Just like the last time this happened, media outlets are noting that global demand for gas is rising. (Did you know that Chinese people are buying cars?!?) Pundits are blaming speculators for cheating everyone else. (Did you know that betting that the price of gas will go up can actually drive up the price of gas?!?) Granted, this time the spark that lit the fuse was Iran, rather than Iraq or Russia, but the point remains: Rising gas prices are old news.
Speaking of old news, each time the cycle hits this point, magazines and websites drag out their favorite gas-saving tips. But once you've fully inflated your tires, put together a carpool, and downloaded a phone app that directs you to the nearest discount gas station, what more can you do?
The standard advice is -- all too often -- pretty standard. Luckily, DailyFinance's readers have inventiveness to spare: Last time prices went up, we asked them for their favorite tips. While many of the 1,500 responses we received pointed to the same old suggestions, some thought outside the box -- and the carpool. Here are five of the most interesting and innovative ideas for keeping your cash in your pocket when gas prices go through the roof.
Tip No. 1: Trade in Your Gas Guzzler ... For a Porsche?
Whenever gas prices go up, somebody inevitably comments on the delights of the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Leaf, or any of an ever-widening variety of electric and hybrid cars. But for people who don't have the money to plop down on a brand new gas-sipper, there are several other options. For example, "Paul" suggests that people try the Geo Metro five-speed, while "TFodel" emphasized the wonders of his 1979 VW Rabbit diesel. "Jim D" even suggests that people try an older Porsche. He claims that his 1969 912 Porsche averages "in the mid 30 mpg's." While other readers suggest various models, particularly older-vintage VW Beetles, "EldonFlorence" proposed a particularly outlandish choice, noting that "I dusted off my one-cylinder 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash," which "gets about 50 miles to the gallon."
Side note: For years, the author owned a Mercedes 300 Diesel, a remarkably resilient gas-sipper that was a genuine joy to drive. They can still be found used for remarkably low prices, and can be converted to run on vegetable oil.
Tip No. 2: Strip Down
When the going gets tough, many DailyFinance readers pull out the toolbox and start figuring out ways to customize their cars to lower gas consumption. Many readers suggested taking out floor mats and spare tires (not a good idea), but some took this to an extreme. For example, "Ray" pulled out his car's seats (except the driver's), ash trays, speakers, radio, "and anything else not integral to the vehicle's driving ability," a move that -- he claims -- helped him get 50 mpg out of his 1995 Nissan Sentra.
Tip No. 3: Get Your Hands Dirty
Another reader, "Ron," supplemented weight reduction with a little tinkering under his car's hood, noting that installing a "cold air intake," adding "dual exhaust with flow-master mufflers" and using "the lightest-weight oil your engine can stand" will all add miles per gallon to a tank. One reader, "DVilla4940" claims that high-flow K&N air filters "will give you about two more miles per gallon." Another reader, "Mr. Terrific" suggested using gas chips, claiming that the 5-minute installation "added 90 miles to a tank of gas."
The idea of rearranging your route to save time and money is nothing new, but some DailyFinance readers take the technique to its logical conclusion. One suggested planning routes to avoid left-hand turns and streetlights, as these often force drivers to hit the brakes, destroying forward momentum. Another reader, "Miffem," suggested trying to plot routes with lots of downhill slopes, to maximize the degree to which you can coast. However, "Dennis" takes this idea to the next level: He suggests that readers try "terrain driving" : "In order to save gas as much as possible, it dawned on me to drive as slow as possible and whenever you come to a gradient in the road or a downward incline take your foot off the gas and let the car roll. You'd be surprised how far it takes the car."
Tip No. 5: Play Wall Street's Game
While there's some argument about the degree to which gas speculation drives prices, many readers noted that keeping an eye on the market can help you mitigate the rising cost of fuel. "Jjhwy9bc" suggests buying stock in oil companies: "I bought enough Chevron (CVX) stock so the annual dividends are about the same as my annual fuel cost. That way the oil company pays for my gas." "Nick" agrees, noting that he and his wife own Exxon (XOM) stock: "Our investment advisor expects an annual return (dividends plus stock price gain) of 10% to 15% a year, so the return on 100 shares should just about cover the gasoline price increase."
Other readers advocate less-obvious stocks. "David," for example, suggests Suncor Energy (SU), a Canadian company that specializes in crude production from oil sands: "I bought and sold the same 500 shares of Suncor Energy five times for a total gain of just over $7.00 a share. Maybe not as green as selling my Ford Bronco and getting a Chevy Volt but a heck of a lot easier." Another reader, "Mel," notes that, even if you don't buy stock, the market is a great indicator of the best time to buy gas: "Follow the market price of oil futures on the Internet and if the price is trending up fill up your tank. If it is trending flat, run with half a tank as less unladen weight will save a little fuel."
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.