Millions of people will hit the road this year on their next great American road trip. And as the weather gets warmer, even more will be venturing out on those long stretches of highway.
A road trip often means big bucks will be laid out on travel costs. From pricey snacks to premium fuel to costly car washes, the route between your home and your destination is a virtual minefield of unnecessary purchases that can drain your pocketbook. Read on to find Bankrate’s list of travel costs you can steer clear of.
It may feel more satisfying to fly around other drivers on the highway, but the joke is on you. Your gas mileage will decrease rapidly after your speedometer hits 60 miles per hour and higher, and boost your travel costs.
In addition, rapid acceleration and braking can reduce your gas mileage. Driving at a lower speed can help you save as much as 33% on your cost to fill up at the pump, says Jody DeVere, chief executive at AskPatty.com, an automotive advice and education site for women.
“Observing the speed limit is also safer, so you may save more than just money,” DeVere says.
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Plan ahead to minimize food costs
A little preplanning can save you from having to buy those pricey bags of chips at roadside gas stations.
Before you leave, visit your local grocery store and stock up on snacks and drinks, then toss them in a cooler that’s small enough to stash in the back-seat or trunk, says Stacey Hylen, a business coach in Montreal who spent 7 years on the road while working in sales.
If your trip is long enough to require a restaurant meal, sit down for road food during the first half of the day to save money.
“Breakfast and lunch are always priced lower than dinner,” says Karen Hoxmeier, a mom of 3 and founder of the bargains website MyBargainBuddy.com. “When you dine out, make dinner your lightest meal.”
Also, look online for coupons for chain restaurants commonly found just off the highway.
Pulling into a gas station right off the interstate or turnpike saves time, but it can cost you money. Gas prices just off the highway may be higher than at stations at discount stores and near supermarket shopping centers, says DeVere.
Warehouse stores, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, also offer cheaper gas, but you have to be a member. If you are, check your route beforehand to see if there are any locations on the way.
Finally, smartphone users can download free apps, such as GasBuddy, to find stations closer to town that offer fuel at lower prices.
The debate over regular gas versus high-octane fuel has raged for years. But the truth is simple: Very few cars derive any benefit from premium grades of gasoline.
“For most cars, the recommended gasoline is regular octane,” says DeVere. Premium gas won’t help your car perform better or increase your gas mileage, and it can cost you as much as 20 cents per gallon more than regular, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
A small number of cars do require high-octane gasoline, so check your owner’s manual — and even then, read carefully. “Find out if the higher-priced gas is required or just recommended,” DeVere says. If it says “recommended,” you’re probably fine using regular gas. If it says “required,” you should go for the higher grades.
Think hard before ponying up those extra few bucks for automatic car washes at gas stations. They may not get your car entirely clean and might even damage the exterior.
“Some older car washes use abrasive brushes instead of cloth ones, which can leave small scratches in a car’s finish,” says DeVere.
Often, a more cost-effective option is a self-service wash, which requires you to physically scrub the car but can be useful for removing heavy, caked-on dirt. Or skip the wash altogether while you’re on the road and periodically spot clean the headlights, windshield and mirrors for safety purposes, says Eric Wulf, chief executive of the International Carwash Association in Chicago.
Finally, if you can plan ahead, you may want to wash your car before you even leave home. “A good wash with wax or sealant goes a long way toward protecting your vehicle from road salt and corrosion,” Wulf says.