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Keep travel costs down when gas prices rise

SmarterTravel

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published in 2004. It has been updated with the most current information available.

If you’re planning a road trip this summer, there’s nowhere to hide from high gas prices. Still, with the right preparation and information, you can cut down on unnecessary costs to ensure the most affordable trip possible.

The first thing to know is that some parts of the country still cost less than others. When we checked the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) daily fuel gauge report, states with the highest costs were primarily out West, led by California at $2.54 per gallon of regular unleaded, and followed closely by Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The average gallon in Minnesota and Missouri, on the other hand, came in at just under $2.00.

In addition to daily statewide statistics, AAA provides a useful tool for estimating how much your trip will cost. With its Fuel Cost Calculator, you can select your starting point and destination, and then choose your vehicle information. The site then factors in average gasoline prices and gives you an estimated total for both one-way and round-trip journeys. This can be especially useful if you’re trying to weigh the costs of traveling to one destination or another, or if you’re on a particularly tight budget. You don’t have to belong to AAA to use it.

Either at your destination, or even before you leave, you can keep your gas costs down by using a resource such as GasBuddy.com. Click on the state or Canadian province of your choice to find the best—and avoid the worst—local prices, as reported by GasBuddy members across North America.

Another key to saving on gas is to make your driving as fuel-efficient as possible. If you will be renting a car for your next vacation, the most fuel-efficient vehicle will save you the most money, and today’s top performers are unquestionably the hybrids. Hybrid cars combine a traditional gasoline-powered engine with a rechargeable battery, and some operate on the battery when stopped in traffic or moving very slowly, allowing you to save on gas. While the three main hybrids on the market (the Honda Insight and Civic Hybrid, and the Toyota Prius) are readily available for sale now, there are still only limited rental options. If you happen to be in select cities in Arizona or California, you can pick up a rental through EV Rental Cars. For further savings, consider joining the AAA-competitor Better World Club, which offers 10-percent discounts on EV rentals.

Renting a hybrid may not yet be possible in other parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a vehicle with good gas mileage. In general, the smaller the car, the less gasoline it will use, so sticking with compacts and subcompacts is a wise move. Edmunds.com’s Top 10 Most Fuel-Efficient Cars for 2005 include the non-hybrid Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and New Beetle; Honda Civic; Toyota Echo and Corolla; Dodge Neon; and Pontiac Vibe.

Of course, many travelers will be driving their own cars, each with varying degrees of fuel efficiency. No matter your vehicle, there are many ways to make any automobile more fuel-friendly. Here are a few tips, based on recommendations from AAA, fueleconomy.gov, and PageWise:

  • If you have more than one car, choose the vehicle that offers superior fuel efficiency.
  • Use cruise control when appropriate. Setting your car on cruise regulates your speed and keeps gas consumption down.
  • Stick to the speed limit, particularly on the highway. Gas mileage begins to drop sharply the faster you drive over 60 mph.
  • Don’t speed, rapidly accelerate, or brake suddenly. These actions are wasteful of fuel.
  • Plan travel routes to avoid rush hour and heavy traffic areas. Sitting in traffic burns fuel without getting you anywhere.
  • Use your car’s air conditioner less, as the extra energy uses up more fuel.
  • Place items in your trunk and car’s interior before you load up your roof rack. External storage creates wind resistance and curbs efficiency.

Though gas prices are largely out of your control, how you deal with higher rates is not. By making wise decisions about which cars to drive, and how you drive the ones you already have, staying within budget will be much easier.

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