Use your Fuel Dollars Wisely

As the average weekly retail price for regular gasoline vaulted toward a record high in the last few weeks, it sparked memories of last October, when the U.S. petroleum industry was struggling to recover from the damage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These days there is no natural disaster to point fingers at, but one reason for the high price at the pump is the record price of crude oil.  For instance in April, Alaska North Slope crude oil, which makes up a substantial percentage of the West Coast's oil supply, reached a record high of $67.18 a barrel. And that was accompanied by increasing demand from such burgeoning markets in China, India and the U.S., coupled with fear that instability in Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and other oil-producing regions could once again limit supply.

"Unfortunately high crude oil prices are driving gasoline prices up this spring," said Joseph Desmond, Chairman of the California Energy Commission. "To help consumers, the Energy Commission has prepared some easy ways to reduce your fuel costs and keep more of your money in your wallet."

While consumers often consider drastic measures like replacing their current vehicle, the CEC tips are much simpler, yet will likely have more beneficial effects.  Tip number one -- shop wisely -- seems like a no-brainer, but many consumers don't realize that they can save as much as 20 percent simply by looking for the stations with the lowest prices. Fuel prices can vary 10 percent within a few blocks.
   
Another tip that might be harder to execute depending upon your commute is avoiding filling the tank during high-price periods. But the accompanying piece of advice -- don't waste money on premium or mid-grade gasoline if your car doesn't require it -- is much easier to follow.  While premium gasoline typically costs an extra 20 cents a gallon, approximately 90 percent of the cars on the road today are designed to run on regular.
   
Carpooling, even just once or twice a week, can have a marked effect on your overall fuel costs.  Sharing a ride to work with a friend or two effectively doubles or triples your fuel economy for the trip if you don't travel with deadbeats, and it has the additional advantage of allowing you to use the carpool lane in many areas.  More extreme measures can be taken, too. For instance, you can cut your fuel costs by 30 percent or more by walking, biking or taking mass transit.

Another way to save money on fuel is by not commuting at all.  No, we don't suggest you quit your job and move to Tahiti, but then again, why not?  However, if that option doesn't work for you right now, the good news is that more and more employers offer telecommuting as an option. You can also reduce the need to drive by using the computer and telephone to replace vehicle trips for business, shopping and services when you can.
   
These and other gas-saving tips are on the California Energy Commission's consumer Web site.  And even if you don't live in California, they'll still let you look at them.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini doesn't live in California.  He lives in Cleveland where he follows issues like the world's fuel prices and the ever-escalating cost of cheese Danish.