TechBite: Gas Saving Tips (‘Cause the Prices are Killing Us)


By Steve Bass

This week: Internet resources
to help me (and maybe you) get the best deal on gasoline
— and better mileage.

Got Gas?

Regular-grade gasoline in and around Los Angeles just
bumped up to a painful $4.20 per gallon. And it happened
just as we decided to head 100 miles north to our beach
house [] in
Ventura and party with a few neighbors
[]. (Yes, I took
some time off, so these was no newsletter last week.)

As I planned our trip, I consulted with Gas Buddy
, a handy service that finds a list
of gas stations with the lowest prices. Just stick in your
zip code or state

(Canadian provinces, too). There’s also a GasBuddy App
you can use on a smart phone while you travel.

Here’s more help: Try GasPriceWatch
for nationwide
searches. Just pop in your zip code or city and you’ll see
listings in Google Maps. MapQuest Gas Prices
works the same way and is
useful for searching on alternative energy sources, such
as biodiesel, electric, or hydrogen (sorry, nothing
nuclear), as well as regular fuels.

The one thing not to try is the trip cost calculator
— it’ll
make you want to stay home.

You say you’re traveling and never quite sure where the
state you’re in is on the map? No problem (and no, I can
never find half of those southern states either). Use
Sheppard Software’s map quiz
to practice.

Quick Aside: Gas prices are high today, but I want to tell
you my oh-you-think-you-have-it-bad version of walking to
school in the snow. It was the oil crisis
[] in the
early seventies. Gasoline shot up from about 30 cents a
gallon to more than $1.20; there wasn’t much available;
and tempers flared as we lined up around the block.

Let Up on the Pedal

I’m guessing everyone with a driver’s license has their
own ideas about how to get better mileage. But at $4 a
gallon, it’s probably worth a look at a few tips.
For a quick read, scan EHow’s “How to Get Good Gas Mileage
with Your Car

.” And
if you have the time, read’s “Change Your
Driving Habits (and Save Gas!) Driving Tips
.” Edmonds also has a lengthier, more detailed

, and worth the read.

I really like what Edmunds has to offer. Its detailed
report will give you some insight into the approach
I’m using: stepping up to the higher level membership at
Costco in order to buy gas from them. Costco’s gas prices
are generally 5 to 10 cents — and occasionally 20 cents
— per gallon less than other stations in the area. And
whatever money you save on gas will disappear when you go
into Costco to shop. (Come on, you know you never walk out
spending less then a $100.)

Gas-Saving Controversies

Air Conditioning Even though it still cold in much of the
country, come summer, to help with gas mileage you may
consider not using your air conditioner. There’s some
controversy over whether it’s more fuel efficient to drive
with the car’s air conditioning on or to keep it off and
open the windows.

Way way back in 1986, The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams said
it doesn’t matter.
However, Bankrate did what appears to be the most digging,
and its writer says it depends on
your vehicle and the speed at which you’re driving. The
University of Central Florida said, “repeated evaluation
at 65 miles per hour, our test car experienced 11% better
fuel efficiency
with no A/C and the windows open than using the air
conditioner.” Edmond’s says it makes no difference

No Idling Then there’s the dilemma of whether to turn off
your vehicle’s engine at a coffee-and-donuts traffic
light. You know the kind I mean: those monster
intersections where you wait 4 minutes for traffic in
every direction to pass.
The question is whether you waste more gas by idling for a
few minutes — or by stopping and restarting the engine.

One guy tested it
over a month and saved gas by
turning off the engine. The Environmental Defense Fund
endorses the practice
,big time. And the U.S. Department of Energy slyly
implies the same thing by saying, “Avoid Excessive Idling
[]: Idling
gets 0 miles per gallon. Cars with larger engines
typically waste more gas at idle than do cars with smaller

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