If you bought an SUV or truck in 2007 it cost around $50 to fill its spacious 20 gallon tank. Today, it’s about $75.
According to the American Automobile Association, gas prices in New England have risen for the 11th straight week, averaging $3.75 per gallon. Some economists are predicting $4 per gallon by summer, others as high as $5 if Mideast problems worsen.
“My costs have gone up 15 to 20 percent each time I fill up,” said Grafton resident and sealcoat business owner Richard A. Allen, who drives a GMC Yukon. Allen, 67, is especially vulnerable to gas prices. He currently spends $165 to fuel his truck and his sealcoating equipment.
Mary Lou Errara, a local massage therapist, doesn’t like the price increases but keeps filling up. “It stinks,” she said, “but I still have to go to work.”
Indeed, business owners and commuters alike are watching the almost daily increase with anxiety. For most, driving slower is the best way to increase mileage, but there are other creative solutions.
Here are five practical ways to save money at the pump:
1. Take advantage of “gas rewards” programs: Many people know it exists but don’t use it. Certain grocery stores like Stop & Shop and Price Chopper allow customers to save 10 cents per gallon based on a point system. At Stop & Shop it is roughly one point per dollar depending on the promotion, with a cap at $2.20 per gallon. There are a few catches, the points expire every 30 days, only Shell stations accept the points, and certain items bought like tobacco and milk are excluded.
2. Use GasBuddy.com: For best results, download the iPhone or Android app. Wherever you might be, GasBuddy will pinpoint the lowest gas prices within driving distance. This is great when you want to avoid the overpriced stations on the Massachusetts Turnpike. But don’t drive too far to save a few pennies, it will negate the savings.
3. Avoid “gas saving products”: When gas prices spike sales of additives and gadgets that claim to improve mileage go up. According to the Federal Trade Commission, they offer minimal or no benefit to consumers. Save your money, they say.
4. Keep your car or truck in tip-top shape: Let’s face it; changing the oil is far down on the “to-do” list. But the U.S.Department of Energy says changing the engine oil regularly will save about 4 to 7 cents per gallon, while keeping proper tire pressure will improve mileage by 11 cents per gallon. If you drive an older car changing a clogged air filter can improve MPG by 2 to 6 percent.
5. Never, ever, top-off the tank: Have you ever kept pumping after the nozzle clicks off? The Environmental Protection Agency says not only does that push harmful gasoline vapors into the air, but that extra amount could mean paying for gasoline that gets fed back into the station’s tanks because your gas tank is full. Don’t give the station an opportunity to sell the same gas twice.
Saving at the pump offers small victories for consumers. But if gas prices remain high then eventually the price of goods will follow. The self-employed sealcoater, Richard Allen, said that he will keep his fees the same but worries since his material is petroleum based. “I have to eat that cost,” he said. “There are a lot of people in the sealcoat business.”
Richard Price can be reached at email@example.com