Gas prices were already on their way up when Russia invaded Ukraine, sending the price of oil to its highest level since 2014. President Biden has responded by banning oil imports from Russia, which gives the appearance that perhaps Americans will have less access to fuel. While that’s not the case at least in the short term, the uncertainty has still caused prices at the pump to spike even more.
For now, there are only two ways to deal with the impact this is having on our pocketbooks. One is to drive less. The second is to drive more efficiently. Here are some ways to do both without much inconvenience.
Keep working at home – After the two years most of us have spent telecommuting to avoid COVID, we should be pros at working from home. Even though many workplaces are re-opening their physical spaces, many employers have continued remote working arrangements or a hybrid of a work-at-home and in-office work week.
Walk and bike – While this may not be possible in your region, I live in an area where I managed to ditch my car for four years by walking and biking (as well as using mass transit, see below). I walked to the grocery store, my local CVS, local restaurants to get take-out, to visit friends, and of course, to exercise. If you find it hard to walk in your community, check out Green Streets Initiative, a Cambridge, MA non-profit started by mom and former architect Janie Katz-Christy. She, her husband, and their three kids have enjoyed a car-free life since 2007. Maybe her initiative can be replicated in your town?
Carpool – Now that COVID restrictions are easing, it’s time to start carpooling again. Share rides to school, after-school practice and events, religious instruction and services, birthday parties, and more. Everyone can wear a mask in the car and roll down the windows a couple of inches for extra safety precautions.
Take the school bus – If your kids can take the school bus, have them do so, unless you’re combining a drop-off or pick-up with other errands that require you to drive.
Don’t idle – Idling means using gas to go…nowhere. Plus, idling creates a lot of air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. For waits longer than 30 seconds, turn your vehicle off.
Take mass transit – Bus services, subway systems, and van transports are starting back up as the pandemic winds down. I’ve been using my subway a lot in the last few weeks, and it feels safe (though masking requirements are still in place.)
Use delivery services, but be prepared for a fuel surcharges – Delivery services plan routes to maximize efficiency and reduce gas consumption. That said, you might see a fuel surcharge tacked onto your bill. If you do shop online, make every order count. If ordering frequently from a place like Amazon, choose the delivery option that lets you put several orders into one delivery box.
Make a family “transit calendar” for the week – Pull together a weekly calendar that lists where everyone needs to be when. Then, figure out the most-efficient way to get there. Emergencies and last-minute needs may arise, but for the most part, keeping track of what family members’ transportation needs are will make it easier to batch trips, line up carpools, and use mass transit.
DRIVE MORE EFFICIENTLY
Batch trips – You’ll use less gas making one longer trip than several back-and-forth shorter trips. Plan the route before you leave home to travel the most direct route possible. One other benefit? You’ll save time!
Get an engine tune-up, replace air filters, and change the oil – A tune-up can improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency by as much as 4%; replacing a clogged air filter can get you a 10% improvement; and changing the oil as recommended by your vehicle manual can boost mileage another 1-2%.
Pump up your tires – It always makes sense to make sure your tires are inflated to the proper and recommended psi, or pounds per square inch. Keep a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle’s glove compartment so you can easily check the air pressure; you’ll find the recommended psi on the label inside your front driver’s side door. Most gas stations have air compressors where you can pump up your tires for free or at very little cost.
Drive the most fuel-efficient vehicle – If you’re a two-car family, use the one that gets more miles to the gallon as often as possible.
Drive the speed limit – According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, every 5 mph you drive above 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.10 per gallon for gas! Stick to the speed limit – it’s safer, too.
Finally, a few online services can show you where gas is cheapest to buy in your community on any given day. Check out: GasBuddy, Geico’s Cheap Gas Finder, or Autoblog.