Gas prices may be down (especially compared to a record-breaking summer of 2008), but saving money is more important than ever.
Here are five ways to score solid savings when you pull into the service station.
1. Find the Lowest Gas Prices
GasBuddy links you to 181 local websites, each focused on a U.S. state, metro area, Canadian province or city. For example, search for St. Louis, Mo., on GasBuddy.com and get sent to MissouriGasPrices.com, where results reveal a price range within that area.
Prices are updated constantly and are dropped from the site after 72 hours -- it's assumed spotters will have updated information by then. And with the site's 124 million registered users keeping an eye out for you, you're bound to benefit.
GasPriceWatch.com hosts data from only about 166,000 volunteer tipsters. But it collects pricing info directly from fuel providers and gas station companies. The site plans to roll out a certified pricing program, which will guarantee you a specific price if you get to the station within one hour of seeing it on the site. Additionally, it offers a tool called MyPage that allows you to track prices at specific stations along your regular routes.
Both sites include prices from Costco and other big-box retailers that sell gasoline to customers at discounted prices. Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch.com, says Midwest retail supercenter Meijer is particularly "proactive about gas."
It provides text message alerts to customers' cell phones when gas prices are expected to rise -- promising to not raise Meijer prices until a scheduled time.
2. Target the Best Time of Day to Buy Gas
The best time of day to fill up your tank is before dawn or late at night, when the sun and traffic volume are both down. Stations usually will raise prices during the day, especially for rush hour.
In some cities -- like Detroit, Minneapolis, and Toledo -- "Wednesdays are the best day of the week for cheap gas prices," says Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy.com. "Stations tend to raise prices on the weekends and especially during the summer."
Also, don't wait until your gas gauge drops down to "E." Toews says it's not good for your car's fuel injection system. Better to fill 'er up when the gauge indicates a quarter-full tank. Thinking about a refill at that point leaves you some time to shop around for the best gas price. Proctor figures: "You'll see that cheaper price a day after you had to fill up, and it's like watching the ball rolling just off your pick on the roulette wheel."
Finally, check that the price on the pump matches what is on the sign. And be sure that the gas pump starts at the $0 mark.