Even With Rationing, New Yorkers Face Long Lines To Buy Gas; Six Ways To Save Money At The Pump

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Courtesy of Forbes

Police patrol a Brooklyn, N.Y. gas station Nov. 10, where drivers are waiting two hours or more to fill the tank.

With persistent gas shortages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York City imposed odd-even rationing this week. But drivers are still lining up for two hours or more to fill the tank, and many stations are closed because they have run out of fuel. Michele Berger, an associate editor at Audubon magazine, offers six ways to make every gallon go further. You can follow her on Twitter.

By Michele Berger

If your car’s running on empty, you’d better check your license plate–and the calendar–before you head to the pump. New York City implemented an odd-even refueling system starting yesterday, similar to the one put in place last week in 12 New Jersey counties. That means there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to refuel.

This is the latest obstacle for drivers, who have consistently faced gas prices of $3 a gallon or higher since late-2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Instead of ditching your wheels, try these six tips to save some dough at the station.

1. Get back to basics. In other words, drive carefully. “The foot on the gas pedal is what really determines the efficiency of your vehicle,” says Michael Calkins, manager of Approved Auto Repair for AAA. “Accelerate slowly, brake more gradually, anticipate traffic ahead, drive a little bit slower,” he adds. “All those things will increase your fuel economy.” Why? Because you waste gas when you drive aggressively. In fact, according to FuelEconomy.gov, a project of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency, you could save up to $1.15 per gallon by driving sensibly.

2. Observe the speed limit. There are actual financial benefits to staying within the posted speeds, says Bo Saulsbury, a researcher at the DOE’s National Transportation Research Center (NTRC). “Gas mileage starts to decrease when you get above 55 miles per hour. Each 5 miles per hour you go above that is like paying an extra quarter per gallon of gas.” All told, this single step could save you 7% to 14% in fuel consumption, he adds.

3. Keep your car in tip-top shape. This includes inflating tires properly, using the appropriate grade motor oil, replacing parts when they require replacing. “Modern cars don’t need as much as maintenance as they did in the 1970s,” says Brian West, also an NTRC researcher. But “if your ‘check engine’ light is on, you definitely get it checked and make that go away.” Individually, each action won’t save you mounds of cash, but together they can really add up.

4. Lose pounds. Not you, your car. “You’re expending energy to accelerate the car with that extra weight,” West says. “An extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel economy by up to 2%.” He’s talking about items like car-top carriers; though it’s more efficient to use one than it is to drive two cars or a bigger vehicle, it’s not as efficient as a car without a full overhead bin.

5. Strategize. This may sound like more energy (no pun intended) than you’re willing to put into saving money on fuel. But planning ahead can be simple. For example, perhaps a colleague lives on your route to work. Any chance you could carpool? Maybe try out public transportation. Or what about switching vehicles with your spouse: Whoever has the farthest distance to go that day takes the more efficient car. At a minimum, think about all errands you want to accomplish in a single day and do them in one trip, starting with the farthest. “Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer, multi-purpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm,” notes FuelEconomy.gov.

6. Swap your ride. Of course, not everyone needs, or can afford, to make this type of purchase right now. But if you are in the market for a new car, listen up: “The vehicle you select has a huge effect on fuel economy,” Calkins says. Cars, in general, are getting more efficient, he adds, particularly with the 54-mpg fuel-efficiency standards the Obama Administration set this past August. FuelEconomy.gov offers gas-mileage estimates and other pertinent information for cars from 1984 through 2013. It’s worth a look; a car that gets 10 more miles per gallon could save you $4,365 over five years.

As we head into the holiday season—a time when many people take to the road—which tip sounds feasible to you? Do you have others to share? Tell us in the comments below.


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