On a recent drive to work, Philip Reed was able to boost his car's gas mileage by almost 25 percent.
Reed, tracking the Honda's gas efficiency with an onboard computer, credited his fuel savings to the fact that he left earlier for work, thus avoiding morning congestion and the stop-and-start traffic that wastes fuel. As consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, the automotive information Web site, Reed knows a few fuel-efficiency tricks.
"You'll not only save gas, but your entire day will be easier," Reed said. "I left earlier, and I didn't stop once. When you hit the brakes, you waste energy."
The national average for unleaded regular gasoline has been hovering above $3 a gallon. Prices have gained about 40 percent since the beginning of the year, according to AAA and the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration.
With gas prices reaching all-time highs, consumers can save money by following these five off-the-beaten-track tips:
1. Commute early/commute late
In addition to hitting the road early as Reed did, employees with flexible schedules can also try leaving work later. While it may be unappetizing to wait out evening traffic at the end of a long workday, it could be worth it.
"If you're stopped in traffic, you are getting zero miles per gallon," Reed said.
In some cities, drivers can use an Internet service such as MyTraffic.com to see a specialized report about the driving conditions on a particular commute. "If it looks bad, maybe you can jump on your commute early," Reed said.
2. Ditch that SUV
Those who lease gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles may want to consider transferring their leases and switching to smaller, more efficient vehicles.
"We're noticing an increase in SUV transfers," said Sergio Stiberman, president and founder of LeaseTrader.com, a marketplace for leases that serves both buyers and sellers.
The site's SUV category has gained 30 percent since last year. More than half of the customers who have transferred out of SUV leases have opted for smaller cars, according to the company.
Meanwhile, those who like the room of an SUV, but are intimidated by picking up that pricey gas tab for the long term, can benefit by taking up the remainder of someone else's lease.
"They are able to take advantage of the vehicle without that long-term commitment," Stiberman said. "The benefits of taking over the lease outweigh the fact that they are paying too much for gas."
3. Plan ahead for fueling
Another cost-saving tip: Web users can compare gas prices at stations along a planned route, thanks to a service the American Automobile Association introduced earlier this year.
For example, on one recent day the online TripTik Travel Planner at aaa.com showed as much as a 16-cent-per-gallon price differential for regular gas at stations located within a few miles of each other in Pennsylvania.
"The differential may only be a few cents. We are not talking about a huge expense overall. But if you're traveling on a budget every little bit helps," said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman with AAA. "Our members are extremely interested in saving money on their fuel purchases."
Georgia typically has the lowest prices gas in the country, so it's not uncommon for travelers from Florida to wait to fill up until they cross the state line, Sundstrom said. "The differential from one exit to another might be 10 cents or more per gallon," he said.
4. Catch a ride with coworkers
Robert Gentile, director of Consumer Reports' Auto Price Service, said some companies are putting up Intranet sites for employees to find colleagues living in their area who are willing to carpool. If you carpool with just one other co-worker, you save 50 percent on your gas bill.
Some companies also help out workers with a vanpool, and by supporting bike-to-work days.
"These incentives are really a key to getting people to change their behavior," said Reed of Edmunds.com.
Reed also suggested consumers study "hypermilers" _ drivers who aim for "ultimate efficiency in hybrid, alternative and future transportation fuel technologies," according to HyperMilers.com. These drivers look to save fuel with methods such as coasting. Reed noted, however, that some hypermiler methods may push the safety envelope.
5. Down with drag
Reducing unnecessary drag that diverts engine power can also improve your fuel efficiency. One simple tip: Avoid carrying items, even empty racks, on top of your car.
Pickup owners can enjoy some of the biggest gas-mileage gains when they improve their vehicles' aerodynamics by installing a tonneau cover on the truck's bed, according to Edmunds.com. A tonneau cover can improve fuel economy by preventing the open truck bed from dragging down mileage.
Edmunds also suggests other tips to improve your car's aerodynamics, including rolling up your windows, lowering your vehicle, and using narrower tires and smoother wheels. However, Reed said, aerodynamics don't come into play on most vehicles until they're traveling at least 30 miles per hour.
Here are some more ways to save on gas, as recommended by Consumer Reports and others:
- Get out of your car and walk, bike or use public transit.
- Minimize driving with a cold engine by combining separate short trips into one longer trip.
- Drive smoothly, avoiding hard acceleration and braking, and maintain a steady pace in top gear. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, according to FuelEconomy.gov, a government Web site.
- Turn off your car rather than letting it idle for extended periods.
- Keep your tires properly inflated, which can improve gas mileage by about 3.3 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov.
- Keep your car in good shape and well tuned. Correcting a serious problem can improve mileage by up to 40 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov.
- Try to use regular gas unless the manufacturer indicates that premium is necessary.