How to Save on Fuel and Travel Cheap

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Everyone complains about the price of gas, but not many people know how to save on fuel.  It used to be cheaper, back when a nickel would buy you a moon pie and soda pop, with enough change to spare for a comic, right? 

The only thing is, travel costs you less today than just about any other time in history.

In terms of fuel efficiency, you pay less to travel by automobile today than you would were this 1960, and you were rolling around in a Bel Air and blasting some Chubby Checker. 

Yes, the nominal price of gas has increased, but that is to be expected.  Here’s what I mean; travel is historically cheap.

The average fuel efficiency of a U.S. auto in 1960 was 13.4 miles per gallon.  With an average price of $0.31 per gallon, this means each mile traveled in 1960 cost an average of $0.023, in 1960s dollars, of course. 

In 2014, that $0.31 would have the same purchasing power as $2.45.  So, adjusted for inflation, each mile traveled in 1960 cost about $0.18 in today’s dollars.

Today’s cost?  The average mpg for a new vehicle in 2016 was 23 mpg.  Gas averaged $3.49/gallon.  So, Americans paid about $0.15 to travel each mile, on average, in 2016.

Not only did the cost of travel decrease, but the quality of vehicles increased substantially (although I’m sure you can debate this with some “Gas is more expensive and they don’t make ‘em like they used to” kind of guy in your neighborhood). 

I don’t mean that vehicles are more stylish, but the travel is smoother, you have satellite radio, rear-view cameras, seat belts, touchscreen consoles, heated seats, automatic everything, key fobs, and the like.

This is why it can be frustrating to hear individuals lamenting the cost of gas when compared to days gone by.  Not only is travel cheaper, but the quality of the transportation has increased dramatically.

But, the real heart of the matter is that transportation costs are something that you can control.  YOU can decide how much you want or choose to spend on travel.  It’s not something you have to spend money on.  You can walk or bike to work or save money by taking public transportation.  You can combine trips around town.

Simply put, you can choose to drive less.

But, I’m sure for you, as it is for me, this isn’t always feasible.  I know I’m sure as hell not going to bike to work when it’s 20 degrees out, or wait for the bus and make three transfers just to avoid driving.  Come on now.  Maybe in the summertime, I’ll bike to work.  But this winter?  Get real.  So, if you and I aren’t able to completely stop driving, we might as well save money on it.  Here are four realistic tips on how to do so (from the Government, no less).

  1. Drive Slower.  “Each 5 MPH over 60MPH you drive can reduce your fuel economy by 7%.”  It’s like those people who blow through barely yellow and pretty much red lights at the last minute.  Are you really in that much of a hurry?  If it isn’t a medical emergency or something like that, budget your time better.
  2. “Aggressive driving (aka “very cool, dickhead”) can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds and 5% around town.”  I’ve never understood why people speed from stoplight to stoplight or zig in and out of traffic on the highway.  What’s the point?
  3. Clean your car out.  Each 100 lbs. You drive around with can reduce your fuel efficiency anywhere from 1-2%.  This one just makes sense, although I don’t know if you actually can clear out 100 lbs.  But if that increases your efficiency by 2%, I’m sure you could find 50 lbs in your trunk and backseat that you don’t need to be driving around with.
  4. “Keeping tires inflated to the recommended pressure and using the recommended grade of motor oil can improve fuel economy by up to 5%.”  If you’re like me, you don’t change your oil.  So, I guess just make sure they use the right kind?  But you can check your tire pressure each time you stop at the gas station (which will hopefully be less now).  Or, you can pick up a tire pressure gauge for $1 at a dollar store.

If you wanted to be a hardcore badass, you could downsize your vehicle, get a Vespa, or live with only one car.  You can also make sure to shop around for car insurance, avoid accidents, and hang onto a car for more than 5-7 years. 

Even though travel is historically cheap, gas should be no more than 6-7% of your budget.  Anymore than that, and you’re choosing to spend way too much of your money on it.

Do you think gas is cheap?  How do you save money on transportation costs?

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