The cost of gas is soaring. Here are some ways to save your family money at the pump.
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There are few areas of life that have escaped the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes the cost of gas for our cars.

Fuel prices have been skyrocketing since vaccines were rolled out and families everywhere began leaving their homes again to resume typical daily routines (all of which has driven up demand, and thus the price of gas.) By the end of 2021, the cost of crude oil had surged by more than 65 percent.

An image of a person pumping gas.
Credit: Getty Images.

Nowhere are the price spikes more apparent than in California, where the average cost of a gallon of gas is now about $4.65, according to AAA. Admittedly, California has always been one of the most expensive places in the country to live and raise a family, and that steep price tag includes the cost of gas. But the national average price of fuel—$3.94 for premium and $3.30 for regular—is hardly any bargain.

Short of switching to electric vehicles (which we should all be doing anyway once they become something approaching affordable), here are some ways your family can save money on gas.

1. Check your tires

Drivers rarely think of this fact, but having the proper tire pressure means your car is not running as it was intended to.

"Having incorrect tire pressure, [including] uneven or under-inflated tires, can take a toll on your gas mileage," Julie Bausch, managing editor of National Public Radio's long running and wildly popular program Car Talk, tells Parents. "Think of it as trying to go for a run wearing one running shoe and one flip flop."

While you're at it, make sure the tires on your family's vehicles are aligned as well, adds Bausch. Correct tire alignment means your car will run with less resistance, which translates into less gas is used.

2. Engage in regular maintenance

Yes, we've already talked about tires. But there's far more to maintaining the family vehicle than checking pressure and engaging in regular rotation. 

"Seriously though, I like to equate car care with self-care sometimes," says Bausch. "Taking care of your car is deeply important to the longevity and health of your car, but also your bank account. Regular maintenance will mean better gas mileage in the long run, because your car is running in optimal shape, and not limping along the road, begging for oil."

3. Use a gas pricing app

There's a variety of excellent gas pricing apps available these days, so do yourself a favor and download one of them to stay on top of where gas prices are most affordable in your community. "GasBuddyGasUpsideWaze, and GasGuru are some of the most popular options," says Bausch.

These apps can be especially helpful when you're in unfamiliar territory, such as on a family vacation or road trip to places where you may not be aware of the most wallet-friendly locations to gas up.

"Gas prices are typically highest right off a highway exit," budget lifestyle expert Andrea Woroch tells Parents. "And unless you know where to go, you could end up driving around aimlessly to find cheaper gas. Apps like GasBuddy can point you in the right direction to help you save time and fuel."

The GasBuddy app not only helps you find the cheapest gas in a particular region but also offers a GasBack program that allows users to earn money toward gas when making everyday purchases at popular retail brands. GasUpside meanwhile, offers up to 25 cents savings every time you get gas.

4. Fuel up at warehouse stores

If there's a Costco in your neighborhood, you're likely familiar with the long lines of cars waiting to fuel up at the warehouse store's gas station. There's a good reason for those queues: the deep discount on gas prices.

"You could save as much as 30 cents per gallon," says Woroch. "You can find gas prices for your warehouse store listed on their website." And to avoid those headache-inducing long lines try to go during less busy times of the day, such as after dinner or first thing in the morning, says Woroch.

5. Clean out your car

Plenty of us are guilty of using our cars as an extra storage space, especially parents who are transporting kids to soccer, baseball, basketball, and more. The thing is, the more weight you carry around in your vehicle, the harder it works to get you where your family needs to go. And that means you're paying more to get to your destination, in the form of gas being used up far more quickly.

"So, if you have a bunch of stuff in the trunk, you'll be pulling down your gas mileage," explains Bausch.

Kick-off the new year by storing the baby strollers in the garage, and finally dropping all those bags of clothing and old toys off at Goodwill. You'll be doing yourself and your wallet a huge favor.

David Undercoffler, editor in chief of Autolist, advises Parents to clean out the trunk and cabin so they're free of extra weight that's causing your car to use more gas. "All these items add up to more than you'd think. Plus, who doesn't love a cleaner car inside?" says Undercoffler.

In addition to addressing the extra baggage inside of your car, take a good, long look at your vehicle's exterior if you're searching for ways to save on gas expenses. 

"Remove unnecessary roof racks and other accessories," CarGurus' deputy editor Matt Smith tells Parents. "Those ski racks and cargo boxes can make a car look very cool and capable, but they also create significant drag and can drop your combined fuel economy by a mile per gallon or two."

6. Avoid idling 

Unless it's the middle of winter and you need to warm up your car before getting all the kids in and going somewhere, try not to idle. "Adjust your mirrors, put on your seat belt, decide on your travel playlist, and set the GPS before you turn the key," says Bausch. "This is a small thing, but it can add up over time."

In fact, idling longer than a minute to warm up your car is really just a waste of gas. "Both the cabin and the engine will warm up much faster if you actually get in and start driving," says Undercoffler.

7. Lay off the gas pedal 

This tip as aimed at all the speed demons. In addition to being far safer, driving at a reasonable speed (and even coasting when you can) helps to conserve gas. 

"Obviously, if you slam on the brakes and then have to accelerate again, you're using more gas. So, leave a good following distance [between your vehicle in the one in front of you], coast if you can, and keep your speed reasonable, so you don't burn through your tank too quickly," says Bausch.

Smith, of CarGurus, also suggests making it a habit to lose those races away from the stop light. Hard acceleration is one of the easiest ways to burn unnecessary gas.

"And it rarely makes a difference when it comes to time spent in the car," says Smith.

The vast majority of vehicles are most fuel-efficient when driving around 55 miles per hour. When you speed up past 65, 70, or even 75 miles per hour on the highway, your miles per gallon start to drop.

"Drivers can save some fuel by setting their cruise control to a lower speed to help preserve fuel," advises Smith. "After all, on a 30-minute commute, driving 75 miles per hour rather than 65 saves a little less than four minutes—not a significant amount of time."

8. Pay attention and watch trends in gas pricing

There are certain truths when it comes to the cost of gas. For instance, it is always more expensive in neighborhoods around an airport—and prices always go up in the days surrounding a major holiday. Start paying more careful attention to these factors.

"It is also more expensive closer to the weekends, as people make all their plans," explains Bausch. "Keep watch on these trends and fill up at the best time, in the best area for your budget. Fill up on Mondays, if you can. And not next to a big airport where everyone else is refueling their rental car before turning them in."

9. Park in the first spot you find, if you can

Raise your hand if you're guilty of circling around parking lots multiple times in search of a prime spot. It's a habit that's costing you money.

"People don't think about this, but when they hunt for a closer parking space, and wait in the center for someone to pull out of a prime space, they are wasting gas," notes Bausch. "Circling the parking lot like a ravenous shark means paying more in gas."

Ravenous shark people: It may be time to start behaving like a slightly different (more cost-conscious) creature.

10. Embrace "eco mode"

Living a more eco-friendly lifestyle should be top of mind for all of us. And some cars help you with that effort. For instance, newer cars are often equipped with a variety of drive modes, among them a more fuel-efficient eco mode. 

"Sport mode may be fun, but eco mode is designed to save gas," says Smith, of CarGurus. "It typically works by reducing the vehicle's throttle response and adjusting its gearing. These actions may make the car feel a bit more sluggish off the line, but they're designed to maximize the powertrain's fuel efficiency."

11. Pay with cash

Most gas stations offer a cheaper price per gallon if you pay with cash (rather than credit card) because it costs less for them to process cash transactions. "Depending on how much gas you're getting, paying with cash and avoiding the credit surcharge could help you shave off a few dollars each time you fill up," Tiffany Lemke, a senior manager for Metromile, tells Parents.

12. Carpool

Walk when possible. Use ride-share apps. If public transportation is available in your area and is manageable for your family and its lifestyle, try that too. Short of getting that electric car tomorrow, using your car less is a pretty clear-cut way to reduce fuel costs.

"It sounds simple, but exchanging driving for one month of taking public transportation, ride-sharing apps, or carpooling can result in surprising savings," says Lemke.