engine and consumes extra gas, so it's worth taking the time to remove unnecessary items — like extra tires, car seats and sandbags, in the spring — from your trunk and back seat.
- Avoid idling. Idling (leaving the engine running while the vehicle isn't moving) uses more fuel than restarting the engine, according to State Farm. AAA says idling burns 1 gallon of gas per hour. Turn your car completely off to save fuel and cut down on emissions.
- Get your car serviced regularly. Experts say routine maintenance will help your car run more efficiently. Regular tuneups and inspections can help you avoid and fix problems like dirty air filters, old spark plugs, low fluid levels, bent wheels, bad shocks and broken springs. Also, waxing the outside of your car can increase your mileage. Your vehicle's owner's manual should include recommended maintenance intervals.
At the gas station
AAA and Consumer Reports also have some advice for your next trip to the pump:
- Avoid overfilling your tank — stop at the first "click" of the fuel nozzle.
- Make sure the gas cap clicks three times after you're done filling up, to prevent fuel from vaporizing.
- Keep in mind that gas stations near major highways often charge more for gas because of their overhead costs. Fill up at your local station before a road trip. And to save money, choose self-service when possible and pay in cash if there's a credit card fee.
- If you work from home or have flexible hours, try to get gas and run your errands when the roads will be less crowded.
- Skip the premium gas unless your car requires it, as indicated by the fuel filler door.
- CR recommends using "Top Tier" gas, which is held to a higher standard and available at certain participating gas station brands like Costco, Exxon, Mobil and Shell.
- Use apps and websites like Gas Guru, GasBuddy and MapQuest to check local prices and find the cheapest fuel near you.
Of course, there are other things you can do to cut down on per-person fuel consumption, for the benefit of your wallet as well as the environment — like walking, taking public transportation and buying a fuel-efficient vehicle.
Experts also recommend sharing a ride with friends or colleagues who are heading in the same direction, and splitting the cost of gas. And, if you're making multiple stops in one general area, consider parking in one place and walking between them.
Editor's note: State Farm is a supporter of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.
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