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Road Trip! How to Save Gas During Summer Vacation


The road trip is an annual rite of summer, but rising fuel costs may replace car rides with gas rations. Fortunately, there are still smart, effective ways of “getting your motor running” and “heading out on the highway” to your favorite destination.

Skyrocketing gas prices and a brooding economy don’t have to spell doom to KOA Across America. Wise travelers know how to avoid the pitfalls of price gouging and drive through the pain of economic duress to have a great trip this summer season. Follow this list of dos and don’ts to have a successful, sunny vacation.

Do carpool.

The best way to cut costs on gas prices is to split the cost among friends (ever wonder why there were three Magi?). There are a few different ways to do this. You could pool money at the start and dip into the reserve at every gas station. You could take turns paying at the pump at each stop. But whatever system you choose, do not fall for the “you buy gas, I’ll buy food” con job. Unless you plan on having steak at the gas station, this one will never work out in your favor.

In addition to saving money, you will also have a great time with people you love. Having a group of friends to travel with makes the experience that much better, especially if someone brings license plate bingo!

Do plan your breaks.

There is nothing worse than stopping at every town to grab a snack, use the bathroom, or take a picture. On top of the general annoyance and hassle of herky-jerky travel is the increased downside of an over-extended gas tank. It takes gasoline to idle and turn the engine off and on, so if you’re serious about saving on fuel, you’ll need to get serious about shortening your stops. Instead of pulling over whenever the mood (or bladder) hits you, try organizing your breaks to achieve optimal efficiency. When you gas up at the convenience store, everyone should hit the bathroom, stock up on snacks, and take pics all in the same place. Convenient, huh?

Do get gas in the city.

There are a couple of drawbacks to small towns: No Best Buys and high gas prices. Fill stations in Podunksville have little to no competition for the wallets of their auto patrons, meaning they can set the prices at whatever they choose and not lose any business. Local customers have to pay or turn Amish—a pricey proposition either way. A better alternative would be to pull over in big cities—or at least cities big enough to foster gas price competition. That way, instead of filling up on the first $4.00 pump you see, you can shop around and find your holy grail of $3.95 manna.

Do use cruise control.

Maintaining a steady speed can be as difficult as finding a Top 40 station in the middle of nowhere, so instead of riding your car ragged, slip on the cruise control and travel in style. The constant speed changes can wear out your gas cache faster than you think. Gunning it around a minivan and slowing down while you throw things at road signs can have a big impact on your gas mileage. Leave it on cruise control and you can save money and ride comfortably. You’ll still be able to pass the minivan and you were never going to hit that No Jake Brakes sign anyway.

Do get your car serviced.

Especially before road trips, it is important to go in for a tune-up and make sure, say, that your carburetor won’t give out in the Mojave Desert. Also, having a car as fit as a fiddle will help gas mileage immensely, since all parts will be in working order and everything will be working efficiently. Change the oil, dump in fluids, and inflate the tires. You’ll be glad you did

Don’t hyper-mile.

Yes, practicing hyper-miling (the art of wringing every last drop from your gas tank) can save you money. Also yes, hyper-miling can put you in the hospital. To be a successful hyper-miler you have to take some risks—like drafting behind semis or cutting the engine on freeway dips. Never mind the fact that most of these practices are illegal. They’re just not safe. If you value life over Chevron, then keep your hands at 10-and-2 and stick to the driver’s manual.

Do not speed.

Excessively. Keep in mind that the faster you go, the more gas you expend. Once you hit 40 miles per hour, your gas efficiency takes a turn for the worse. Depending on what you drive, you might consider slipping into overdrive or a higher gear to lower your engine’s revolutions per minute. Others might just choose to define “speed limit” the way the state police intend.

Do not enjoy the scenery.

At least, don’t enjoy the scenery so much that you feel the need to stop and take pictures. This item relates to the “Do Plan Breaks” mention; there’s no point wasting gas and ruining your momentum just to take family photos at a rock that looks like a loaf of bread. Scenic overlooks are obviously the work of Big Oil. Buy a postcard instead.

Do not turn on the air conditioning.

This last item is where things get testy. “No A/C?” you might ask. “Then what’s the point of being in a car? We might as well hitchhike!” As such, this item can be debated. What can’t be argued is that A/C makes your engine work harder and hard-working engines drink gas like it’s chocolate milk. If you can stand the heat, turn down the A/C, or plan your driving at night. But don’t compromise by rolling down the windows. It might cool you off but it will also build wind resistance. What a drag.

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