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7 ways to save gas while driving

A few easy things can make it cheaper to drive right now.

A gas station at Greene St. and Queen Lane offers their product for $4.59 for self-serve regular unleaded and  $5.59 for ultra premium on March 7.
A gas station at Greene St. and Queen Lane offers their product for $4.59 for self-serve regular unleaded and $5.59 for ultra premium on March 7.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Gas prices have been hitting highs, and that trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But you still have to get around, right?

So, here is what you can do to try to make your gas last longer, based on information from Jana Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, and Al Vincent, owner and mechanic of Al’s Performance in Olney:

1. Check your tire pressure. Often.

Philadelphia mechanic Al Vincent, owner of Al’s Performance, recommends checking all four tires once every two weeks, or at least once a month. If your tires are under-inflated, your car burns more fuel, your tires wear out faster, and it’s less safe to drive. But checking the pressure “is a nice, quick thing you can do by yourself in most cars,” says Vincent. Check the driver’s side door jamb to find out how much pressure your car needs.

You can check your pressure and top up your tires at Wawa, which has free tire air pumps in such locations as Roosevelt Boulevard, Rising Sun Avenue, and Ridge Avenue. Find the closest location with an air pump on Google maps. You can also buy a tire pressure gauge for as low as $9.

According to AAA, doing this can improve your gas mileage by approximately 3% — those savings are particularly important when prices climb.

2. Get the right octane gas for your car

Octane is a rating on how stable the fuel is. In the United States, there are typically three grades: regular (87 octane), mid-grade (89 octane), and premium (usually 91, but some gas stations sell 93).

If you go with too low an octane your car will need more gas. Why? If your car requires higher octane fuel, a lower octane may ignite prematurely during compression.

But higher isn’t necessarily better: If you go higher than you need to, it won’t cause any trouble, but you will be wasting money. So, the bottom line is that you want to get what your car needs — not more, not less — if you want to save money on gas.

According to AAA research, there’s no benefit in using premium gas if your car doesn’t need it. But although 70% of U.S. cars require only regular gasoline, drivers — collectively — waste more than $2.1 billion a year buying premium gas.

Check your car’s user manual to find out the right octane fuel for your vehicle.

3. Get a tune-up

Regular maintenance — oil and filter changes, tire rotation, inspecting and adjusting fluid levels, and replacing worn-out parts (such as an engine filter) — is important for keeping your car running well. But it can also make a big difference in your fuel efficiency.

Vincent says that a good tune-up can help you cut down your gas consumption by 25%. He points especially to the air filter and spark plug. (The more wear on the spark plug, the more your air filter gets clogged, making your engine less efficient and burning more gas.) But a tune-up may make even more of a difference: According to Mobil, fixing serious maintenance problems, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your gas mileage by as much as 40%.

Your user manual can tell you when your car needs to be maintained, or the maintenance shop will remind you. If you need help finding a place to perform your maintenance, AAA has a locator based on zip code.

4. Don’t idle

Letting your car idle burns fuel at zero miles per gallon, effectively wasting that gasoline. Vincent says that a lot of people do this, especially during winter, and that it uses more gas than turning off your car and restarting it. So, when you can help it don’t let your car idle for more than 10 seconds.

AAA says it is best to not start your car until you are ready to go, and avoid drive-throughs. Because the engine warms up faster once the car is on, and will stay warm after stopping.

5. Minimize drag

Air resistance reduces fuel efficiency. And your drag increases if you have the car windows open, roof or rear-mounted racks, or carry a lot of things in your trunk. According to AAA, a loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel efficiency by 5%. And AAA also recommends to empty your trunk: Carrying heavy things, about 100 pounds, reduces the efficiency of your gas by 1% to 2%.

6. Don’t speed

Speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking make you burn gas faster. Driving over 60 mph can also drain your tank: AAA says that for every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph an additional $0.15 per gallon is added to your gas bill. So, use cruise control, and respect the speed limit.

7. Make fewer trips

When you turn on the car, the engine needs to warm up. Starting your car multiple times can use twice as much fuel as driving one longer trip. Making fewer trips will save you gas and reduce wear and tear.

Expert sources:

  • Jana Tidwell, Manager, Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic
  • Al Vincent, owner and mechanic, Al's Performance

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at