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Have gas, will travel?

With the holiday weekend approaching, I'm sure many of us are asking ourselves whether the trip out to the rel's for the annual BBQ is really going to be worth the ride. In my area gas is pretty cheap compared to other parts of MA, and even I saw local stations selling regular unleaded for $3.75/gallon. That's scary, and it certainly causes me to reconsider any extra trips I might take in the next couple of weeks.

Also, gas definitely is a consideration when using the multiple-store approach to food shopping that I am working with to try and cut my total budget down - it's pointless to save at the store if my car is going to consume any savings and then some.

While we can't lower gas prices by boycotting the Petrol giants on a given day (I just laugh when those chain emails show up in my inbox), we CAN look to get the most bang for our buck locally.

At Gasbuddy.com you can pull up local prices by zip code, the site will tell you the station info, price, and when it was seen. You can also post your own findings to help other commuters! AAA also tracks retail gas prices, but their info tends to be less specific. The brand of gas really makes little difference in the quality of gas you get - regulations are strict regardless of the station name, and all providers buy from the same 2 or 3 suppliers anyway.

Also, try to schedule trips to the gas pump for earlier in the week (before Wednesday), as stations most definitely raise their prices for the weekend - even more so on holiday weekends. Many stations even run additional cents-off specials on Mondays or Tuesdays, and these days every penny counts.

Finally, keep your car maintained. The government posts fuel efficiency recommendations, including some of the following tips:

- Regular oil and filter changes can improve your fuel economy by up to 10 percent, as much as $0.37 per gallon

- Keeping your tires properly inflated adds another 3 percent (0.11 per gallon). Learn how to read the recommended psi on the outside of your tire, pick up a tire gauge at the convenience store or Wal-mart for 75 cents, and know which of your local gas stations still has a free air pump. Many oil change sites will do your tires at the same time as well.

I also recommend cleaning out the inside of your car and trunk at least once every couple of months, more often if you find that the floor of your car disappears after a week or two. Not only does it make for a more pleasant ride in a clean car, but all the extra added weight from trash, books, clothes, and other junk that lands in the car or trunk can severely reduce your fuel efficiency - it also negatively affects acceleration AND braking - the more weight you're carting around, the harder your car must work to stop, and get moving again. That's not just reduced fuel efficiency, that's also increased maintenance and repair costs as parts wear out faster.

So before you plan your weekend trip, get out the garbage bags, check your oil and tires, and get whatever savings you can from the gas man!

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