Prepare for prolonged pain at the pump. The price of gas keeps soaring thanks to rising global demand, speculators and the weak dollar. In the past five years, the cost of gas has risen 139 percent, versus 16 percent for the overall cost of living. Here's how to ease the pain:
1. You could trade in your monster SUV. Sales of gas guzzlers have tanked as subcompact sales continue to surge. To see why, just do the math: With gas at $4 a gallon, the annual cost to fill up a new Chevy Tahoe is nearly $3,800, assuming you drive 15,000 miles a year. Switch to a Toyota Prius hybrid and your gas bill drops to $1,300.
2. Or fill up with an alternative fuel. There are affordable substitutes for gasoline-powered vehicles. For example, millions of vehicles are built to run on either gas or E85 (which is 85 percent ethanol). E85 has dropped to $2.50 a gallon, on average, although it may be hard to find outside the Midwest. Fuel-efficient diesel models are on the way, too. For example, the Jetta SportWagon TDI diesel, which debuts in August in the U.S., should cost half as much annually to fuel as the gasoline Jetta, even with diesel above $4 a gallon.
3. Chill behind the wheel. Aggressive driving you know, excess speed, frequent lane changing and sharp braking cuts fuel economy by as much as 35 percent, according to tests by Edmunds.com. You'll also boost fuel economy by keeping your tires properly inflated. Check to make sure your air filter isn't clogged and remove junk from the trunk.
4. Regular is good enough. A few high-performance engines really do need premium gas to run properly. But chances are that if your owner's manual recommends high octane, your car will do just fine on regular. Most vehicles are equipped with knock sensors, which adjust the engine's timing automatically to prevent uncontrolled sparking of the gasoline-and-air mixture in the cylinders. In exchange for a typical $140 a year in reduced fuel costs, you sacrifice a few horsepower and perhaps a second off your car's zero-to-60 sprint. A few drivers have reported slightly lower fuel economy, too.5. Stretch your gas money. GasBuddy.com, as well as GasPriceWatch.com, identify the lowest-priced gas in your area. Of course, if you drive out of your way to fill up, you may lose the benefit of the savings. The BP Visa Rewards card earns 5 percent cash back on BP gasoline purchases, 2 percent on travel and dining, and 1 percent on everything else. The Chase PerfectCard MasterCard returns 3 percent on gas purchases and 1 percent on other purchases.
Mark Solheim is a senior editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to [email protected].