How to Save Money on Road Trips as Gas Prices Soar

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Summer travel season is officially in full swing and that means hitting the road for many of us headed off on vacations and weekend getaways. In fact, AAA’s 2022 forecast for the July 4 holiday weekend says that 42 million Americans — more than ever — will take a road trip of 50 miles or more. However, this year we’re also facing record high gas prices – upwards of $6 per gallon in many cities across the US. 

How can you still get away without losing your shirt at the pump? We decided to check in with a few of the top Auto and RV Experts on JustAnswer for their best advice on the topic. Here are a few of their tips. 

JustAnswer Auto Expert Peter Zavarelli: 

  • Make sure your tires are aired up to the correct specifications. Most manufacturers leave a sticker on the driver inside door jamb or inside the fuel door with the tire specifications. It is a good idea to inflate to about 2 psi over that specification number to make up for temperature variations with the tires when driven on the road (as they generate heat which increases pressure) and the outside temperatures (as colder temperatures will lower pressure slightly).
  • Make sure your engine air filter is clean. It is recommended to replace it once a year.

Make sure your fuel filter is good. Most newer models do not have a fuel filter that can be replaced separate of the fuel pump itself, but if your model does have an external filter make sure it is replaced once a year.

  • Make sure your tires are in good shape and the correct size. Incorrect size tires or damaged tires can aid with poor fuel economy.
  • Most vehicles use a mass air flow sensor which aids the computer with telling it how much air is entering the engine. If this sensor becomes dirty or defective the engine computer can/will push more fuel through the engine than is needed.
  • Make sure the engine is running at the correct temperature. Most model vehicles will run about half way on the coolant temperature gauge. If it is running lower this will cause the engine to run too rich with too much fuel being added. In most cases it is a simple thermostat replacement that will resolve this issue.
  • It is a good idea to have your braking system checked over. If a brake caliper or the brake master cylinder is putting excess pressure on the brake pads this will cause the brakes to drag on the brake rotors which also leads to more fuel usage.
  • There is no need to warm up your vehicle for an extended time if it is fuel-injected. This will only burn off more fuel. Usually in most cases a couple of minutes in the warmer weather is sufficient and in colder temps I would only recommend warming up until your defrost is working properly to thaw out any cold or frozen windshields. 
  • Try not to idle too long. If you are stuck in a traffic jam and you know it may be several minutes or longer before you are able to drive again you might try shutting off your engine to save on fuel if you can.
  • Take it easy when using the throttle/gas pedal. There Is no hurry. In most cases people that accelerate heavily or speed up to get to where they are going end up in the same traffic line as others who remain patient. The harder you accelerate the more fuel you are going to end up using.
  • Most manufacturers will list online what their model vehicles will use for fuel in the city and on the highway. Keep in mind, those are in optimal conditions. In most cases your vehicle will get close to that mileage but it usually is not exact.
  • If you have any warning lights coming up on the dash I recommend to have a diagnostic test performed to see what the issues are. In many cases faulty components like oxygen sensors can also cause poor fuel economy. It’s also a good idea to have the oxygen sensors replaced every 100,000 miles even if no warning light has come on as they tend to wear down and read incorrectly which leads to poor fuel economy.
  • Look into some Apps on your phone for fuel centers. I know Conoco has one going right now to where you can save up to 25 cents per gallon if you link an account with them and use direct pay. That 25 cents per gallon adds up.
  • Last but not least, if you have more than one vehicle, during these times with high fuel costs and the inflation issues we are seeing, it is a good idea to drive the vehicle that gets the better fuel mileage. Put the truck away and use it only when needed. I myself have had to do the same for now.
  • Don’t skip out by purchasing lower grade fuel. If your vehicle calls for Unleaded plus make sure to use Unleaded plus and not the regular Unleaded to save. Vehicles that require higher octane fuel need that higher octane fuel to operate properly and preserve engine life.

 JustAnswer Auto Expert Marc O’Dell:

  • Keep up on maintenance. Have routine inspections performed to be sure the engine is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible! 
  • Perform tune up work if needed. Check the spark plugs to see how the engine is running, or use a professional level scan tool to check the long term fuel trims. These readings are the best way to tell how the engine is running.
  • Have the oxygen sensors checked and replaced if they’re not reading correctly or have high mileage that could slow the readings and cause the computer to over adjust the fuel mixtures. Your mechanic or tune-up shop should be able to see this on a scan tool. 
  • Be sure the fuel system is as clean as possible. Have the fuel filter replaced, the fuel pressure checked on higher mileage engines, and run some fuel injector cleaner periodically to be sure that the injectors are as clean as possible. 
  • Using higher octane fuels can help increase fuel economy on some engines. Try some octane booster with the fuel injector cleaner to see if there is any economy/mileage increase.
  • Keeping the tires inflated to the proper pressure, having the wheel alignment properly adjusted, and keeping the drivetrain system, brakes, and wheel bearings working properly will help make sure that there isn’t any unnecessary drag on the engine. 
  • Have your mechanic check the engine sensor readings and air filter operation. Be sure there aren’t any vacuum leaks! If the airflow sensor isn’t reading correctly, or if the air filter is dirty/clogged, it can cause the engine computer to compensate by adding more fuel. 
  • Remove any unnecessary weight from the vehicle such as roof racks/storage compartments, campers or toppers, and try to make the vehicles as aerodynamic as possible. Grille guards and some visors can cut down on airflow which could decrease fuel economy. 
  • Carpooling can help with fuel costs, as well as using the accelerator pedal conservatively. Some Nascar drivers pretend that there is an egg under the throttle pedal to keep from over accelerating. Using the cruise control system to control the throttle can help a lot with saving fuel, as well as cutting the engine off anytime that it’s not needed will also help conserve fuel.

JustAnswer RV Expert Brian Demo:

Fuel costs are a MAJOR factor to consider when traveling in an RV.  With $4.50 for unleaded in my area right now, the idea of loading up 90 gallons is painful, though.  Couple that with the idea that I’m going to get about 8-10 MPG, and that trip plan might get cut down.  Fear not!  A few tricks might help you get a couple of extra miles.

Yes, you read that right!  You might get somewhere fast, but that speed comes at another cost: FUEL CONSUMPTION.  Just dropping the speed from 70 to 60  MPH saved almost 90 miles of total consumption on my tank (that included running my generator too for whole-house A/C).  That’s a substantial distance saving.  

I’ve traveled with a full fresh water tank and never thought about it.  That’s 80 gallons of water and 664 lbs of weight that I’m dragging.  Extra weight means more work for the transmission, more engine power, and, you guessed it: more fuel consumed.  If you’re hopping park to park, travel with a quarter-full tank at most.  If you’re going boondocking, you know to ignore this line.

  • Plan your route with fuel in mind

I’m a fan of Flying J gas stations.  They almost all have an RV island, so it’s easy for us non-diesel users to get fuel and not worry about the “Am I going to hit that pump” game we play.  I also know fuel will cost me a little more on the highway, so I plan a little with the Flying J/Pilot Fuel app and Gas Buddy app.  I know my family’s routine, so I have an idea of when they will want to stop and where.  I look up fuel along that route and in the shopping areas.  You could drive 5 miles towards “town” and save $0.50 a gallon.  That’s serious money.

  • Stop for supplies right before you get to the campground

You can save weight on “stuff” by going to the store before you get to the campground.  Everyone has hotdogs and s’mores making stuff, so why lug that weight with you?  Just be a good person and park in the back of the lot.  You don’t want to get stuck by cars anyway.

  • Beware the “Join and Save” gimmick

If you’re traveling full time, you might save a few dollars with the join and save fuel programs.  The few I have seen (I will spare them the shame of being slandered) are just a money-making scheme.  No way are you going to use enough fuel to save money at the pump.  The gas station ones are ok sometimes, but they lack any punch.  If you’re a Good Sam member through Camping World, you get money off at the pump, and I believe I’ve seen Walmart doing the same thing.  I recommend going with what you know you will use and save yourself from getting a ton of spam calls after you joined and put your number in.

For more tips from top-rated Experts, visit our blog post here


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