Save Money on Gas With These Essential Driving Habits

July 9th, 2022 by

A blue 2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is shown from the front driving on a road.

With gas prices skyrocketing to all-time highs, who isn’t searching for fuel-efficient cars that save on ownership costs? Many consumers believe that simply choosing a vehicle with great fuel economy will save them money, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. How we drive, and our general day-to-day habits often have a big impact on how much we spend on gas every year.

It’s safe to say that fuel economy is more of a lifestyle choice. Sure, massive 4×4 truck owners will spend more on gas than someone behind the wheel of a subcompact hatchback, but even the biggest gas guzzlers become more efficient when we apply the right driving strategies and make a few easy and practical changes to our daily routines.

Saving money on gas is a two-pronged approach: first, choose a vehicle with great fuel economy ratings, and second, adopt these tried-and-true strategies to stretch every drop of fuel as far as it can go. Whether you’re a commuter, a busy mom shuttling kids to school and activities, or a weekend road tripper, our gas-saving strategies will help you save big on long-term ownership costs and keep your wallet and your gas tank full longer.

Let Go of Road Rage

We all know the feeling: we’re stuck in traffic, eager to move and get through the snarl. Our impatience is manifesting in aggressive braking and short, quick bursts of acceleration to keep up with the slow-moving traffic. Once it clears, we step on it, accelerating hard to highway speed (and more) to make up time and reach our destination on time. If this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, driving over the speed limit is the best way to ensure your fuel economy dips to its lowest levels. The US Department of Energy estimates that for every 5 miles per hour driven over 50 mph, drivers are paying approximately 18 cents more per gallon for gas. Since most highways have a 65 mph speed limit, you’re already paying $0.60 per gallon more. Imagine how much that cost jumps when you really break the speed limit.

Consider your driving behavior at stop signs and red lights. When it’s your turn to go, do you accelerate rapidly and aggressively? If so, you’re losing fuel economy. Consider a more gradual increase in speed, and give yourself plenty of room between you and the car ahead so you can perform braking in a smooth, steady manner. These small habitual changes can save you big at the pump.

Though not technically considered road rage, the habit of idling while your vehicle is parked might almost make the list of annoying driving behaviors. Maybe you want to play the radio or enjoy the comfort of air conditioning while you wait for your kids at the soccer field. What you’re really doing is burning fuel and sending carbon emissions into the environment unnecessarily. Consider using battery power for the radio. Turn off your vehicle, roll down the windows, and save a few bucks in the process.

A white 2022 Toyota Corolla, a fuel-efficient car, is shown driving on a highway bridge.

Trust the (Cruise Control) System

Nothing frustrates other motorists more than a fellow driver who creeps up behind them or drives below the speed limit in the fast lane. Most highway driving sins are easily repaired by doing one simple thing: setting your vehicle’s cruise control once you reach highway speed. Doing so eliminates speed fluctuations that can lead to tailgating or create a potential hazard for other drivers.

Newer cars come equipped with intelligent cruise control systems, called adaptive cruise control, that automatically slow down in response to current traffic conditions. These vehicles use sensors and radar to detect the vehicle ahead, gradually slowing down as speeds decline. In constantly moving traffic, adaptive cruise control maintains a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. Drivers can usually set their preferred distance, which allows plenty of room for slowing down and stopping without having to slam on the brakes.

Other helpful systems in modern vehicles include selectable drive modes and auto on/off engines. Selectable drive modes are designed to automatically adjust torque and braking to optimize for the condition you select. Most vehicles with drive modes include an Eco setting. Choosing Eco prioritizes fuel economy, which will save you money on gas over time. Auto on/off will shut off the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop, then start it when you touch the throttle.

Don’t Skip Maintenance Visits

If you’re driving around in a car with a dirty air filter, you’re not optimizing fuel economy. The same holds true if your odometer has crept past the recommended oil change mileage interval. Regular maintenance is essential to keep your car running great and prolong its life, but it’s also an important contributor to fuel economy. And, believe it or not, the type of motor oil you choose is also important.

Many drivers choose convenience over quality, which is why the corner oil change franchise is so popular. Unfortunately, these drive-thru facilities don’t always offer you the manufacturer’s recommended grade of oil. Instead, they lure you in with a coupon and fill your car with substandard oil. It’s always best to service and maintain your car at an authorized dealer, but if you must use a no-name garage, insist on the exact motor oil recommended in your owner’s manual.

Speaking of maintenance, don’t forget your tires. Your safety depends on properly inflated tires that aren’t worn or out of alignment. If you drive too long on under or over-inflated tires, you risk a blowout, but what you may not realize is your vehicle is also unable to deliver the maximum fuel economy. Improve fuel economy ratings by more than 3% by simply keeping your tires properly inflated. Check the driver’s door for a sticker with your vehicle’s guidelines.

A red and a white 2022 Toyota Camry are shown parked near an apartment building.

Adjust Your Daily Routine

Lifestyle changes are easier when you know they’ll result in a win-win for everyone. Take a good, hard look at your daily routine and decide if your driving habits and schedule are geared toward efficiency. If your job requires commuting at peak hours, ask your boss for flexibility. Also, many companies now have generous work-from-home policies. Not only can you show up in your sweats, but you can keep your car in the garage for the day and save on gas.

We all want to be healthy and fit, yet we don’t hesitate to jump in our cars to drive half a mile to the market. Consider walking to your local grocery store, or purchasing a bike with storage saddlebags, so you can save money and exercise all at once. If you live somewhere with public transit, investigate schedules and routes. It’s almost always cheaper to take the train or bus than it is to drive our personal cars.

Do you work with neighbors or have friends in the area with kids that attend the same school/activities as your brood? Get serious about creating a carpool network. The kids will enjoy hanging with their friends during your morning commute to school, and you’ll get a day (or more) off of taxi duty to linger at the kitchen table with your coffee. It’s not necessary to drive everyone everywhere all the time. Do some outreach, and you might be surprised at the response.

Life in a High Gas Price World

Pain at the pump is a very real strain on our wallets, but so much of the expense is within your control. Making a few key lifestyle changes will start you on the path to cheaper ownership costs, fewer trips to the gas station, and less wear and tear on your vehicle. You might even get in shape or lose that last 5 pounds for good when you choose to walk or cycle to local destinations.

Say no to high fuel costs and yes to responsible driving. No matter what’s parked in your driveway, adopting these habits will go a long way toward helping you conserve fuel. Over time, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gas. What will you change first?