• U.S.

Money: Fill ‘er Up for Less

3 minute read
Sharon E. Epperson

Rising gasoline prices are siphoning money out of drivers’ wallets. The average price for retail gasoline hit $1.76 a gallon last week, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), up 5¢ a gallon over the previous month. California motorists have suffered from pump prices well above $2 a gallon. The Bush Administration says the Environmental Protection Agency is “seriously considering” requests from New York, Connecticut and California for temporary exemption from cleaner-burning-gasoline requirements that have likely contributed to higher prices, given that those blends are in shorter supply. If the exemption is granted, drivers could see prices at the pump drop by as much as 10¢ a gallon. Until then, following these tips could help relieve your pain immediately:

*DON’T ASSUME “SUPER” IS BETTER. Many cars won’t benefit from super or premium high-octane gasoline. Regular unleaded gas is fine for most cars, and it’s a lot cheaper. Check your owner’s manual to find out what kind of gas you need.

*SHOP THE WEB. “Prices can vary 20¢ to 30¢ a gallon in the same metro area, and often you don’t have to drive very far to find cheap gas, just an extra block or two,” suggests Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy.com a website that uses volunteer spotters to help compile price lists at stations in 174 areas around the country. GasPriceWatch.com and FuelMeUp.com can also help you find the cheapest fill-up in your neighborhood, near your job or along your commute.

*PUMP WHERE YOU SHOP. Prices at wholesale clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club can be significantly cheaper than most retail gas stations, although you have to be a member to get the best discount. BJ’s lists stores with gas pumps on its website, www.bjs.com

*USE A REBATE CARD. These gas-company cards give you credit on your bill–in some cases as much as a 10% rebate. Most gas-rebate cards require you to stick with one brand, such as BP or Citgo. But the Chase PerfectCard and the AAA Platinum Plus card are among the few that can be used at any gas station.

*PAMPER YOUR CAR A LITTLE. Basic maintenance, such as changing the oil on schedule and keeping the tires properly inflated, makes a difference in gas mileage, says AAA spokesman Justin McNaull: “About one-third of cars on the road don’t have their tires properly inflated, and it’s costing you fuel economy and shortening the life of the car.”

*IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE, DRIVE THE CIVIC INSTEAD OF THE EXPLORER ON SHORT TRIPS. Ultimately, fuel efficiency is the key to your overall cost. When it’s time to buy, consider hybrid cars that combine an electric motor and a gasoline-powered engine. Car manufacturers are offering more of these models, like the Toyota Prius. They not only get great mileage but also offer a sizable tax deduction–$1,500 on your 2004 federal return.

Epperson is CNBC’s personal-finance correspondent

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