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Just in time for winter travel, gas prices are ticking up again.
Nationwide, the average price for a gallon of gas is $3.34, up 2 cents from a week ago, according to GasBuddy.com. However, that’s down from about $3.43 a month ago. Average prices range from about $2.84 in Oklahoma to $4.66 in California.
While you might have resigned yourself to elevated gas prices — a year ago, the average per-gallon charge was $2.21 — there are ways you can reduce what you spend at the pump.
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“Too many motorists just pull up to the closest pump and end up overpaying,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
About 100 million people plan to travel by car between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 to destinations more than 50 miles from home, according to AAA. That’s in addition to 6 million traveling by air and 3 million booking buses, trains and cruises.
Winter driving can reduce your fuel economy, according to the Energy Department. Because colder air is denser, it increases aerodynamic drag on your vehicle, especially at highway speeds. Additionally, cold temperatures cause engine and transmission friction to rise and tire pressure to drop, which increases rolling resistance.
Generally, you should minimizing idling (i.e., warming up your car) and keep your tires properly inflated, according to the Energy Department, which offers other tips, as well.
Additionally, you can drive more gently, which can make your car’s engine operate more efficiently, De Haan said. In other words, don’t do things like speed or race from light to light.
“But it’s hard to convince motorists to back off their lead foot,” he said.
Additionally, shop around for the best price. Depending on where you live, there can be big price swings between gas stations. And even if the difference in price per gallon may only be a few pennies, it can still add up to hundreds of dollars per year. Even prices from one state to another can vary significantly.
Also, there are apps — including GasBuddy, Gas Guru and AAA TripTik — that can help you find the best prices along your route.
It’s also worth looking into loyalty programs, which many major gas station chains have. They generally are free and can offer cents-per-gallon discounts, De Haan said.
However, credit cards that offer discounts for gas purchases might not be the best option unless you routinely pay off the card’s balance. In other words, you could end up paying more in interest than the discount itself.