We travel part time in our RV and overland vehicle across the Southwest and have used the methods in this article to save on fuel cost.
How Full-Time Travelers Can Save On Gas
As RVers and sometimes overlanders we're always looking for ways to save on our biggest expense, fuel. The last few months have been especially hard, with gas prices in some of the places we've pulled our small travel trailer to running upwards of $5.00 a gallon. While prices have fallen to more tolerable levels in the past couple months, the cost of daily fill-ups still takes a big bite out of our RVing budget. In tough economic times like these, it literally pays to be creative and to think outside the box to make your fuel purchasing dollars go as far as possible, so you can too!
We've put together this list of simple, easy-to-use ways you can use to save on high fuel prices and hopefully save a few bucks on your next fill-up.
1. Keeping Tires Properly Inflated
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, under-inflated tires can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 3%, not to mention shorten the lifespan of your tires. The recommended pressure varies by tire and vehicle type, but for our Ford F-150's Goodyear all-terrain tires the recommended air pressure is a whopping 80 lbs. Previously we'd been running our tires on the highway at only 32 lbs, and after airing up to 45 lbs (we found the ride too rough at 80 lbs) we did notice an increase in our truck's fuel mileage of about 1 MPG.
Proper tire inflation pressure is often printed on the tire itself, but if not, take a photo of the tire model and size and visit the manufacturer's website to check for proper air pressure for your brand of tire.
This chart found on BF Goodrich's website shows the proper inflation pressure for several models of tires.
2. Travel Early in the Day During Summer
There are two main reasons for getting out on the road early when you're a full time RV'er or vanlifer. The biggest reason is to beat some of the heaviest traffic and avoid start-and-stop type driving, which really kills your fuel mileage.
The second reason for traveling early is so you can avoid the hottest part of the day and keep from having to run your air conditioner. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, operating your AC can decrease fuel mileage anywhere from 4% to 25%, depending on what kind of vehicle you drive.
Getting an early start also means that you can arrive at your destination earlier, making setting up your RV in a new campground much easier than in the dark.
3. Use Your Vehicle's Economy Settings
Many new vehicles feature an "eco" or "economy" setting that you can use to reduce your fuel consumption. While these typically aren't meant for towing, they can save on fuel when running around without a trailer attached. What these settings often do is reduce a bit of your vehicle's performance (acceleration, horsepower, etc.) in return for better fuel mileage.
Our Ford F-150's economy setting doesn't affect our performance so much that we really notice it, but does increase fuel mileage by around 1 MPG when enabled.
Many owners of diesel vehicles are already aware of the benefits of using OBD port programmers, such as the Innovative Performance Chip/Power Programmer that we currently use on our Ford F-150 that has an 3.5L Ecoboost.
Using a programmer can often increase a vehicle's fuel economy up to 10% if used for adding an economy setting, but conversely may reduce fuel mileage if used to enhance performance.
Results for using engine programmers varies widely and before purchasing one it's recommended you visit online forums for your kind of vehicle to see what kind of results other owners are achieving.
4. Credit Card Rewards Programs and Apps
One of the easiest ways to save on fuel when pulling an RV or traveling full time in a van is to take advantage of credit card reward programs and fuel rewards programs. One of the best programs and one we've been using for a while now is the Upside app.
Users can find the best offer for cash back on fuel near them, then choose "claim offer" to lock in their savings. Once you arrive at the station, simply use the credit card you've registered with Upside as you normally would and the specified cash back amount will be credited to your account.
The Upside App
Upside does not store all of your credit card info, only first and last digits, to protect your account security. Rewards payments are paid through Paypal and there are more than 45,000 gas stations now participating, including Valero, Shell, BP, Marathon, Speedway, Circle K and many more. See Upside.com for details and use promo code 8WREX to earn an extra 15% on your first fill up.
Credit Card Offers
Some credit cards offer as much as 5% cash back on fuel purchases but most of them charge a high annual membership fee. According to the financial network CNBC, the current "best offer" for cash back at gas stations is the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa, which offers a whopping 5% at gas stations, plus 3% at supermarkets and does not charge an annual fee. This is a good card for those traveling to Canada as well, since it doesn't charge international transaction fees.
Another great rewards card with no annual fee is the Wyndam Rewards Earner card, which offers 5% cash back at Wyndam hotels and for gas purchases.
You can use any cash back credit card with the Upside app, which can increase your total cash back on fuel purchases up to as much as 20 cents per gallon.
Fuel Rewards Programs
Other fuel rewards programs worth joining are the Pilot Flying J myRewards app, Shell Fuel Rewards and Murphy Drive Rewards. Safeway also offers a rewards program which gives discounts on fuel purchases for grocery purchases.
5. Gas Buddy
Even though we participate in Upside, Murphy Drive Rewards, Fuel Rewards and several other gas discount programs, we still search for the lowest gas prices near us using the GasBuddy app. A new feature that GasBuddy offers is the Free Forever cash back card, which works by linking your debit card to the rewards program. We've linked our Chase Bank debit card to the Free Forever card and automatically save 5% at thousands of stations.
Gas Buddy Premium
For full or part time travelers who use at least 50 gallons of fuel each month (we certainly do!) the GasBuddy Premium plan ($99 per year) gives you fuel discounts up to 40 cents per gallon when using "deal alerts". Users always save 20 cents per gallon on up to 50 gallons, which if you use the minimum each month amounts to $120 a year or $21 more than what the membership costs.
GasBuddy claims their discounts are offered at "95% of all stations". We're currently evaluating the free program, which uses our linked debit card, to see if upgrading to the premium plan is worth the annual cost. It is worth noting that the premium plan from GasBuddy does come with Allstate roadside assistance as an added perk.
Which Fuel Discount Plan is Best?
Both the GasBuddy Free Forever cash back card and Upside offer great discounts on fuel at most of the stations that you already use. Because the owners of these stations often have very little margin to work with when it comes to offering discounts, they offer very similar cash back or per-gallon discounts for all the programs they participate in.
For example, if Shell's Fuel Rewards offers 2% cash back, this is often the exact same amount of discount you'll find at those stations when using Gas Buddy's Free Forever cash back card program or when using the Upside app.
GasBuddy's Free Forever and Upside Both Offer One Stop Convenience
The advantage of using GasBuddy's Free Forever card or Upside's money back app is that these are often easier to keep up with than participating in multiple gas station loyalty programs, which often offer the exact same discount.
Note that if you do use a station's own fuel rewards program with GasBuddy or Upside, the amount of points you get on either of those is minus the points the station's own program offers.
When it comes to convenience, both are easy to use, with GasBuddy coming out slightly ahead when using their Free Forever card. Upside is our choice for daily use though, since it allows both debit and credit cards.
We hope these fuel cost saving tips will help you save a few dollars in these tough economic times so that you can keep on living your traveling dream!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Nolen Hart