But because worrying and irritation won’t help our sanity or save us money, Townsend offers some practical tips — from tracking down cheap gas online to driving the speed limit — to ease the pain.
First things first
Make sure your tires are inflated. “We have just come through winter, and tires are probably underinflated,” Townsend said. “Inflated tires save 3.3 percent in terms of fuel economy.” Also, plan your errands and be sure to lighten the load. Extra weight costs fuel, so take those golf clubs and moving boxes out of your car.
Never let your gas tank go below the halfway mark. “Filling up more often will make you feel like you have control,” Townsend said. Instead of paying $70, you’re spending $35. It helps you say, ‘I’m not going to have a visceral reaction to things I can’t control.’ ”
Alter your driving style
Small changes to the way you drive can save you money in the long run. Townsend recommends minimizing the need to brake by anticipating traffic stops. “Be alert for slow downs, and decelerate by coasting whenever possible,” he said. Another tactic is to avoid the left lane. “When you’re sitting in the turning lane you’re just waiting and wasting gas. UPS and FedEx tell their drivers to avoid the left lane, and you should, too.”
The need for speed
Speed limits are there for a reason. Traveling at higher speeds requires more fuel to overcome air resistance. “Even if that car is aerodynamically designed, traveling fast uses more fuel,” Townsend said. “Don’t drive so slow you become a traffic hazard, but drive at a moderate speed.”
The air-conditioning debate
It’s a common question: Should you use the air conditioner? Townsend tells people to be a smart user, not to avoid it completely. “If you live in D.C., it’s probably smarter to roll down the windows in stop-and-go traffic,” he said. “But if you’re driving 55 miles per hour, you’re creating a drag on your car if your windows are down.” Also, it’s allergy season. Why roll down the windows and let the pollen in at the expense of health? Allergy medications will cost you more than you save in gas.
Brand loyalty? Think again
Many people think brand loyalty pays off, especially if you have a gas card. But Townsend says you should consider using unbranded gas stations. “Around 85 percent of gas in the country is unbranded at convenience stores,” he said. “Using Sam’s Club, Safeway, or generic gas stations will save 3 or 4 cents at the pump.” Also some stations offer one price for cash and one for credit. Paying cash can save you about 4 cents a gallon at some stations.