5 Ways You’re Losing Money While Driving (Gas Prices Don’t Count)

Ricky from 'Trailer Park Boys' , an expert at losing money, sits behind the wheel of his car
Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, an expert at losing money, sits behind the wheel of his car | Source: DEX Distribution

Owning and operating a car is expensive. As ingrained into American culture as vehicle ownership is, it may be on its last legs as technology allows for more cost-effective and efficient arrangements. Still, people love their cars — even though they can be wildly expensive. You can lose money in any number of ways, be it through maintenance, theft, or bad gas mileage. If gas prices are particularly nasty, those operation costs only go up.
It’s not just gas prices you need to worry about, though that’s the factor many people tend to pay the most attention to when calculating transportation costs. You might be hemorrhaging money up and down the road without even realizing it.
We all have our little habits, and according to a new brief from Gas Buddy, there are a handful of them that are causing car owners to spend more than they should. Year after year, those extra expenditures add up in large ways.
“According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average vehicle travels 33 miles a day, which means weekly stops at the pump for most,” a Gas Buddy press release reads. “With visits to the gas station being such a common occurrence, GasBuddy conducted a survey to glean further insights on how consumers decide where and when to stop for fuel, and explain how these decisions could be costing you.”
Here are the five habits that may be causing you to lose money every time you climb behind the wheel.

1. Running on ‘E’

Source: A man behind the wheel
A man behind the wheel | Source: iStock

Do you tend to let your gas tank hit empty before pulling into the nearest Arco? A lot of people do, and that can be problematic because it can limit your ability to shop around for better prices. If you’re running on fumes, you’ll pull into the nearest gas station — regardless of price.
“According to our research, most people can save around 20-30 cents per gallon by shopping around for the cheapest station within a city,” said Vera Gibbons, senior consumer analyst at GasBuddy. “In some cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C., the savings could be upwards of 70 cents per gallon.”

2. Habituating your fill-ups

A man fills his car with gas
A man fills his car with gas | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Another way in which our routines and habits haunt us is by frequenting the same place, over and over, regardless of what they’re charging. It may be your local bar, or it might be the Shell station down the street. Though a gas station a few blocks farther, or somewhere else along your commute may be selling gas for a lower price, many people will still pull into the same station they always do to fill up. Over the long term, the habit can cost you.

3. Forgoing cash

Credit cards, which can inflate what you pay for gas prices
Credit cards, which can inflate what you pay for gas prices | Source: iStock

A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore, as credit and debit cards — even smartphone-based payment applications — have become a preferred method of payment. But you may have noticed on some gas station signs that paying with cash will get you a better price. And your reluctance to use cash can add up.
“A growing number of stations are offering a cash discount, where on average you could save 10-15 cents per gallon on your fill-up,” said Gibbons. “Paying with cash might be less convenient for those who only carry cards, but it’s a simple way to save some extra money.”

4. Opting for convenience

Gas prices displayed on a sign
Gas prices displayed on a sign | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As stated, we’re creatures of habit. Sometimes that means going to the same place for fill-ups because we’re used to doing so. Or sometimes it means we go to the place that is most convenient. Well, you can end up paying for that convenience. “Consumers are paying for convenience and not planning ahead; 40% of respondents choose a gas station based on location, while 14% choose a station depending on ease of entrance,” Gas Buddy’s brief reads.

5. Paying for premium

A man paying for premium
A man paying for premium | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Do you know the difference between the grades of gasoline? For a lot of consumers, it makes no difference — they’re simply a different price. But some people do opt for the higher-priced stuff, believing it to be better for their car. But it may not be the case.
“Many cars run smoothly on regular gasoline,” said Gibbons. “You only have to use premium if your car manual says it’s required, not if it’s just recommended.”
To read the full Gas Buddy news brief, click here.
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