Though the cost of fuel declined in April, it could reach record highs as the peak of this summer's travel season arrives: The Energy Information Administration forecasts a nationwide average of $3.95 per gallon between April and September.
But a number of simple steps can ease the impact. They include:
Pass on the premium. Premium gas typically costs 20 cents more per gallon and in most cases it's unnecessary. "The difference between regular and premium gas is very small, and both contain the same cleaning detergents," says Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor at auto site Edmunds.com. "I recommend using premium only if the manufacturer says it's required."
Take the most fuel-efficient route. Shorter isn't always better: Stop-and-go driving tends to burn more gas than maintaining a constant speed, so avoid congested roads and stoplights to minimize starts and stops.
Lighten your load. The more your vehicle weighs, the more gas is needed to move it. Packing lighter and clearing out clutter -- gardening equipment and sports gear are two common culprits -- can put a small but substantial dent in your fuel consumption. For every extra 100 pounds carried, your fuel economy drops by 1-2 percent, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And when possible, stow luggage inside the car rather than on a roof rack where it can cause wind resistance.
Use cruise control. Whenever you can maintain one speed for more than a few minutes, cruise control can save you money. A recent Edmunds.com study found that cruise control increased fuel economy by an average of 7 percent.
Avoid idling. "When you idle, you get zero miles per gallon," notes Montoya. "If you're waiting for more than one minute, shut your engine off." And if several cars are lined up at the drive-thru, consider parking and going inside.
Change your driving style. The way you drive makes an enormous difference in the amount of fuel your vehicle consumes. "Drive calmly," says Montoya. "Making quick accelerations from a stop can lower your fuel economy by up to 30 percent." Speeding is another way to burn gas quickly: "The higher above 65 you go, the more your fuel economy will decrease," he says. For example, driving 70 instead of 65 can reduce fuel economy by 8.2 percent, the Transportation Energy Databook reports.
Maintain your vehicle. Your car will burn fuel more efficiently if it's in good working order. "Basic maintenance tasks like changing your oil regularly are very important for your car's health in general, and specifically for fuel economy," says Montoya. "Checking tire pressure, for instance, helps you use less gas and extends the life of your tires." The Department of Energy says you can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.1