Gas Myth Busters: Who You Gonna Call?

AAA Mid-Atlantic Debunks Most Cherished Fuel Saving Urban Legends and Myths

Cash-strapped and stressed-out motorists, should be leery of some fuel conservation and money saving tips that are being offered, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. For their sake, AAA Mid-Atlantic is debunking the latest myths, urban legends, fables, and old wives’ tales about saving fuel and money at the pump:

Myth #1: Boycotting filling stations one day a week will cause the oil companies to lower fuel prices.
False: This one makes the rounds via email chains and is a favorite of Facebook users every time pump prices soar. Unless you stop driving your car altogether, you are merely postponing the inevitable. “The United States consumed about 137.93 billion gallons (or 3.28 billion barrels) of gasoline in 2009,” according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That works out to a daily average of about 388 million gallons or 8.99 million barrels, the EIA notes. Unless we curb our addiction to gas, it’s a matter of “pay me now or pay me later” at the filling station. At today's price level, we are spending about 1.4 billion dollars a day on fuel purchases.

Myth #2: Driving the most fuel efficient car in your driveway will save you an extra $4,400 in fuel costs over five years.
True: Assuming one car gets 20 MPG and the other gets 30 MPG, and you drive 15,000 miles a year. With a fuel cost of $3.52, you will save that much over the five-year period, the Department of Energy estimates. The average cost of owning and operating a sedan rose 4.8 percent to 56.6 cents per mile during 2009, according to the 2010 edition of AAA's annual “Your Driving Costs” study. That's $8,487 per year, based on 15,000 miles of annual driving. The cost of owning and operating a small sedan, again based on driving 15,000 miles per year, was $6,496. Annually, it was $10,530 for a large sedan, $9,301 for a minivan, and $11, 085 for a 4WD SUV, the study showed. But that was based on an annual cost of regular unleaded at $2.603. It's much higher now.

Myth #3: Trading your gas-guzzling SUV or large sedan for a more fuel-efficient compact or hybrid vehicle makes more money or economic sense.
False: It is “cheaper to keep her,” as the old saying goes. Unless your car note is already paid off, you are simply accumulating more consumer debt. “About 82 percent of new car loans today have terms of 60 to 77.9 months,” according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates. Therefore, most Americans are “upside down” or “underwater” in their car loans, meaning, as borrowers, they still owe more money on the car loan than the vehicle is really worth. The average owed at trade-in is $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth, one study shows. If you trade in your vehicle, the dealer will simply roll the old loan into the new loan, increasing your debt load.

Myth #4: Using grocery discount cards to buy gas really will not save you any money.

False: Whether you are single, a hermit, or have a family of four, you still have to purchase groceries. It is simple, the more food you buy, the more the discount. Some grocery store chains offer a 10-cent-a-gallon discount for every $50 spent. Another local supermarket chain offers 10 cents off each gallon for every $100 you spend on groceries. Is it worth it? Depends on where you shop. If you earn 300 gas points at one local grocer in one month, you can redeem a discount of 30 cents a gallon in a single fill-up.

Myth #5: Paying cash at the pump can yield significant discounts.
True: With rapidly rising gas prices, some filling stations have implemented a two-tier purchase system. At those stations, customers using a credit card or debit card can pay as much as ten cents more per gallon than cash customers. Some stations even offer a 15-cent discount. Why? They want to avoid the “swipe fee.” Credit card fees cost a typical gas station or convenience store “2 percent of the transaction,” according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. That fee increases with gas prices. “The total cost of credit/debit fees to convenience stores in 2008 was $8.4 billion,” the group says. That’s nearly triple the $3.2 billion paid in 2003.

Myth #6: Premium-grade gasoline is better than regular gasoline.
It all depends. Depending upon where you fill-up, premium is 27 cents to 30 cents higher than regular blend. It’s tempting to switch to save a fistful of dollars. But your owner’s manual is your Bible. Follow it to see what blend your car really needs. Back in 1988, 15 percent of passenger cars sold in the US required premium. Premium gas accounts for about nine percent of the gas sold in America today. Here’s the catch. Some vehicles, but not all, operate just fine burning regular-grade gas. There’s a whole world of difference between recommended and required. That’s often not the case with many sports and luxury models. The fact is, engines with higher compression ratios need more octane. Ask yourself, is the $4.50 you save per fill-up worth the engine knocking?

Myth #7: Turning off your vehicle's air conditioning unit will improve your gas mileage.

False: This one is bandied about during late spring and the summer months or days when it is hot outside. Most vehicles on the road today are aerodynamic in shape and design. At highway speeds, vehicle air conditioning can lower greenhouse gas output. Rolling down your windows will only increase the drag on your vehicle. In reality, any saving is minimal. Driving around with the a/c off can increase your discomfort level during the pollen season in the spring and the fall, especially if you, or your child, or passengers, suffer from a respiratory condition, such as asthma or seasonal allergies (“The allergy seasons have been getting longer over the years.” That’s according to the Washington, D.C.-based Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. For example, “The ragweed pollen season lasted as much as 27 days longer in 2009 than it did in 1995,” plant and allergy experts found). Plus, increased metabolism can also leave you smelling sweaty when you arrive at your work-site or for your hot date. To avoid allergy attacks or the embarrassing sweat stains, you can improve your gas mileage simply by running the fan and keeping your windows rolled up.

Myth#8: Hypermiling can improve your gas mileage.
False: The goals of hypermiling are positive, such as eliminating aggressive driving and saving energy, notes AAA. Unfortunately, some motorists have taken their desire to improve fuel economy to extremes with techniques that put themselves, as well as their fellow motorists, in danger. Examples of dangerous hypermiling techniques include: cutting off the vehicle's engine or putting it in neutral to coast on a roadway, tailgating or drafting larger vehicles, rolling through stop signs and driving at erratic and unsafe speeds. These practices, notes AAA, can put motorists in a treacherous situation, especially in the Washington metro area, where the congestion and gridlock are the country's very worst. You could lose power steering and brakes or be unable to react to quickly changing traffic conditions, putting you into harm's way in the region's notoriously mind-numbing stop-and-go traffic.

Myth #9: Over-inflating tires or replacing compressed air with nitrogen in tires will improve fuel efficiency.

False: Over-inflating tires does not improve fuel efficiency, tire makers and highway safety experts, including AAA, say. It merely results in tires wearing more quickly and having less traction on the road. Replacing compressed air with nitrogen will keep tire pressure more stable over the long term, but does not improve efficiency. Improve fuel economy by maintaining the recommended pressure.

Myth #10: A vehicle uses more fuel to shut down/restart than to leave idle.

False: This is axiomatic and as plain as the nose on your face. When a vehicle is running but not moving, it is achieving negative miles per gallon. Got that? In addition, a warm engine uses minimal fuel to shut down and restart. If you're stopping for longer than a minute, it's a good idea to shut down your vehicle.