Putting the Brakes on Your Gas Spending

You may always pay a lot, but you don't have to pay so often.

Man filling his car up with gas
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Unless you work for the oil industry, odds are you aren't very happy right now if you own a car. Gas prices, which were already high, climbed 10 percent in February, according to the AAA Monthly Gas Price Report. From a fuel perspective, it was the most expensive February on record. We should eventually see prices come down, however, according to Michael K. Farr, a regular CNBC contributor and owner of a wealth management firm in Washington, D.C.

"Prices should come back down after Memorial Day, provided oil prices stay stable," says Farr.

So while we wait for gas prices to lower—maybe—there are a number of common-sense and creative steps consumers can take to bring down fuel costs. Just remember that with time being money, you can end up wasting plenty of both if you obsess too much over saving gas. But surely some of these ideas will resonate and work for some drivers.

Drive sensibly. Some off-the-radar advice is coming up, but driving and maintaining your automobile the way experts have told you since driver's ed is the best way to save money.

"The most important thing you can do to conserve your fuel is watch your speed," says Roger Clark, senior manager of General Motors Energy Center in Warren, Mich. "We've done a lot of studies on this over the years. Even a small amount of extra speed makes a huge difference."

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For every 10 miles slower you go on the highway, adds Clark, you'll save four miles per gallon. So if you're driving 65 instead of 75 or 80, you'll not only decrease your odds of getting a ticket, you'll save at the pump.

And not surprisingly, Clark offers the standard advice about braking hard and accelerating super fast, both of which are no-no's. It's also important to keep your tires properly inflated. Ignoring all of that good advice is a surefire way to waste fuel.

Get rid of a lot of extra weight, too, like the golf clubs that have been in your trunk for a month. According to Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Energy Companies in Dallas, every extra 250 pounds consumes an extra mile per gallon of gas.

Luz Boyer, an automotive technology and smog instructor at Universal Technical Institute's Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., campus, says drivers should use the proper oil—and definitely don't opt for oil that's thicker than what is recommended by the vehicle's manufacturer.

"Switching back to the thinner manufacturer-recommended oil makes it easier for the engine to work," says Boyer, "so less energy and therefore less fuel is used."

Buy discount gas. Faulkner has an interesting suggestion for stretching a fuel dollar: Buy gas cards on the secondary market. There are numerous websites where you can buy gas gift cards like Cardpool.com and PlasticJungle.com—Faulkner recommends GiftCardGranny.com. Depending on the site, you might be buying from an individual or the actual website (which purchases the cards from individuals). The appeal is that you can find gas cards at a discount, like a $50 gas card for $42. Just make sure the shipping charges, which range from mostly free to sometimes high, don't negate your savings.

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Lots of right turns. If you feel like being obsessive about saving fuel, "plot your route to take as many right turns as possible and as few left turns," says Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas.

Why? "Because you will likely spend less time idling and stopped at traffic lights waiting to turn left, as most states allow right on red after stopping," says Bullock.

Check the check engine light. According to Kristin Brocoff, director of corporate communications at CarMD.com, a site for virtually everything to do with car repair, at least 10 percent of drivers on the road have a "check engine" light on right now. Half of those drivers, she says, have ignored the light for three months or longer. True, you could go to your mechanic and learn that the reason the light is on is negligible and you're stuck with a car repair bill.