How to Save Money at the Pump and Boost Your Car’s Gas Mileage
Last updated March 16, 2022
Unless you can park your car and drive less, there are three ways to deal with soaring gasoline prices: Hunt for the lowest price; chose the best way to pay; and then squeeze the most miles out of every gallon you buy.
Find the Lowest Price
Prices within a few miles of your home or office can vary greatly. Last week, prices for regular gas near my house ranged from $4.89 to $5.19 a gallon. Choosing the cheapest station would have saved me $4.20 on a fill-up.
Note: Premium gas does not deliver more miles per gallon, so don’t waste your money on it unless it’s required by the manufacturer. Check inside the fuel filler door for your vehicle’s requirements. “Recommended” means it’s optional.
A lot of drivers rely on gas apps to help them find the cheapest fuel. These apps count on fellow motorists to report on prices when they fill up. But are they accurate in today’s marketplace, where prices can change several times a day?
Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com cautions that, in many cases, the information provided by these apps is outdated.
“I used a gas savings app GetUpside, the other day, and I found a 90-cent difference between what was advertised and what I was going to actually pay,” Rossman said. “So, it’s important to shop around, but take it with a grain of salt. This is evolving rapidly, and not all the apps and websites have the latest information.”
To get a first-hand look at the marketplace, I asked friends to help me check prices using two popular apps—GasBuddy and GasGuru—in five metro areas: Seattle; D.C.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Philadelphia; Sacramento; and San Francisco. We recorded prices shown in the apps and compared them with what was actually on the pumps. We checked 44 stations across the five metro areas. Here’s what we found:
- Overall, the apps had the wrong price about half of the time.
- GasBuddy had the wrong price at 18 of the 44 stations. Incorrect prices were generally off by 5 to 10 cents a gallon. The biggest discrepancies were 24 cents too high and 14 cents too low.
- GasGuru had the wrong prices at 19 stations. Most of the incorrect prices were 6 to 10 off. The biggest discrepancies were 20 cents too low and 20 cents too high.
- In many cases, price information was old. Some of GasBuddy’s listing were 16 hours to two days stale, while some of GasGuru’s prices hadn’t been updated for three to four days.
Checkbook contacted GasBuddy and GasGuru to ask about the discrepancies. In an email, GasBuddy’s Patrick De Haan said, “gas prices are changing very quickly…as we generally rely on volunteer price spotters, we are struggling to keep up with the frequency of changes.”
GasGuru did not reply to our email.
Checkbook’s advice: If you use any app that tracks gas prices, check to see when that listing was last updated before you drive out of your way to that service station.
The Smart Ways to Pay
Some stations offer discounts for paying in cash. And the savings can be substantial—typically, 10 to 15 cents per gallon.
Remember, because gas stations don’t consider debit cards as cash payments, you won’t get any cash discount if you use one. That’s because debit card payments are processed through the electronic banking interchange system, which charges the station a per transaction fee.
If you pay with a credit card, make sure you get the biggest payback.
“You'll probably get a better deal with a general-purpose card that has strong gas rewards,” Rossman told Checkbook. “The gas stations themselves tend to offer cards with five or 10-cent per gallon discounts. That's not as meaningful as getting three, four, or five percent off with other rewards cards.”
Many wholesale club stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, sell fuel at discounted prices. But you can also save by using their credit cards at most other service stations: Get a five percent discount with the Sam’s Club credit card, and four precent with the Costco credit card. Walmart+ members save $.10 a gallon at more than 14,000 stations nationwide, including Exxon, Mobile, and Walmart, and get access to member prices at Sam’s Club.
Stacking discounts will save you even more, such as getting a discount with grocery rewards or a gas app, and then paying with a gas rewards credit card.
“Whatever it is, getting multiple discounts is certainly better than just one,” Rossman said.
I buy gas at a Safeway near my house because it’s always less expensive than other stations in the area. This week, it’s about 55 cents cheaper than the major brands down the street. I normally have enough rewards points to save a dollar a gallon—that’s $13 a fill-up. And I pay with my rewards credit card and get two percent cash back. That’s the power of stacking.
Drive Efficiently for Maximum Fuel Economy
Your car’s engine will burn less gas if you stick to the speed limit, and drive smoothly.
The auto experts at Consumer Reports measured the mileage while driving a Nissan Altima and Toyota RAV4 at a steady 55, 65, and 75 miles-per-hour. They found that:
- The penalty for cruising at 75 mph, rather than 65 mph, was almost seven mpg in the Altima and six mpg in the RAV4.
- Slowing from 65 mph to 55 mph improved fuel economy by six mpg in the Altima and eight mpg in the RAV4.
Consumer Reports concluded that “Speeding up from 55 to 75 mph is like moving from a compact car to a large SUV. Beyond fuel concerns, speeding is, of course, a safety risk.”
Once you get up to speed, try to maintain a steady pace. The harder you accelerate, CR says, the more fuel you use.
Aerodynamics can also improve mileage. At highway speeds, more than 50 percent of the engine’s power goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag. Don’t add to that drag by carrying unnecessary things on the roof.
When CR added two mountain bikes to the roofs of its tested cars the Altima lost 13 mpg and the RAV4 lost seven mpg. Even an empty roof rack creates drag and reduces mileage, CR found.
- 10 Tips to Get the Most out of a Tank of Gas
- How to Save Money at the Gas Pump
- As Fuel Prices Keep Rising, Is a Gas Credit Card Worth It?
Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for NW Newsradio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.