Gasoline Worth an Arm and a Leg. 10 Tips to Save on Fuel
High inflation and the conflict in Ukraine have turned gas station visits into an unpleasant experience for our wallets. That's why we're bringing you the second part of our series on saving on everyday essential expenses. This time, we'll discuss a few tips on how to save tens of euros on fuel each month.
Šimon Pekar | Personal finance | 20. April 2022
Back when we watched the price of oil exceed $100 per barrel as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we could have already guessed that this figure would soon reflect in our wallets. In Slovakia, we are already required to pay more than €1.70 for a liter of 95-octane petrol. Compared to February, fuel prices have increased in other CEE countries as well.
Compared to last year, its price has risen by more than 23 percent, while diesel has seen a one-third increase. What‘s more, further price increases are not ruled out. This is bad news for ordinary people, as fuel costs represent an essential expense for most of us. We can’t avoid going to work, school, or the shops.
However, this doesn’t imply it’s impossible to save on this budget item. Here are some tips to help you start saving money at your gas station right away.
This article is a follow-up to the first part of our series on saving money on everyday essential expenses. In the last blog, we looked at electricity and gas bills. If you’ll find the advice useful, be sure to read the previous part as well.
1. Drive Efficiently
Aggressive driving sounds exciting, but it’s neither safe for you nor your wallet. If you drive smoothly and anticipate the situation, it will translate into better fuel economy. Don't rev the engine unnecessarily when starting up, you won’t unlock an achievement by getting from 0 to 60 km/h as quickly as possible.
Don't hit the brakes hard at the last minute. If you see red lights or a queue of cars in front of you, ease off the gas pedal and let the car slow down on its own.
Maintaining a higher speed requires burning fuel, which you'll literally blow up by slamming on the brakes. If you have to brake manually, do it with the engine in gear instead of braking in neutral.
Accelerate on the straight before going uphill so you don't have to hit the gas pedal harder on the climb. If you have a longer highway journey ahead of you, use the cruise control to avoid speed fluctuations and wasting fuel on regular accelerations.
2. Turn Off the Engine
If you are standing in the parking lot outside the school waiting for the kids to pack up and say goodbye to their friends, turn off the engine. Otherwise, you would end up wasting fuel even though the car is not moving.
During winters, many people start the engine 15 minutes before driving to let it warm up before setting off. However, this can also be achieved by driving the initial kilometers carefully. That way, you don't waste fuel without moving to your destination, and it also slows down engine deterioration.
Fuel consumption is also increased by using climate control. Unless your car would heat up to 40 degrees without it, keep it switched off, or do so once the car reaches a comfortable temperature.
Modern cars will also automatically turn off the engine if you’re not moving for a longer period (e.g. at a red light or in traffic). You may want to consider this when buying the next car. For older models, however, copying similar behavior is not recommended, as repeated starting at short intervals will worsen fuel economy.
3. Plan Your Trips in Advance
Spontaneous trips after finding out you're out of butter or toilet paper, or repeated rides to town for purposes that could have been handled at once, can also become money killers. So try to anticipate the trips you'll need to make soon and combine as many of them as possible.
Prepare a meal plan for the next week, and buy the necessary ingredients all at once instead of three separate trips. Keep a family shopping list where you add anything you're running low on right away (there are plenty of online ones). If you can combine picking up the kids from school, visiting the city hall, and picking up a package from Alzabox, do it, even if you have to wait a while in between.
If your household has two cars, but your partner will be leaving and arriving at a similar time, drive together in one. Alternatively, if you have a colleague from the same area, commute together and split the fuel costs.
Driving in traffic jams is another problem with commuting, as it requires stopping and getting into motion repeatedly. Hence, install an app that finds you the smoothest route (Waze is the most popular one).
4. Do Something for Your Health
Cars are convenient but expensive means of transport easy to get used to. But they aren‘t necessary for every journey. For shorter distances (visiting friends in the same village, for instance), try walking. For extra motivation, download a pedometer app.
At first glance, such trips don't consume a lot of fuel, but when you do it regularly, it's not a negligible expense. As the engine didn’t have time to warm up properly on short journeys, it exhibits poorer fuel economy.
For medium distances, you can occasionally hop on a bike like the head of Finax Juraj Hrbatý, who travels to work exclusively by bike whenever the weather permits.
Getting a warm-up on your morning commute will give your mind the perfect kick-start, so as a bonus, you won't be falling asleep while doing the first task already. If you're commuting a longer distance, take the bus to get a good feeling for helping the environment.
Do you work in the business district where there are always more cars than parking spaces? Don't let your nerves and monthly budget get eaten up by slow cruising in a futile effort to park your car. Leave your car in the neighboring block and walk the remaining distance.
5. Buy Cheaper Fuel
By finding a gas station that offers the best fuel prices around, you can save up to €5 on each tank, which adds up to a notable amount over the year. The easiest way to do this is to use apps that compare the current prices at the nearest pumps. Examples include Fuelio (available in English and contains Slovak gas stations) or Fuel Flash (works in 7 other European countries).
If you don't trust this method, you can take a good look at the prices charged by gas stations that lie nearby your regular routes (to work, school, etc.).
Most petrol stations also provide loyalty schemes. If you don't already use them, just ask and sign up the next time you’re paying after filling up. Redeem the points you accumulate for discounts on fuel (not overpriced pump merchandise that you can buy cheaply elsewhere). You'll get discounts more often if you're loyal to the aforementioned cheapest pump that can be found through the app.
Beware of fuel quality, though. Cheaper stations may offer lower quality petrol or diesel, which can lead to earlier wear and tear on your engine.
6. Get Rid of Fare Dodgers
By this I mean the extra weight you regularly carry in your car. The heavier the car is, the more fuel it will require to get moving. If your boot contains tools that you never use, a forgotten car seat, or snow chains in the middle of summer, move them to a storage space in your house or flat (but remember to return the chains in November at the latest).
Also make sure to remove roof racks and boxes, unless you're going on a family skiing trip. This is because they increase air resistance, which means the engine has to exert more energy to move the car.
Alternatively, if you're still only planning to buy a roof box, ask the vendor about the aerodynamics of specific models. As long as it's handled well, it shouldn't worsen fuel economy, enabling you to keep such a box installed at all times.
7. Don’t Neglect Vehicle Maintenance
Check your tire pressure once a month and inflate them to the recommended level. This can be found in the car handbook, on the sill of the driver's door, or the inside of the fuel tank flap. Under-inflated tires have a higher rolling resistance, which increases fuel consumption.
Also, check your car's manual to see how often you should take it in for a service. Although it may sound annoying, some defects significantly impact fuel economy. For example, replacing a faulty lambda sensor (which ensures the engine runs economically) will improve your range by up to 40%.
8. Limit Premium Gas Purchases
Filling up with premium fuel with a higher octane or cetane number every time you visit the pump is an unnecessary indulgence for most cars. Conventional fuels don‘t reduce their performance at all, while the price difference is often several cents per liter.
Beware, however, if your car explicitly requires this type of fuel (especially likely in sports cars). This information can be found in the car's handbook or on a label inside the fuel tank flap. If the higher quality fuel is only recommended, experiment with a cheaper version and you may find that you are equally happy with the car’s performance and consumption.
Of course, premium fuels help clean the fuel system and slow down engine deterioration that comes with vehicle age. You can achieve this effect by using standard fuel with detergent additives a couple of times a year. But reaching for premium fuel every time you visit the pump is unnecessary.
9. Make Use of Distance Activities
You don't have to start the car as long as you fulfill all duties from the comfort of your living room. Understandably, many of us are fed up with online work and school after two years of the pandemic. However, if done occasionally, it can help save a significant amount on transportation.
If the nature of your work allows it, ask your boss for a home office some days of the week (such as those when you expect the worst traffic). If you’re attending college, watch recorded lectures.
Create a qualified electronic signature and file documents like your tax return online. If you want to set up a standing order, do it through a banking app instead of visiting a branch.
10. Consider Alternative Fuels
If you have savings for a longer-term investment, or in case you'll be replacing your car soon, you may want to compute the costs of other fuels. Larger-volume engines and older ones without direct injection can be converted to LPG. The cost of installation should fit within the range from 1000 to 1500 euros in Slovakia.
If you drive 1,500 kilometers a month, you will save almost €100 a month on the price difference between LPG and 95-octane petrol. Hence, a €1,500 conversion would pay for itself in a year and four months, enabling you to save on fuel for the rest of the car's life. However, modern engines are unsuitable for such a conversion (you can consider factory LPG the next time you replace your car).
Another interesting option is CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles, which can be bought directly from the factory. Fuel costs are cheaper for these as well. In addition, if you live in Slovakia and use the car for entrepreneurship, your vehicle tax will be reduced by 50%. The downside, however, is the lack of CNG stations in Slovakia.
For people who have a family home and cheap electricity on a nightly tariff, buying an electric car might also make sense. Here, however, the purchase price will be much higher than for other fuels (the Ministry of Economy used to give subsidies, but there are a limited number of them). Make sure to calculate the return on this investment carefully or talk to people who have used electric cars.
We hope some of these tips will help you survive the expensive fuel season and save more money on all future visits to gas stations. If you find this article helpful, you can also read the first part of the series on saving tips for electricity and gas, or our earlier blogs on how to save hundreds of euros on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
If you have other proven tips on how you've saved money on fuel, feel free to share them in the comments below the post on social media, or send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add them to the article.