Forget the “stay-cation.”
Sure, gas is over $4 a gallon. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your summer road trip. I’m clocking nearly 4,000 miles a month on a 3-year, 100,000-mile working road trip through the Western Hemisphere. It’s also my celebration of one of America’s greatest travel traditions—and I’m not about to let horrifyingly high fuel prices stop me.
Sure, I think twice (or even three times) before turning my truck down an intriguing-looking side road, just to “see where it goes.” And when I decided to hitch up a trailer, the additional fuel needed to tow it was a big consideration. But I’m still out there. And part of the reason is that I’ve picked up essential tips on how to get more mileage out of even a large vehicle.
These days, having a Rolodex of gas-saving tips could save your vacation. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed in a January, 2008 Nielsen Company study said they’re staying home more often because gas is so expensive. And according to the Department of Transportation, Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles between November, 2007 and April, 2008 than they did during the same period the year before—the sharpest drop since the gas shortages of 1979 and 1980.
Because the mileage declines are greatest on rural roads, experts believe the bulk of the cutback is due to abandoned road trips, “People are clearly driving less,” says Automobile Association of America (AAA) spokesman Geoff Sundstrom, “and, in particular, they’re curtailing their leisure driving.”
But not everyone has thrown in the car keys. According to the Travel Industry Association, 59 percent of Americans currently planning a road trip this summer say they won’t change their travel plans—even if gas prices continue to climb. (Among the rest, however, 36 percent say they’d cancel their trip altogether.)
Still, incentivizing drivers to hit the road can’t hurt, which is why hundreds of hotels across the country are offering gas rebates. These include the luxurious new Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont, and Broughton Hospitality Group’s boutique inns in California, both of which are offering a $25 credit. B&Bs are getting into the act, too; more than 4,000 of them are serving up special gas promotions.
But $25 only gets you so far. Ultimately, how you drive can make a big difference in where you drive. Sure, we all know that going 75 mph burns fuel faster than going 55 mph. But what also matters is how you push the gas pedal, how you pack your car, and how you handle the A/C (no, you don’t have to go without). And did you ever consider using two GPS devices? They can give you vastly different routes, especially if you’re not the type to stick to the highway.
So whether you’re headed to a hotel or just want to take a drive this summer, here’s our list of essential gas-saving tips to help you maximize your miles and leave the “stay-cations” back home.
Tip 1: Take advantage of hotel gas offers
- Vermont: Until December 30, stay two nights at the newly opened Stowe Mountain Lodge and get a $25 credit (stay three nights and get $50, four or more and get $100). Use it for spa, dining, or other hotel indulgences.
- Chicago: The Hyatt Regency McCormick Place has a Gas Saver Package that gets you a $25 gas gift certificate at checkout.
- California: The “Cruise the Coast” package offered at Broughton Hospitality Group’s boutique hotels includes a $25 gas rebate (read: room credit) at checkout, along with a bottle of wine at check-in and continental breakfast.
- Adirondacks, NY: Perhaps the ultimate gas giveaway happens at the luxurious retreat The Point in Saranac Lake, NY. No, it’s not cheap to stay, but savvy guests know that they can get more for their money by arriving with the gas gauge on empty.
- Are you the B&B type? You can find special discounts across the country at bedandbreakfast.com.
Tip 2: Watch your driving technique
You may have to put the cell phone down for this one, but paying closer attention to the driving conditions around you can really be worth it.
- Drive 55. When on the highway, drive the speed limit or even five miles below it—as close to 55, max, as you safely can (there’s a reason the U.S. government lowered speed limits during the last gas crisis). AAA estimates that driving slower can boost mileage by five percent.
- Don’t stop and start. Avoid abruptly stopping and starting; accelerating from a standstill requires extra fuel. Instead, be aware of the timing of red lights so you can slowly coast to the light and reach it as it turns green—without coming to a full stop.
- Use cruise control. Where traffic and road conditions allow it, automatic fuel use is much more waste-free than trying to maintain a constant speed using your lead foot.
- A/C on? Crack the windows—slightly. This will give hot air a place to escape, helping your car’s interior cool down more efficiently, which reduces the fuel needed. And use the re-circulation function instead of constantly sucking in new hot air from outside the vehicle (which then has to be cooled down from scratch).
- Switch to a synthetic motor oil. Synthetics like Amsoil may give you a slight bump in mileage.
Tip 3: Use a GPS device—or two
A GPS device is a useful road trip tool (and not just because getting lost is a waste of gas), but not all of them are created equal. Look for one that can calculate the shortest route between two points (surprisingly it’s not true with all of them). And, unless you’re driving a Hummer, be sure the device can tell you if the route includes an unpleasant dirt road. I travel with two GPS devices—not only do I rely on features unique to each, but each will sometimes route me in different directions.
Tip 4: Go online
- Use a TripTik. Oh, how the good old AAA TripTik has grown up! Not only are these customizable road-trip routers online, but now they come with gas station locations and date-stamped fuel prices along the route. While it’s impossible to nail exact pump prices from day to day with costs changing so rapidly (fuel prices along a sample route I input were between two and eight days old), AAA does its best by getting numbers at more than 100,000 stations across the U.S. directly from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), which gets its prices from selected gas purchases at more than two-thirds of America’s gas stations.
- Get a 2nd opinion. Fuel Me Up lists date-stamped pump price data based on actual credit card transactions at actual stations.
- What to avoid. Sites that rely on “user data,” like Gas Buddy, which is increasingly full of flat-out wrong data—I recently drove miles out of my way in pursuit of a great price, only to find that the station listed didn’t even exist!
Tip 5: Stay on top of maintenance
You may be tempted to skimp on visits to the mechanic and use the money to pay for gas instead, but getting a tune up and replacing air and fuel filters at recommended intervals will help improve engine efficiency and boost mileage. A practically free fix? Make sure your tires are inflated to the manufacturer-recommended PSI to reduce road drag caused by under-inflation—something that can reduce your mileage by up to two percent per pound of pressure, according to AAA.
Tip 6: Check the calendar
Gas prices don’t just seem to go up around holidays and long weekends, they really do rise. So don’t wait until July 3 to fill the tank for your Fourth of July road trip (unless there’s a prize for paying the most for gas). Fueling up can also be more expensive on weekends, so visit the pump midweek.
Tip 7: Charge it
Many regular credit cards give cash back on gas purchases with some provisions. I use an American Express Blue Cash Card that started giving me five percent back on gas once I’d charged $6,500 overall. Most gas station and grocery store chains also offer cards that give five percent back for the first six months of use. So get a cash-back credit card and meet the charge limit before your road trip, or sign up for the limited-time gas station or grocery-store club cards right before you begin the road trip. And don’t worry if a station lists a cheaper “cash only” price. That rule is often only applied to big-rig drivers. The rest of us almost always get the cash price, even on credit card transactions.
Tip 8: Pack light
It seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve all seen the car loaded down with half-a-household’s worth of possessions. The less weight your vehicle has to haul around, the better your mileage will be. And keep stuff inside the car, not on the roof where it will create drag and zap your mileage.
Tip 9: Become a billboard
Desperate times call for desperate measures—and for an increasing number of drivers, that means turning their car into a rolling billboard. Matchmaking companies (including freegashelp.com, freecarmedia.com, autowraps.com, and myfreecar.com) can partner advertisers who want to spread their message with drivers looking for a few hundred dollars per month (in either cash or a gas card). It’s not for everyone: there’s quite a bit of pre-planning, and after your road trip is done, your car is still covered in ads.
Tip 10: Learn from hypermilers
With their goal of eking out 100+ miles per gallon, hypermilers have adopted a playbook of effective (though controversial) driving techniques. We’re not saying you should try this, but one of their most effective techniques is “coasting.“ Long favored by bus drivers across Asia as a fuel cost-cutting measure, coasting is the art of turning off the ignition, popping your vehicle into neutral, and coasting down hills. But be warned: in many cars, your brakes and even your steering are useless once the ignition is turned off. Oh, and it’s illegal.
Copyright © 2008 American ExpressPublishing Corporation