Soaring gas prices don't have to take a toll on your summer road trip--armed with our tips, you can hit the highways and save
Today's gas crisis looks nothing like that of the 1970's, when inflation was a dirty word and pump lines stretched for blocks. The "I" word is hardly used (thanks to low interest rates), and gas stations are eerily vacant, with many avoiding stops at the pump for fear of emptying bank accounts. On Tuesday gas prices hit a 13-year high of $1.84/gallon. But, that's not the end of the bad news. Industry analysts say the cost could rise to as high as $3/gallon in the coming months, a time of year when half of America's households hit the road. How this dire situation will affect summer road trippers remains to be seen, but there are ways to enjoy a car trip and still manage to save.
Turn to the web
Once again, the Internet proves to be a great resource for budget-conscious travelers. GasPriceWatch.com, a consumer advocacy website that tells you where you'll find the best gas bargains. You just plug in the zip code of where you're headed and you get a search results page with stations and their locations and current gas prices. As of today, the most expensive gas per gallon in the country can be found in Bridgeport, CA ($2.69/gallon), and the least expensive in Clifton, NJ ($1.58/gallon). How does GasPriceWatch.com keep track of all these fluctuating numbers? They use a team of volunteer "spotters" who call in rates on a regular basis. Of course, this also works in your home town. Gaswars.com does the same thing, but also covers gas prices in other countries. Gasbuddy.com is another helpful site which provides links to local sites that track gas. Check all three and see which works best for your proposed route.
If you want to figure out before you go just how much you'll spend on gas (perhaps to balance out how much you want to spend on lodging), AAA has a useful site called Fuel Cost Calculator which will estimate for you the fuel costs of a particular trip. You input your starting and ending destinations plus the type of car you have and it calculates how many gallons of fuel you'll need and how much they'll cost. While it doesn't clue you in on where to find the cheaper gas, like the sites above do, it is helpful for figuring out your budget in advance.
Rules of the Road
Whether you plan to rent a car or will be using your own set of wheels, there are some handy dandy tricks for maximizing fuel efficiency on the road:
"It's good to get minor tune-ups, where you check your car's belts and hoses, every 30,000 miles and a major tune-up every 60,000 miles," says David Kelly, a mechanic at Ron's Auto Repair in Jamaica Plain, MA.
Another way to save on the inevitable wear and tear on your car is to stick, if possible, to well-maintained roads and car-only lanes. That may be hard to do as Congress' $275 billion highway bill, which mandates much needed improvements on our nation's most trafficked arteries, is still caught in legislative limbo. So, finding perfectly smooth roads may be a challenge. We suggest asking locals before you head out.
And the big issue, of course, what to fill your tank with. "The best thing to do to save money on the road is to use "regular" gas. "Super" doesn't actually make your car run better, unless you're driving a Ferrari, in which case you probably won't be worried about the high price of gas," says Kelly.
Little things add up on road trips
Shopping at local grocery stores and packing your meals is a good way to save money (and time) when you consider the inflated fast-food prices at highway rest stops. Or, if you have to stop for a bite mid-drive, truck plazas are sure bets for decently priced meals. Many also offer cheap Internet access, if you can't live without checking your email. For a list of more authentic, and often inexpensive local restaurants, surf over to Roadfood, a highly useful site detailing local eats around the country.
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