Gas-saving tips for Southern California road trips this July 4th

The purse-sweeping price of gas is unlikely to stop people from driving to their Independence Day vacation destination.

The American Automobile Assn. predicts that 42 million Americans will hit the gas pedal and travel 50 miles or more this weekend of July 4th. Despite gasoline prices exceeding $6 a gallon in California and nearly $5 a gallon elsewhere, driving is expected to trump flying even though the national average has fallen.

Doug Shupe, a spokesman for AAA, said the association expects demand for gasoline to pick up in the days leading up to the holiday as drivers fill up for their road trips. So we could see pump prices picking up again, he said.

Oil prices could burn a hole in Americans’ pockets, but Shupe said consumers have continued to increase spending on travel, hospitality and leisure as concerns surrounding COVID-19 have eased.

When driving to your vacation spot, Shupe suggests that you travel during off-peak times or on less popular travel days, or that you point your car at a hidden gem near home.

Based on AAA booking data, he said peak travel days are likely to be Thursday, June 30 and Friday, July 1.

So as you prepare to pack up your family for a road trip, consider these tips for a more cost-effective and safer weekend.

Save at the pump

If you’re driving and find yourself running out of gas, don’t wait until the last minute to fill up.

Shupe said it’s unwise to run your vehicle’s fuel tank low, not only because you risk being stranded on the road, but also because you could damage expensive car parts and cause mechanical problems later.

Dropping the car’s fuel level to “E” and gambling on having enough gas to make it to the nearest gas station can cause the car’s electric fuel pump to overheat, he said. The cost of replacing this component alone can be $500 or more.

So keep an eye on the fuel gauge, Shupe advised, and don’t let it go below a quarter of a tank of gas.

If you’re a member of AAA, the Auto Club app can show you the closest gas stations with the lowest fees, wherever you are in the United States.

If you’re not a member, there are other apps and websites to help you find cheaper gas prices, including:

  • Gasbuddy, whose app and website shows real-time pump prices in your area.
  • Gas Guru, an app that can search gas stations by price, fuel quality and distance and show gas prices in your area.
  • Mapquest, a website with a feature that allows you to view gas prices along the route of your trip. The Google Maps app and website offer a similar feature.

Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said you should do your homework on the stops on your route before you exit the driveway. If you’re not using an app, take a moment to check the stations online. Some gas stations charge lower prices if you pay cash, others don’t. And some may not have the fuel quality you’re looking for.

When you’re at the pump, having the right fuel for your car can also save you money.

There are many cars whose manufacturers recommend fueling with premium fuel, but Consumer Reports tested regular and premium fuel on these vehicles and found no difference in some.

When automakers recommend premium fuel, Fisher said, it’s typically for maximum performance. So if you can tolerate the loss of a few horsepower from using regular fuel, he said, you’ll be fine.

“If your car requires Premium, by all means use it,” Fisher said. “But if so recommended, that doesn’t mean you have to use Premium. And you could save a few cents a gallon by sticking with normal. Read the label on the cap of your car’s gas tank – it will tell you the minimum octane rating of fuel you should be using.

Another fuel-saving trick is to moderate the way you drive. Your fuel economy depends on your driving style, Fisher said.

“Just slowing down five or 10 miles per hour can make a significant change in fuel economy and save you a lot of money,” Fisher said.

The condition of your car is also related to your fuel consumption. For example, if you haven’t checked your tires for a month, the pressure in one or more of them may have dropped below the manufacturer’s recommended level. Driving with under-inflated tires could use more fuel, he said.

Another tip: check your aerodynamics. If you have an empty luggage rack or bike rack on your car, the extra wind resistance can affect your fuel economy. So if you’re going on a trip and aren’t using your add-ons, take them off your car.

Keep it local (sort of).

If the high price at the pump makes you think twice about a trip that requires more than one tank of gas, Shupe recommends considering these options:

  • Palos Verdes Peninsula. Shupe’s take: “Los Angeles’ exclusive community is home to expansive ocean vistas that sometimes include whale sightings, and peacocks roam many of the common areas.”
  • idyllicwild. “This Riverside County artists’ community, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, is the perfect escape from urban and suburban Southern California,” he said.
  • Santa Ynez Valley. “Santa Barbara and Solvang are among the most popular tourist destinations in Southern California, but there are many less crowded options outside of those areas,” he said. “Cities in the Santa Ynez Valley include Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos, and Santa Ynez.”
  • East San Diego County. “San Diego is one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States, so avoiding crowds can be difficult,” Shupe said. “Travel a little further northeast to the El Cajon and Alpine areas for some outdoor activities in a higher desert setting.”

About the Times Utility Journalism Team

This article is from the Times’ Utility Journalism team. Our mission is to be essential to the lives of people in Southern California by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions, and aids in decision making. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles – including current Times subscribers and diverse communities whose needs have not been met by our coverage in the past.

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