Yes, gas prices are dropping but they’re still very high compared to the same time last year. So, whether you’re trying to plan a safe and affordable road trip before the school year starts or just looking for ways to cool your car without wasting fuel – we found out everything you need to know from the auto experts at Consumer Reports.
Cool your car without wasting fuel
When your car has been parked outside on a hot day, you know that feeling of opening your car door and getting hit with a blast of hot, humid air. Getting a quick cooldown with your car’s air conditioning is what you need, and yes, there’s a way to do it fast and save on gas.
The first thing to know about quick cooling: Movement is your friend, so this isn’t the time to use your car’s remote start. Consumer Reports says it won’t do much to cool down your car, and you’ll be wasting fuel.
“Your car air conditioning works much better when you’re actually driving because the faster the engine turns, the faster the AC compressor runs, which lets the system cool more effectively,” explained Consumer Reports Auto Expert Mike Quincy.
Quincy says you should start driving. Turn on the air conditioner and open all the windows for 10 to 20 seconds.
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Then, crank the fan. Once cold air starts flowing through the vents, roll up the front windows, but keep the rear ones cracked open for another 10 to 20 seconds to pull the cold air to the back of the car.
“Next adjust the AC to the lowest temp and make adjustments to the fan speed and direction to make you comfortable. This will actually make the AC unit efficient, will dry out the air more, and can actually save some fuel,” Quincy explained.
If you have passengers in the back seat, make sure you turn off recirculation mode so that the air in the back doesn’t get stale and hot.
Quincy says if you have a newer car with an auto stop/start system, you may want to disable it, if that’s an option. This feature saves fuel by shutting off the car’s engine when you’re stopped, but it may also shut off the car’s AC compressor. You’ll want to keep that running while stuck in stop-and-go traffic on your way to the beach.
And when you get a chance, check your cabin air filter to make sure it’s clean. A dirty filter prevents optimal airflow. Consumer Reports says you can save money if you can replace the filter yourself. In many modern cars, you can find that filter behind the glove compartment.
Plan a safe and affordable road trip
As we mentioned above, gas prices have been slowly going down a bit, but gas is still more than $4 per gallon and diesel is well over $5 per gallon. Consumer Reports says there are ways to save a little here and a little there -- so it adds up to equal meaningful savings.
“When you’re filling up in unfamiliar places, apps and websites like Gas Guru and Waze can help with real-time prices at nearby gas stations,” said Consumer Reports Auto Editor Alex Knizek.
Also, consider how you may pay for that gas. While many gas stations will offer a lower price if you pay with cash, a credit card with cash-back rewards on gas could be a better deal, especially if you’re hitting the road and spending more on gas than you typically would in a month.
And of course, you won’t be charged to “check a bag” when road-tripping, it is still a good idea to pack light so your car isn’t heavier -- and therefore less fuel-efficient -- than it needs to be.
“You can make your car more fuel efficient by reducing aerodynamic drag! You can take off your roof rack or bike rack if you’re not using them. And don’t hate me, but if you just stick to the speed limit you’ll save fuel,” Knizek said.
Going the speed limit is not only safer, but Consumer Reports’ tests also show that cruising at 75 mph instead of 65 mph can cost 6 mpg or more.
Also, drive evenly. Hard acceleration and frequent breaking use more fuel.
Remember to check your tire pressure. Consumer Reports says tires lose about 1 P-S-I a month. Having tires with lower pressure than what’s recommended on that sticker in the doorjamb of your car can affect your fuel economy -- as well as the longevity of your tire.
And as we mentioned above, while you can efficiently cool your car, Consumer Reports says running your AC will ultimately use more gas than rolling down your windows.
Finally, don’t forget about pre-planning for unexpected road bumps on your road trip. If you have mechanical trouble or a flat tire far from home, Knizek says you’ll appreciate having roadside assistance, and it may save you money. Paying out of pocket for long-haul towing can run in the hundreds of dollars, while most roadside assistance plans cost around $35 to $120 per year.
Knizek says some newer cars come with roadside assistance for a period, and a few credit cards and auto insurance policies include it. Just make sure you’re covered before you hit the road.