Thanks to an ill-timed refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., and climbing crude prices, long summer road trips cost more than they did last year. The average price of a gallon of gas has increased by 18 cents since the beginning of August, reports the Lundberg Survey, which puts the average price for a gallon of regular gas at $3.69.
As a result, some drivers are getting creative about how to reduce their bills. In addition to widely practiced strategies like driving at a constant speed, consumers are also taking golf clubs out of their trunks and even turning their engines off while moving slowly (which, although economical, may not be safe). Here are some of the best tips collected from around the Web on how to reduce your bill:
Lighten up. Blogger Clever Dude points out that driving around a 40-pound bag of soil for three weeks is the equivalent of shuttling an extra (little) passenger, which requires more fuel. According to the Energy Department, carrying an extra 100 pounds reduces a vehicle's fuel economy by up to 2 percent. The percentage is higher with smaller cars.
Carpool. Hitching a ride with neighbors or coworkers lets you make new friends while conserving energy. Websites such as RideSearch.com and eRideShare.com can get you started. There are also many regional sites that specialize in connecting commuters. Do a Web search for "carpool" and the name of your region.
Comparison shop. It works as well with gas as it does with shoes. On websites including GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com, you can look up stations nearby and find the one offering the cheapest fuel.
Get sleeker. Roll up your windows and remove that luggage rack, and you'll improve your aerodynamics, suggests a blogger at Open Travel Info. The Farmer's Almanac estimates that removing a roof rack can improve fuel economy by 5 percent.
Reward yourself. If you're forced to pay big bucks at the pump, at least collect any available rebates. Gas rewards cards give users cash back and other incentives. Credit card comparison websites, such as nerdwallet.com and creditcards.com, compare various offers, which include up to 5 percent cash-back rewards on gas purchases.
Reduce horsepower. Getting a car with a four-cylinder engine doesn't have to mean a big image sacrifice. In fact, some car companies are enhancing their lower-horsepower offerings by adding the classic muscle-car engine rumble. Cars with less horsepower also tend to be cheaper.
Visit the mechanic. Replacing a clogged air filter for about $20 increases fuel efficiency by up to 10 percent, or about 37 cents per gallon at current gas prices. That means it would pay for itself after you've driven enough to burn about 54 gallons of gas. An engine tune-up can increase a car's mileage by up to 4 percent, or about 15 cents a gallon.
Just coast. Here's a real sign of desperation: When you're going downhill, moving slowly in traffic, or pulling into a parking space, the Hypermiling Forum recommends turning your engine completely off. That way, you can take advantage of the car's momentum and avoid wasting gas on unnecessary acceleration.
But the American Automobile Association warns about the dangers of this technique. Power steering and the ability to accelerate quickly may use more gas, but they also let you get out of harm's way if necessary.
The cost of an accident, after all, would far exceed any one-time gas savings.