Before the summer travel season begins, be prepared for what to expect when filling up at the pump and consider how you can save on fuel costs.
Gas prices typically go up in the summer
- Summer means more roads trips and people traveling. The increase in driving during summer causes the demand for gasoline to shift up across the nation.
- In early spring, energy companies conduct maintenance on their refineries. Routine maintenance affects supply levels, and maintenance costs are passed along to consumers.
- Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, generally occur during the summer, and the consequent damage can limit the supply of gasoline.
- Winter fuel is less expensive to produce than summer fuel.
Winter-grade and summer-grade fuel
Fuel sold by gas stations in the summer is different from the fuel sold in winter. Summer-grade fuel costs more to produce, and the transition to making it can lead to a decrease in supply, as it takes time for the refineries to switch production lines. Why is summer-grade fuel more expensive? There are several reasons:
- Compliance with the Clean Air Act. In order to limit smog, refiners have to make a special blend of gasoline that doesn't evaporate easily in the warm summer air. This is aimed at reducing pollution and smog.
- Because of the cost of raw materials, this fuel costs $0.05 to $0.15 a gallon more to make.
- To keep the vapor pressure down in your car's engine during the summer, special components are added to the summer-grade gasoline mixture. These components are expensive. In winter, when a higher vapor pressure is allowed, oil refineries can use butane, which is inexpensive and plentiful. This contributes to the seasonal change in prices.
How can you save despite the seasonal transition to summer-grade fuel?
There are several actions you can take to save on gas costs, including:
- Check your air filter. A clean air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.
- Have your tires aligned and inflated. Poor alignment causes tires to wear out more quickly and your engine to work harder.
- Maintain your car with regular services to run efficiently. A properly maintained engine can improve mileage by up to 4 percent.
- Drive more slowly. Every 5 mph reduction in highway speed leads to a 7-percent reduction in fuel consumption.
- Don't rest your foot on your brakes. Riding with your foot on the brake pedal will not only wear out the brake pads, but it can also increase gas consumption.
- Reduce the weight of your car. Empty your trunk, remove any unnecessary items on the seats, and pack as lightly as possible for vacations.
- Stay cool using your windows. Use your windows instead of your air conditioner at slower speeds, but consider rolling up your windows in favor of A/C on the highway to minimize drag.
- Don't idle for more than 30 seconds. Avoid using the drive-through, and turn off your car in heavy traffic or long stops.
- Stay informed. Check out one of the many websites that post gas prices at surrounding stations to find the lowest prices in your area. Some include Gas Buddy (gasbuddy.com) or Gas Price Watch (gaspricewatch.com).
Also consider cutting your gas bill by using public transportation, telecommuting, or walking/bike riding where distance and time permit.
What will you do with the dollars you save?
Even small changes and savings can result in big payoffs when it comes to long-term investment and planning goals. If you are unsure about how to best pursue your financial goals or simply want a second opinion, please do not hesitate to contact me.