The rising price of gasoline -- an unavoidable expense for many -- is a worrisome fact of life that can send your blood pressure up right along with those price hikes.
And ongoing turmoil in the Middle East could push gas prices up further to over $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, experts say.
Those price increases are also being fueled by an improving economy, Patrick DeHann, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, tells WalletPop. "More people are working and taking vacations," he says. And "When the economy is doing better, there is more of a demand for gas."
Don't despair. We've outlined some simple ways to trim your gas bill to help cushion the blow from pain at the pump.
Tap Small Stations, Early Week Fill Ups for Savings
Knowing where and when to buy gas can help trim your bill.
Contrary to common knowledge, your local, independent gas station is likely a cheaper option than the big suppliers. "Branded outlets like BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil tend to be priced higher," DeHann says.
The large gas companies are required to purchase a particular type of gas to meet contract requirements, "and many times that's more expensive. The difference in price can be anywhere from the same price to 5 cents to 10 cents cheaper a gallon," he says. While not a huge number, "it's enough to make a difference."
You also should consider filling up on gas at the beginning of the week, such as on a Monday or Tuesday.
That's because the Department of Energy releases a weekly report on Wednesday, and when the news is sour, "gas prices tend to rise," which impacts prices on Thursday and Friday, DeHann says. So filing up your tank early in the week can save you a few pennies a gallon.
If you're a smart-phone owner, tap free apps from GasBuddy.com and Cheap Gas that guide you to where to buy the least-expensive gas in your area.
You can also use tap Fueleconomy.gov's app to calculate gas mileage (MPG), annual fuel costs, annual petroleum use, and the carbon footprint information for your car or truck.
Premium Vs. Regular Gas
If you're buying premium gas when your car only requires regular gas, you're throwing money down the drain -- anywhere from 20 cents to 35 cents a gallon, experts say.
"Consumers should use regular unless they have a luxury or high performance car that requires premium," Michael Omotoso, an analyst with J.D. Power & Associates, told WalletPop.
Also, don't waste your money on mid-grade gas, which can range from 5 cents to 10 cents more per gallon than regular gas in some states, he says. "Mid-grade is so close to regular in terms of octane level that it hardly makes a difference."
Driving Style, Car Maintenance Equals Gas Savings
How you drive, as well as how you maintain your car, can also keep your gas bill down.
Many cars have tire pressure monitoring systems that will alert drivers when their pressure is low, but some people ignore those warnings, a costly mistake, Omotoso says.
Indeed, keeping tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3%, or save you up to 10 cents per gallon of gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. (The correct tire pressure for your particular vehicle can typically be found on a sticker on the driver's side or in your car owner's manual.)
Fixing a car that has failed an emissions test and is out of tune can also improve its gas mileage by about 4%, which translates into 14 cents a gallon in gas savings.
In addition, defensive -- versus offensive -- driving can save you some gas money. Aggressive driving -- speeding, rapid acceleration and braking -- wastes gas, can lower your mileage by about 33% on the highway and by about 5% in town, and can cost you from 18 cents to $1.16 per gallon of gas, according to the Department of Energy.
Planning, Combining Trips
It might seem obvious, but try cutting down on driving to save on gas.
If you're commuting to work, consider participating in carpools and ride-share programs, which can chop your weekly fuel costs in half, the Department of Energy says.
Also think about using public transportation if it's an option in your area. The American Public Transportation Association offers information about public transportation in your state.
Comparing The Gas Savings: Fuel Efficient Vs. Standard Cars
Are you are in the market for a car and considering a fuel-efficient hybrid, which uses both gas and electric power, or a diesel, which use diesel fuel?
If saving money on gas is why you're considering a hybrid, which on average sells for about $6,500 more than a gas-powered car (according to J.D. Power & Associates), you need to first compare the extra cost of the vehicle to what you'll reap in gas savings over time.
According to Omotoso, a Ford Fusion hybrid -- which costs $4,600 more than a standard Fusion with a four-cylinder engine -- is rated at 36 miles per gallon compared to 25 miles per gallon for the non-hybrid.
Driving 12,000 miles per year (the average mileage of a typical driver in the U.S.) with the Ford hybrid, assuming that gas is $3.50 per gallon, would cost you about $1,167 in annual fuel costs.
With the regular Fusion, you'll spend about $1,680 for a year's worth of gas--$513 more than the hybrid.
But will your gas savings cover the $4,600 more you've paid for the hybrid over five years -- the average length of time drivers own a car? With the Ford Hybrid, you'll save about $2,565 at the pump over five years, but the cost of the hybrid still exceeds your gas savings over that period by $2,000, Omotoso says.
It's up to you to decide "if paying the hybrid price premium is worth it to you in terms of image and the feel-good factor" of owning a fuel-efficient car, he says.
Diesel cars are not as common in the U.S. and tend to be less expensive than hybrids, although they cost between $1,000 to $4,000 more than gas-powered cars, Otomoso says.
A Diesel Jetta is rated at 34 miles per gallon, compared to 25 miles per gallon for a standard Jetta. You'll save $410 a year with the Diesel Jetta, assuming that diesel fuel is $3.50 per gallon. "Over five years, that's a $2,050 in fuel savings," Omotoso says.
So let's say you buy a diesel car that costs $1,600 more than a gas-powered car, you'll save $450 over five years -- but that's assuming that you're buying one of the least expensive diesel cars.
If you have your heart set on a new fuel-efficient car, consult The U.S. Department of Energy's Find and Compare Cars section to help you find one that meets your needs and your budget.