Going Out of Your Way for a Bargain
How far should you drive for a gasoline bargain? That depends not only on the savings at the pump but on your vehicle's gas mileage and how much fuel you plan to buy.
Although the National Association of Convenience Stores found in a recent survey that a significant number of drivers would go out of their way for a difference of just a penny a gallon, that rarely would be worth the trip. With gas prices at $2.80 per gallon, traveling just 3 miles in the average 27.5-mile-per-gallon vehicle would burn 31 cents worth of gas, more than twice the 15 cents you'd expect to save in filling up a 15-gallon tank.
However, if you can scope out 5-cent-a-gallon savings, the calculation shifts in your favor. Even drivers of the 15-mile-per-gallon Ford Explorer would save a net 57 cents on a fill-up by driving 3 miles out of their way. Interestingly, the driver of Toyota's hybrid electric car, at 44.8 miles per gallon, would save less on such a side journey for a fill-up, only 41 cents, since the Prius has such a small gas tank (11.9 gallons).
Since the average American driver burns 10 cents per mile at recent gasoline prices (19 cents for the Explorer and 6 cents for the Prius), consumers might consider whether cutting down on driving might save them more than searching for gasoline bargains.
"What will it take?" to cut U.S. gasoline demand, the Energy Information Administration asked in a recent analysis, lamenting that it fell into the realm of eternal queries like "What will it take for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series?"
In spring 2007, after 10 weeks of rising prices, EIA said demand for gasoline was up 2.5 percent over the previous year, even though gas prices were on average 12 cents per gallon higher.
You can find the average gas mileage for your make and model of car by consulting the government's ratings at http://www.fueleconomy.gov. AAA's useful auto travel tool http://www.fuelcostcalculator.com, which uses the government's fuel economy ratings, allows you to input a starting city and destination, and tells you how much the trip is likely to cost at current gas prices.