To celebrate the season, many families will be driving long distances to spend time with family and friends across the country. Road trips are part of the holiday tradition for many who have extended families living at least three hours away.
Here are eight tactics to help minimize the cost of road trips before and during long drives. Using these strategies, you’ll arrive at your destination with plenty of money still in your wallet, where it belongs.
Rent Early to Save
The golden rule is to never wait until the last minute to rent your car. The earlier you book, the better deal you’ll get. Follow car rental companies on Facebook and Twitter to find their latest discounts, or enroll in free member rewards programs, like Hertz Gold Plus, National Emerald Club, or Enterprise Plus. If you’re not afraid of extra travel steps, you may consider taking a train to get you close to your destination and then calling Uber or driving a Zipcar to Grandma’s house. Before your say no, consider ways you can put the extra money you’ll be saving by paying hourly instead of 24-hour rental fees to good use.
Fill your tires with air before you leave
Before you set out, check your owner’s manual for the maximum recommended pressure for your tires. At the gas station, fill your tires to their optimized air pressure. It’s a good idea to have a small pressure gauge, which most gas stations and convenience stores sell. The small pressure gauge saves you money in two ways. First, automobiles with tires filled to the recommended level get better gas mileage than cars with tires that have lower pressure. Second, low pressure in your tires increases the chance of a blowout, so if you fill them up to the recommended pressure, you’ll reduce your chance of an unwanted — and potentially expensive — roadside stop.
Fill your gas tank before you leave
Check gas prices through sites such as GasBuddy, Autoblog, and MapQuest Gas Prices, which let you search for gas prices by city, state, and zip code, with updated listings in real-time for all cities in the U.S. and Canada. Most let you download apps such as Gas Guru to your tablet or smart phone so you’ll have the locations you need at your fingertips while you travel. Remember: Some gas stations charge less if you pay cash, so consider this strategy in your travel budget.
Pre-filling the gas tank is also an indirect strategy for saving money, because you’ll avoid the temptation of purchasing that extra coffee or soda or sugary snack when you stop to fill up for gas. With gas station prices as expensive as they can be, splurging on unnecessary snacks is essentially money flying out of your pocket.
Refill your gas on the cheaper side of state borders
If you’re crossing any state borders, you’ll likely find very different gas prices in each state. GasBuddy, which tracks real-time prices at some 135,000 stations across America, reviewed all of its 2014 readings and found that some locales saw nearly a $1.00 difference between what the top and bottom 5% of stations charged. It may be well worth your time to stop just before crossing a state border — or holding out until after a border crossing — to get cheaper fuel. You can check out varying prices at GasBuddy’s national gas price map. Some borders have a surprisingly large difference in fuel prices. The difference in gas prices between the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio, for instance, can be more than $0.40 per gallon. (The national average is $0.31.)
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