Fact Checked

How to save money on gas

Young woman refueling car at the gas station.Image: Young woman refueling car at the gas station.

In a Nutshell

You can consider strategies like paying cash, using a gas rewards credit card or shopping around for the lowest prices to help reduce your pain at the pump.
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With gas prices so high, it’s a good time to find ways to save at the pump.

Gas prices in the U.S. have spiked over the past year. The causes are complex, ranging from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to supply chain problems, plus the war between Russia and Ukraine and general geopolitical tension.

You’re likely feeling the pain whenever you fill up. Let’s go over some common ways to save at the pump.

How are gas prices determined?

The cost of a gallon of gasoline is dictated by various factors related to supply and production. This equation starts with crude oil and moves through the costs of refining it into gasoline and distributing the finished product. 

The most significant factor in the price of gas is the cost of crude oil, the main component of gasoline. Crude oil is bought and sold in financial markets, and prices can go up and down dramatically based on global supply and demand.

The supply of crude oil heavily depends on targets set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, geopolitical instability and severe weather can also affect how much oil is available.

Demand can also vary over time, with growing economies around the world generally requiring more crude oil to power them.

Crude oil must then be refined into gasoline at facilities that typically operate around the clock all year. At the end of the process, finished gasoline gets transported to gas stations around the country. All of that adds to the cost, and any interruptions in this process can increase the cost of gas.

Finally, taxes add to the price you pay. The federal and state governments levy taxes on gasoline, combining to average around 50 cents per gallon.

What are the best ways to save money on gas?

You don’t have much control over the global forces that affect the price of gasoline, but there are some strategies you can use to ease the pain at the pump.

Just use cash

Gas stations often have two prices: One price for people who swipe a credit or debit card to pay for their fuel and another (lower) price for people who pay with cash. This is because paying with plastic typically requires gas stations to pay a transaction processing fee, which they can avoid with cash. According to a recent survey from the National Association of Convenience Stores, nearly 30% of gas stations in the U.S. offer a lower price for cash payments.

If you plan ahead and carry enough cash to cover your bill, you may save a significant amount of money per gallon. You may also be able to save money by paying with a gas station company’s mobile app.

Join a grocery store rewards program

Many major supermarket chains have rewards programs that offer discounts on gasoline after spending a certain amount on groceries. You often earn “points” while shopping for food that can be redeemed at a lower price per gallon at participating gas stations.

Research the gas rewards programs at grocery stores in your area, and you may be able to shop strategically to maximize the amount of money you save at the pump. You may be able to save as much as $1 per gallon.

Buy gas on certain days of the week

Gas prices can change daily, and when you fill up during the week can make a difference in your total price. The cheapest day of the week to fill up tends to be Monday, according to annual studies by fuel-savings app GasBuddy. The most expensive day was Thursday, per GasBuddy’s most recent study. You should also avoid filling up your tank on holidays or weekends when prices tend to be higher.

Drive strategically

Speeding and rapid acceleration can eat up your car’s gasoline, reducing fuel efficiency by as much as 40%, according to the federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Driving sensibly and safely, and turn your car engine off rather than idle for an extended period. Also, consider using cruise control when safe to do so — this can help you maintain a constant speed, which can help save gas.

Use a gas reward credit card

You can get a credit card with gas rewards from major gas station brands and traditional credit card companies. Companies like Shell and Exxon offer credit cards that give discounts on every gallon of gas, often up to 10 cents on regular fuel. More traditional cash rewards credit cards from companies like Citi and American Express offer higher percentages when you use the cards at filling stations. Just remember that if you don’t pay your balance on time and in full each payment cycle, the interest you’re charged could not only eat up any rewards you earn — you could end up paying even more for every gallon.

Use a gas-finder app

Sites like GasBuddy pull together the current fuel prices at stations across the country, offering you a map of your area to show which stations near you have the lowest prices. Checking in with this app can help you choose the right place to fill up. Other apps, like Upside, offer cash-back deals when using particular gas stations.

Reduce vehicle weight

The heavier your car, the more fuel it consumes. An extra 100 pounds is estimated to reduce your fuel efficiency by 1%. Try not to store heavy items in your car while driving around. Also, avoid hauling cargo on your roof. In addition to weighing down the vehicle, this also increases your wind resistance — lowering your fuel efficiency. That’s especially true on the interstate, where a roof-top box can reduce your fuel efficiency by 25%.

What’s next? Should you buy an electric vehicle?

High gas prices may also have you considering more radical action, like buying an electric car. If you drive under 50 miles per day—common in many cities—you may be able to drive for an entire day on a single charge.

The EPA estimates the average household can save between $500 and $1,000 per year in fuel costs by replacing one of their cars with an electric vehicle. The federal government and some state and local governments may also offer tax rebates if you purchase an electric car.

But electric vehicles are pricey, often way more expensive than a gasoline-powered car. It may take years to recoup your investment through fuel savings. If you drive a lot or haul any load, you may find that an electric car’s range isn’t suitable.

You’ll also need to ensure your home is equipped to charge an electric vehicle and that you have adequate power sources wherever you need to charge the car.

In short, the decision on whether to save money on gas by purchasing an electric car is highly dependent on your individual circumstances. If you’re in the market for a new car, try running the numbers and seeing if it makes sense.

Ask an expert about rising car prices

Meet the expert: Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader and spokesperson for Kelley Blue Book, has more than 12 years of experience as an automotive journalist.

What are the best tips to help limit gas expenses this summer?

“The three things to do to help ease the pain of gas prices is to drive less, drive more moderately (don’t speed or race to the next stop light), and keep your tires properly inflated. Doing all of these things can help lower your gas consumption by 10% to 20%.”

Why are gas prices currently so high?

“There are several reasons. First, demand always goes up in the spring and summer. Second, a large supply of oil used to make gasoline was discontinued. Third, the reopening of the U.S. economy created a lot of pent-up demand for gasoline as people started to travel more. Remember, some gas and oil producers cut back production during the pandemic, and it takes time to ramp back up.”

Which cars currently have the best gas mileage?

“There are several really good cars with great gas mileage. Autotrader published a list of some of the best used cars with really good fuel economy. These vehicles include the Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max hybrid, Kia Niro, Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Accord hybrid, Lexus UX 250h and Toyota Prius.”

About the author: Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than a decade of experience as a reporter and editor at North Carolina news organizations, including the Charlotte Observer and the StarNews in Wilmington. In those roles,… Read more.