4 Easy Ways to Save at the Pump

You don't have to spend a dime to start reducing your weekly gas bill.

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We’ve all been hoping that day gas prices will drop below $3.50 again. Ah, the good ol’ days. Unfortunately, doesn’t look like prices at the pump will fall anytime soon. So why sit around twiddling our thumbs, burning through fuel and cash? Saving money on gas isn’t just about driving less. At some point, you have to go to work, school, and the supermarket.

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Though a gas credit card is a great way to earn money back when you do have to fill up, you can also take steps to make each gallon go farther. saving money on gas isn’t just about spending less. Improving your gas mileage isn’t difficult, and just requires a couple adjustments to your driving techniques. There are three main factors that affect fuel efficiency: drag (or wind resistance), tire resistance, and engine friction. Here are four simple ways to increase your fuel efficiency and keep your trips to the gas station to the bare minimum.

1. Brake It Down

Remember high school physics? It takes more effort to get something moving from a stop than it does to speed it up once it’s already in motion. It also takes more effort to move bigger things than smaller things. Put those two together, and you need a lot of energy to get your heavy car rolling from a dead stop. That energy, of course, comes from gas. Maybe paying attention in physics wasn’t such a bad idea. Besides being dangerous and rather discourteous to your fellow motorists, slamming on the brakes also uses a lot more gas than necessary. Not only do your brakes have to work harder with abrupt stops, but then you’re also forced to get your car moving again from a dead stop.

If you’re in a traffic jam, you don’t have to speed up only to slam on your brakes every time you see taillights flashing. Keep your distance and try to maintain your speed without having to accelerate. Using natural momentum to your advantage will make it easier for your car to move while expending less energy. Hybrid drivers, especially, should be wary of getting too brake happy. Your braking power gets converted into electricity and stored in your battery, but if you brake too hard, too often, you’ll pretty much eliminate any energy you’ve saved. Increase your hybrid’s efficiency by taking more pedal off the metal.

2. Stay in Control with Cruise Control

Avoiding excess acceleration is the name of the game. On longer stretches, like freeways, keep speed changes to a minimum by switching into cruise control. Your car maintains its speed while consuming less gas, and, if you check out the owner’s manual for your car, you can find the optimum speed for fuel efficiency. In addition, try to utilize your overdrive gears, which reduces engine speed while allowing your car to maintain its speed. It’s not great on hilly terrain or stop-and-go conditions, but it’s worth using everywhere else.

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3. Turn Off Your Car

Even though the ultimate way to save gas is to drive less, simply turning off your car rather than leaving it idling makes a substantial difference. Your car uses gas to turn on, but it uses more when it’s just sitting around. When you leave your car on for more than 20 seconds, you burn more fuel idling than you do turning it off and on again. A good rule of thumb is to turn off your car if you’re going to be sitting still for at least a minute. So, while you’re waiting for a train to pass, or when you’re making a quick run into the store, turn off the ignition.

4. Stay Light and Wait for the Light

Remember the lesson we started with: the heavier the car, the more fuel it takes to move it. Gasoline adds a lot of weight to your car, so try to avoid constantly topping off a near-full tank. Not only does this cut down on the weight you’re hauling around, but it also gives you an opportunity to shop around. Gas prices rise and fall (well, mostly rise) with little rhyme or reason, so you can hold off on filling up until they edge down a bit.

You can use online tools to find discount gas and maximize your savings, by finding both lower fuel prices and higher credit card rewards. Many people cut down on driving when fuel prices rise. It’s when you simply can’t drive any less that you need to be creative. Driving safely and intelligently while taking care of your vehicle will help you save on gas and maintain the car’s resale value. Just be kind to your car, and it will be kind to you.

Tim Chen is founder and CEO of NerdWallet.com, a site dedicated to educating consumers about credit cards.