Dealing with Rising Gas Prices

by Emily Guy Birken · 9 comments

Filling the tank for a recent road trip to see my parents made me wince. I’ve certainly grown used to high gas prices, but as they steadily creep up, I can’t help but think about the prices we’ll face this summer — the season of road trips for our family. If recent predictions are to be believed, we may be spending something like $5 per gallon by this summer.

Of course, the rise in gas prices means that something has to give. Here are some ways Americans might end up dealing with $5 a gallon prices:

1. Give up some luxuries. For my family, this is the most likely scenario for dealing with high gas prices this summer. We don’t have to drive a great deal for our daily commutes, so the price of traveling to visit family and friends is where we’ll most feel the pinch. Rather than give up those road trips, we’ll cut back on something else, like dinners out, visits to the local water park, or movie nights.

For those individuals who do have long commutes that they can’t give up, finding a way to reduce other costs could make a huge difference. Prior to the anticipated hike, take a close look at your monthly budget and see where some fat can be trimmed. It’s better to be prepared for the eventuality than find yourself scrambling for extra money to get to and from work.

2. Upgrade your car. While it would make no sense to buy a more fuel-efficient car if you’re trying to lower the cost of your commute, it is possible to make minor tweaks to your car that will make it burn less fuel. For instance, making sure your tires are properly inflated, not using your A/C, keeping the engine tuned, and making sure you’re using the appropriate oil for your car will all give you more bang for your buck. If you’ve never taken these precautions for your car, now is the time to start.

3. Drive less. For those who are lucky enough to live in a large city, using the public transit system can make a huge difference in your bottom line. In fact, a recent University of Texas study found that due to gas price hikes, Americans will use public transportation even in very car-centric cities that do not necessarily have the most usable public transit systems. Even if you still need your car for things like trips to the grocery store and other errands that are difficult to complete on foot or by bus, committing to using some public transportation can help ease the burden of high gas prices.

Alternatively, if there’s no way to use public transit to get to your job, starting or joining a carpool can help to make your daily commute less expensive.

4. Give up the car entirely. For some people, choosing between driving and doing the things you love most is an easy decision. It’s possible to live car free in many parts of the country, and giving up your wheels means that the fluctuations in gas prices mean nothing to you. For most Americans, this seems like a fairly drastic response — we certainly take our right to drive pretty seriously — but if faced with the choice between groceries or gas—or even between your favorite luxuries or gas—does it make sense to keep driving? Going car-free does require more planning, creativity, and flexibility, but it also means more financial freedom.

The Bottom Line

While the projections about gas prices are only educated guesses, it still pays to plan ahead for how your budget or your schedule will account for higher prices. What will you be willing to give up in order to make room for gas at $5 per gallon?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Modest Money April 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I’ve already had to face these kinds of decisions because gas here in BC is way over that price when you convert from liters to gallons. I find that I am much more willing to take public transit than in the past. I have also considered giving up my car, but I’m just not willing to give up the freedom that it provides. I try to walk to anywhere close too.

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Erik April 22, 2012 at 12:26 am

Besides the points listed under 2) above, there are other ways to make your car more fuel-efficient. Chief among them is removing items that you don’t actually need all the time and which are unnecessarily adding to the mass of the vehicle.

For instance, is your car fitted with a roof rack or towbar that you rarely or never use? Both these accessories add weight and increase aerodynamic drag. Maybe you are still driving around with a sandbag in the trunk even though there is no longer any snow or ice on your roads, or your golf bag is a near-permanent fixture in your trunk. Or perhaps your minivan resembles a mobile toy store or library.

Unless you regularly drive long distances, consider only half filling your tank when you refuel. A gallon of gasoline weighs 6 pounds, so if your tank holds 14 gallons, refilling it to just 7 gallons saves transporting 42 pounds of unnecessary mass. This will make a small but noticeable difference to your fuel consumption if you do a lot of stop/start driving.

Of all the accessories in a car, the air conditioning (A/C) system contributes the most to increasing the fuel consumption of a typical passenger car. This is usually of the order of 7-15% when it is operating, depending on a variety of factors — not least of which is the current weather.

You can help keep your car cool and lessen the need for operating the A/C by doing the following:

– In the warmer months of the year, park your car under cover if you can. This will prevent the sun from heating up your car via the greenhouse effect before you have even begun your journey.
– If you can’t avoid parking outside, crack open the rear windows (if no rain is forecast) and place a silver screen behind the sun visors to shade the car interior as much as possible. This also helps to lower the surface temperature of the steering wheel and seats; if you have leather seats, you will particularly notice the benefit.
– Open all the doors for a minute before setting off to allow the warm air in the car to disperse.
– Consider having your side windows tinted to decrease the greenhouse effect and hence the need for extra cooling.
– At town driving speeds, drive with a couple of windows cracked open to keep cool, turn the fan to a low or medium speed and a cool setting, and leave the A/C turned off.
– At highway speeds, it may be more efficient to use the A/C than to increase the car’s drag by opening windows, but don’t crank it up more than you need: lowering the thermostat setting will not cool the car any quicker.
– In the warmer months, dress in lightweight clothing when you’re behind the wheel, e.g. a T-shirt and shorts or a skirt rather than a long-sleeved shirt/jacket and long trousers: you’ll have less need of the A/C. (If you are commuting to work, change into more work-appropriate wear when you get there. You’ll also save wear and tear on your work clothes, and you may also need to wash them less often.)
– Make sure you (and any passengers) have a full bottle of water with you if you regularly drive without the A/C, because you will probably perspire a little more. You might also need to use more deodorant.

Under the points that could be listed at 3) is “Can you plan your journeys to make more efficient use of your car?”– for instance, by combining errands made to the same part of town into a single trip rather than two or three separate ones. Maybe you and one or more neighbors could organize yourselves to do the weekly shopping in a single car instead of each making an individual journey in your own respective cars.

Finally, are you still driving on snow tires, or using off-road tires for highway driving? If you are, you should switch to regular tires.

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Marbella April 22, 2012 at 5:22 am

Changing home and move closer to your job so you can get a bike or walking distance to it and maybe a little closer to the family as well.

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Carl Lassegue April 23, 2012 at 6:35 am

I’m blessed to have a job where I do not need to drive too often so the changes in gas prices have not really affected me. One way you might want to look into is to use a bicycle for smaller trips to the grocery store. Biking will save you money and you will get a little exercise in the mean time.

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Thad P @ thadthoughts.com April 24, 2012 at 4:54 am

We combine trips. We live in a rural community, with no public transportation. Moving closer to one job is in our minds. We daily evaluate who is driving the most trips/miles, and that determines who drives the 37 mpg TDI Jetta.

If your job allows you to work from home, start promoting the idea of trigger points where this can be done more frequently. For instance, where I work we can work from home once a month, but I have been proposing gas price triggers to increase the frequency. If gas gets to $5/gal, twice a month, $6/gal, once a week, etc.

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Yinka Adebiyi April 27, 2012 at 8:26 am

Good pointers on dealing with the rising gas prices. I don’t drive as much anymore for work, but i have reduced the amount of stuffs I stow away in the car, this makes the car a little lighter and gas mileage is a little better.

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Jean April 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I’ve been considering buying a scooter lately. Even though I’ve always preferred 4-wheeled transportation for the safety, you can’t beat the mileage on a 2-wheeler. I’ll have to be extra careful but the savings will be worth it for sure.

-Jean

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Anastacia Handley April 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Biking will save you money and you will get a little exercise in the mean time.

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Rick Lossner October 11, 2012 at 6:05 am

Motorcycle ….. Trust me :)

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