Is your family planning a road trip this summer? Many Americans are expected to hit the road as many parts of the country have relaxed their COVID-19-related restrictions on in-person gatherings, dining, recreation and events.
Though road trips are generally less expensive than air travel, rising gas prices could increase how much you’ll need to budget for your vacation, especially if you’re riding in a gas-guzzling V-8 or recreational vehicle.
AAA reports that the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.04 on June 2, compared to $1.97 in June 2020. The all-time high for gas prices was $4.11 per gallon, which occurred in July 2008. Prices in some states are already nearing this level. (See “Which States Pay the Most (and Least) for Gas?” below.)
Tips to Lower Gas Costs
Here are a few tips to lower your gas expenses while on vacation:
Get a checkup before takeoff. Before a road trip, visit the mechanic to ensure your vehicle is in tip-top shape. Make sure tires are adequately inflated. Change the oil and replace filters. A serious maintenance problem — such as a faulty oxygen sensor — can reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency by as much as 40%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Drive smoothly and follow the speed limit. Speeding, rapid acceleration and quick stops lower fuel efficiency by as much as 33%.
Limit idling. If grandpa and kids need a rest stop, turn off your car while you wait. Idling gets zero miles per gallon, and vehicles with larger engines waste more gas when they idle than those with smaller engines, especially if the air conditioning is running.
Rent fuel-efficient vehicles. If you’re flying to your destination and renting a car, select the model with the highest fuel efficiency. According to the updated fuel economy guide released by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, 2021 hybrid models that get the highest miles per gallon (mpg) combined city and highway include:
- Hyundai Ioniq Blue (59 mpg),
- Toyota Prius Eco (56 mpg),
- Hyundai Ioniq Blue (55 mpg),
- Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue (54 mpg),
- Honda Insight (52 mpg),
- Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Blue (52 mpg),
- Toyota Camry Hybrid LE (52 mpg), and
- Toyota Corolla Hybrid (52 mpg).
Fuel efficiency isn’t limited to plug-ins and hybrids, however. If you can’t find a hybrid to rent, consider these other fuel-efficient, gas-powered models that may be used as fleet vehicles:
- Mitsubishi Mirage (39 mpg),
- Hyundai Elantra (37 mpg),
- Honda Civic (36 mpg),
- Hyundai Accent (36 mpg),
- Kia Rio (36 mpg), and
- Toyota Corolla Hatchback (35 mpg).
You might be able to achieve even higher fuel efficiency with electric plug-in vehicles. However, limits on battery range and availability of charging stations can make these options less practical if you plan to drive for longer distances.
Traveling in the Summer Heat
With temperatures rising across most of the United States, you might wonder how warmer weather affects gas consumption. According to the AAA, hot weather generally improves fuel economy. Why? First, it doesn’t take as long for your engine to warm up. In addition, summer grades of gasoline tend to have slightly more energy, and warm air causes less wind resistance than cold air.
However, there are two major drains on fuel efficiency during hot weather: running your air conditioning and rolling down your windows. The AAA estimates that air conditioning can reduce a gas-powered vehicle’s fuel economy by more than 25%, particularly on short trips. The effects on hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles can be even larger on a percentage basis.
But rolling down your windows isn’t necessarily a better option than air conditioning, especially at higher speeds. Open windows increase wind resistance, making your vehicle use more energy. So, using air conditioning when you’re driving on a highway may be more efficient than lowering your windows, but you should try to keep the temperature as high as possible. If you’re wearing a sweatshirt while driving, you might be able to turn up the temperature a few degrees — and improve your fuel economy — by changing into a t-shirt.
Likewise, it makes sense to park in the shade, invest in a sunshade and avoid idling with the air conditioning on. For plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, precooling the cabin while plugged into the charger can extend your battery’s range.
Also, consider starting and ending your road trip during nonpeak times to avoid traffic jams, which can significantly lower fuel economy. For example, you’re likely to experience major delays if you depart on Thursday or Friday evening before the 4th of July and Labor Day weekends. Staggering your departure and return dates can help save money, energy and frustration.
Outlook for Summer
Heading into summer, bookings for hotels and car rentals are much higher than last year, according to AAA Travel. The biggest drivers of recovery in the travel industry remain road trips and domestic travel.
In the near term, consumer demand is expected to keep fuel prices hovering at their current levels. But cyberattacks and other supply chain disruptions could lead to unexpected price increases. Before you leave on a road trip, plan your route and brainstorm cost-saving measures in advance.
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