Friday, 20 April 2012

Don’t Drive Across Town for Cheap Gas-- Seriously, Don’t Do It

Summer is fast approaching, and with it, higher prices at the pump. While it may make you feel better to drive to a neighboring town to secure cheaper gasoline, it’s almost always more expensive to make the trip. Here is the truth, the math, and some ideas for better ways to spend your money.

$4.00 per gallon seems like a princely sum to pay just for the ability to burn it all transporting yourself from one appointment to the next. So, naturally, $3.95 sounds a LOT better. But unless the nickel-cheaper gas is selling at the filling station immediately next door to the more expensive stuff, you’re better off completely ignoring the cost and just filling up at whichever station is nearest to you. Why?

Let’s use some average numbers for cars. Your vehicle will differ, but this will give an idea as to how the numbers work out when bargain shopping for gasoline. For our example, we’ll use a vehicle with a 15-gallon gas tank. The average combined fuel economy of the car is 25mpg. The service station with the $4.00 gas is next door to our home, but the discount fuel is 5 miles away.

1. Price Only

Gasoline prices seem to bewitch people. You’d never drive a 10-mile round-trip to save $0.75 on a $60 item, but when you drive five miles each way to save a nickel per gallon on a fill-up, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Consider: A full, 15-gal. tank of fuel at $4.00/gal. costs $60.00. A full, 15-gal. tank of fuel at $3.95/gal. costs $59.25. Savings = $0.75. What if you only have a 10 gal. tank? You’ll pay $40 and $39.50 respectively, for a full tank. $0.50 is not much savings!

2. Mileage Matters

If it feels better to get the lower price, and you think the $0.75 is worth the trip, you still lose. You’ll travel 10 miles to get the cheap gas, but you’ll burn more fuel driving there and back than you’ll be able to buy with the money you save. At 25mpg, and assuming you leave your driveway and make the round-trip with no traffic and under optimal conditions, you’ll use 0.4 gal. of gas. At the discounted rate of $3.95, you’ll have to pay $1.58 to buy the 0.4 gal. you’ll use to drive to and from the station. Remember, this trip was undertaken to realize a $0.75 total savings. But instead, you’ve now lost $0.83. Would you drive across town to deliberately spend $0.83 more on a $60 purchase?

3. Higher Prices = Less Reason to Travel for a Deal

Every time the cost of fuel goes up, the cost per mile traveled goes up with it. And it consequently makes even less sense to drive out of your way to save a few cents. At $4.50 and $4.45 per gallon at our dueling stations, you’ll still only be traveling for a $0.75 total discount, but now it cost you $1.78 to make the 10-mile trip. Now you’ve spent $1.03 more than you would have if you just bought the $4.50 gas.

4. What about a HUGE Sale?

In the above example, the nearby station offered $4.50 gas. What if the 5-mile-away station had a HUGE sale resulting in $4.25 gas? You’ll spend $67.50 and $63.75 respectively to fill up, resulting in a savings of $3.75. But, you’ll spend $1.70 in extra fuel costs for the privilege. The total savings on filling your tank = $2.05… about a 3% savings. If you were buying any other item in the $60 price range, would a 3% discount entice you to drive across town? Chances are you’d laugh if you saw an advertisement for a HUGE 3%-off sale.

5. Time is Money

We haven’t accounted for your time in these examples, but you can safely assume that the 10-mile round trip (driving time only, unimpeded, at 55mph) will add a bare minimum of 10.9 minutes to your fueling experience. If you make minimum wage ($7.25/ hr), that 10.9 minutes of your time is worth $1.32. Now, even the HUGE sale example is only worth $0.73 in savings. You get the idea – it’s no deal to travel for gas savings!

6. Do This Instead

In lieu of the cross-town fill-up trip, spend a few minutes making sure your car is ready for the summer. Check the air pressure in your tires, test the battery charge, make sure all exterior lights are functioning and swap out your windshield wiper blades. That will take you about the same 10.9 minutes you formerly spent driving around looking for cheap gas, and is a much better way to spend your valuable time.

Battery Operated Vehicles Gaining on the Gas Guzzlers

Are we hearing the death throes of the internal combustion engine? Will the whine and purr of electric motors replace the muffled roar of gas powered vehicles?
Seems every time we turn around electric ATVs, motorcycles, and other vehicles are sneaking silently up on us, especially as battery technology improves, and the cost of gas jumps over $4 per gallon in some parts of the country.

The plus side of battery operated vehicles

Electrics are not just better for the environment, but today’s battery operated vehicles really do have some distinct advantages:

Lighter and quieter
Electric ATVs and motorcycles run on smaller motors and use lighter batteries, which makes them a lot lighter than their gas-powered counterparts. Electrics are also a lot quieter. So If you're off-roading through a park, you can actually enjoy the peace and quiet as you explore nature.  And while die-hard outdoor enthusiasts may not like your tires ripping through the landscape, they won’t be able to complain about air pollution or noise as you pass by.

Instant torque
Electric vehicles out-accelerate their gas counterparts in the low-end power curve. Electric energy moves through their motors at the speed of light, so there’s no lag time between the twist of the throttle and power to the wheels. Torque is instantly transferred to the drivetrain. In fact, electric ATVs and motorcycles have three times the amount of torque compared to the gas-powered vehicles. Perfectly suited for heavy pulling, hauling or steep climbing.

Low maintenance
Electrics simply have fewer moving parts, which means less repairs, reduced maintenance chores and lower operating costs. An electric ATV or motorcycle needs no oil changes, and you don’t have to replace hoses, filters, or exhaust systems.

No more $4/gallon gas
Finally, no more trips to the gas pump with an electric ATV or motorcycle. Just plug them in to charge the battery and go. Some electric ATVs can run an average of 2.5 hours on a single charge. If you do a lot of desert off-roading, there’s even a solar charger, so you can charge your ATV  with free power from the sun.

Zero pollution
Gas-powered ATVs emit as many pollutants as four cars in one hour (there are no pollution controls on ATVs).  Clearly, the environmental impact of electric ATVs and other battery operated vehicles is next to nothing. It could be argued that the pollution is just pushed up the supply chain to more coal-burning plants, but with electric you have the option of buying your power from additional sources like wind and solar, unlike gas, where petroleum has to burn to get your vehicle moving.

More manufacturers getting juiced on electrics
More manufacturers are getting into the game. Brammo, a top manufacturer of electric motorcycles, makes bikes that can exceed 100mph. Not bad for a motorcycle that doesn’t use a drop of gas. They even make motorcycles designed for racing. Other jumping on the electric off-road bandwagon include Polaris and Barefoot Motors. The recent EV Taiwan & Motorcycle Taiwan exhibition saw a 25% increase in exhibitors, indicating the surge in popularity of electric vehicles. The Hong Kong government is even replacing its gas-powered motorcycles with Brammo’s electric ones.

Yep, electrics are taking off
Battery operated motorcycles, ATVs, and other electric vehicles are seeing an increase in popularity, with new technology creating better-performing vehicles. As fuel prices and environmental concerns increase, the move to electric vehicles will continue to gain more traction.

George Zeed lives in Grants Pass Oregon and works for An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, he writes about topics related to all kinds of recreational vehicles and accessories. He is also the "go to guy" for information when shopping for items like motorcycle battery chargers and solar panels