Tag Archives: gas

Saving on summer travel

Trying to book a summer vacation? You want to plan early, and look at every option possible. It’s like a perfect storm of fewer flights and high gas prices. The result — sky-high airfares. Just what I don’t need for my guests at my destination wedding this summer.

I’ve been checking the three major cities where our guests will be departing to alert them to good deals. Out of Kansas City, I’ve found some decent fares on Air Tran. These days, anything below $300 is a good fare even if it’s barely below $300.

That’s rule #1 – don’t expect to fly for less than $300 this year. If you get a flight cheaper, you’ll feel like you got a bargain. If you pay a little more, you won’t feel too ripped off.

Some airports are nearly impossible to find deals. For example, Hartford, CT is notoriously an expensive airport to fly through. For me, it’s a must because that’s where my family lives. It’s not worth the savings to fly to Boston or New York because those airports present entirely different travel headaches.

The average fare to my wedding out of Hartford is $400-500. What’s odd is that it doesn’t matter if you’re flying Memorial Day weekend, which is a busy travel weekend as it kicks off summer, or a random week in August. The flights are exactly the same, and they’re not budging.

Despite the high airfares to Florida out of Hartford, there are deals to other cities. Rule #2 – you might just have to be flexible with your travel cities. I found a random flight for just over $150 to fly to Cleveland, and Hopkins is an expensive airport to fly in and out of as well. Look beyond your normal travel destinations and you might find a summer deal.

Rule #3 – keep searching. The night before I found the $150 deal, the flight was $200 higher. It’s unreal how they fluctuate. The flight wasn’t full so clearly they were trying to sell seats, but are these constant swings really necessary? I don’t have time to check fares every day.

Airfare alerts are a great way to stay on top of the deals. I like Airfarewatchdog  and FareCompare. I also sign up for deal alerts from the airlines. They’ll take some of the guessing out of it for you.

If you’re really desperate to get somewhere and flexible, name your own price on Priceline. I like the site, but haven’t bid on an airfare in years. Too many times, I got burnt with long layovers and endless flights. There is a bit of a price if you want to save money. Remember, time is money.

Rule #4 – if you want to cash in on frequent flier miles expect to pay dearly. Ignore the mileage charts because they don’t even make sense. The days of 25,000 mile round trip frequent flier trips are gone.

I have to get down to Florida Memorial Day weekend for some wedding logistics, so I have to cash in miles for the trip. It’s that or pay $500+ for the trip. According to the mileage chart, it should cost me 12,000-30,000 miles for an airfare. The real cost is 40,000 miles. The chart shows 12,000 as a low and 30,000 as a high. So, what’s 40,000? Extremely overpriced!

According to the same chart, those 40,000 miles should get me to Central America. That would be on the high-end. The high-end for Hawaii is 45,000 miles. I ran a bunch of date combinations and it didn’t seem to matter when you were flying. Expect to pay 40,000 miles.

There are 12,000 mile flights, but they are few and far between. You might have to fly odd times, to odd airports, or different airlines.

It’s the new reality as airfares are sky-high, so the cost of getting one for free is sky-high. Just enjoy the free flight, and don’t think about how many flights you had to take to get that free one.

Automakers say warranties will be void with E15 gas

Courtesy EPA

The debate over ethanol continues. In this round, the automakers are making their feelings known over the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to alert consumers at the pump that it’s safe to use E15 gas in 2001 model year cars and newer.

In late June, the EPA finalized its regulations to prevent misfueling of vehicles and released the label to the left. The EPA wants the label affixed to gas pumps so consumers know if it’s safe to use in their car.

The EPA says it’s safe in Flexible Fuel vehicles, MY 2001 and newer cars, MY 2001 and newer light-duty trucks, and MY 2001 and newer SUV’s.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is the Vice Chair Chair of the Space, Science, and Technology committee. He publicly released the responses from US automakers in regard to the EPA’s decision to move ahead with its E15 regulations.

“Automaker responses overwhelmingly show that E15 will damage engines, void warranties, and reduce fuel efficiency,” Sensenbrenner said. “ Americans need a fuel that will give them more miles out of a gallon of gas and extend the lives of their cars—not one that will prematurely send their vehicles to the junkyard.”

Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagon, Volvo, BMW, Hyundai, and Kia are all against the proposal. Chrysler, Volkswagon, Toyota, and Ford mentioned that their owner’s manual and/or warranty information clearly states that use of gas beyond E10 will void the warranty.

Honda said, “Vehicle engines were not designed or built to accommodate the higher concentrations of ethanol,” and added that engine failure is a potential problem.

Volkswagon said the EPA’s testing program was not adequate.

BMW noted that rapid corrosion of fuel pump parts, sludge in the oil pan, plugged filters, and other damage are their main concerns with the new regulations for E15 gas.

This ethanol issue is not limited to cars. In May, I showed you how corrosion is a problem with lawnmowers and other small engines that use E10 gas. In some states, gas pumps are not labeled so you have no idea you’re buying E10 gas. Almost all gas these days contains up to 10% ethanol whether you know it or not.

Ethanol draws moisture, and the small engines can’t work with the increased moisture. It’s mostly a problem when the gas sits in the small engine for months at a time. That’s pretty ordinary considering you don’t use a full tank of gas to cut down a tree or cut the grass.

As someone from the “Stop Ethanol” blog wrote in the comments section, it’s a big deal for public safety workers. If their equipment doesn’t work when they need it in a pinch lives could be at risk.

The EPA says it won’t approve E15 in motorcycles, heavy-duty engine vehicles like school buses and delivery trucks, off-road vehicles like boats and snowmobiles, lawnmowers, chain saws, and MY 2000 and older cars, trucks, and SUV’s.

The debate will likely continue, now that the big automakers are involved.

Congressman Sensenbrenner said, “The EPA is pursuing its own political agenda at the expense of American consumers. I have contacted EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with these responses, and given the negligible environmental benefits, I await her defense of this unwise decision.”

Tire test

Before you hit the road this holiday weekend, spend five minutes checking the tire pressure.  It will save you money, because properly inflated tires get you better gas mileage and can save your life.

In advance of the Labor Day holiday in September, I worked with a AAA expert to see how many drivers along the Ohio Turnpike have properly inflated tires. We found families from several states, including one that had been driving hours on a tire that could shred. They knew the tire was not in the best place, but hoped it would make it a few more months. Is your life really worth that risk?

So many people failed our simple test, I thought it was a good reminder for Memorial Day especially now that price is an issue with gas prices so high. You can improve your gas mileage by 3.3% if you properly inflate your tires.

To find out the proper tire pressure, check your owner’s manual or the inside of your driver’s side door.

New fuel economy labels unveiled for cars and trucks

Don’t be surprised if you see a different looking fuel economy sticker on your next new car.  The government announced the most dramatic changes in the 30 year old program.

The label will give you a better understanding of fuel efficiency, and it will be an interactive experience. The labels will have a QR code on them which stands for quick response technology.  You scan the code with your smartphone, and you’re able to immediately get rich data that will give you more insight into the product or business that contains the QR code.

In this case, the QR code will allow consumers to enter details on their commute and driving behavior so you can get the most accurate fuel economy data on the car you’re thinking about buying.

The new labels will give you a baseline estimate for fuel costs, but of course those vary based on the fluctuating price of gas and your driving habits. The label will also show you estimated savings and more information on the vehicle’s environmental impact.

“Today’s car buyers want the best possible information about which cars on the lot offer the greatest fuel economy and the best environmental performance. The new labels provide comprehensive information to American car buyers, helping them make a choice that will save money at the gas pump and prevent pollution in the air we breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said.

Consumers may begin to see the new labels on 2012 model year cars if the manufacturer voluntarily decides to implement the changes sooner. It won’t be a requirement until 2013 model year cars.

Consumer factoids: how we spend our money

Time put together an interesting list of random consumer factoids about how we spend our money.  They took all the facts and trends that are reported each year by various sources and compiled them into one fascinating list.  Some I agree with, and others I don’t — especially a recent survey that found owning a home is the best long term investment.

According to the article, we spend $1.2 trillion dollars on things we don’t need like candy, jewelry, alcohol, and gambling.  Obviously, without some of these guilty pleasures life would be a little boring.  Just keep it in moderation. Don’t deprive yourself, but don’t overspend in one area.

The factoid I liked — more than 8 million people stopped using credit cards in 2010.  Time pulled this from a Bankrate article. People rely on their credit cards far too much to pay bills. I rely on my credit cards to earn rewards — often in the form of cash!

The article also points out the cost of owning a car each year, but the numbers used are a bit outdated even though they are from a 2011 AAA report. The report says our car expenses are $8,776 a year for gas, insurance, maintenance, and depreciation based on driving 15,000 miles. However, the costs are higher now because that was based on gas at $2.88 a gallon, and gas is more than a $1 more.  While it looks like the price won’t stay around $4, we’ll probably still pay more than $2.88 a gallon for most of the year. The price increase trended upward faster than the price decline.

The U.S. Department of Energy also has a neat tool that allows you to calculate your gas costs for the year. Based on the price of gas now, around $3.96, and the 32 miles per gallon that my car averages I’ll spend $1856 just in gas.

On to the next way we spend our money — cable television . Time cited a factoid that the average pay TV subscriber gets 118 channels but only watches 17.  In my household, we’re hoping to ditch cable very soon. We’re waiting for some of the new television options like Google TV, Android TV, or Apple TV to take off. Then, we’ll switch. We pay around $90 a month for basic cable (60 channels or so) and Internet. It’s outrageous, and it pains me to pay it each  month.

The article also points out that 81% of adults said they believe buying a home is the best long-term investment.  This factoid came from a March 2011 Pew Research Center Survey.  Pew found 82% of homeowners who say their home is worth less now than before the recession either strongly (37%) or somewhat agree (45%) that homeownership is the best long-term investment.  I’m surprised by these numbers, because one thing that’s come out of this recession is the reminder that home ownership is not always the best investment. It’s still better than throwing money to the wind as a renter, but you have to own wisely.

Owning a home is a long term investment, not short term.  Many financial advisers will tell you that too many life factors and market factors get in the way of owning a home. Unlike a traditional investment, you can’t move your money around if your home value starts falling as many have done in the last few years. You’re stuck with that investment whether it works for you or not. There’s no bailing unless you walk away from your mortgage as many people have done in high foreclosure zones.

I’m not saying that owning a home is not a good idea, but I wouldn’t consider it the best long-term investment vehicle. I like one that has more flexibility.

Click here, and read the Time article for more interesting facts.

Gas ingredient causing lawn mower problems

A John Deere lawn mower in a Finnish garden.

Image via Wikipedia

Have you started your mower yet this spring? If it started, you’re lucky because I bet you didn’t the steps you should have to prevent costly repairs to it.  You may have escaped problems this time around, but it may not happen next time.

Lawn mower repair companies are booming with business as consumers walk in befuddled as to why their mower didn’t start.  It has to do with what’s in our gas.  There’s up to 10% ethanol in our gas, and some states don’t tell you about it. In Ohio, there’s no regulation of gas so you have no idea what’s in it including ethanol.

In many states, there are stickers that say “May contain up to 10% ethanol” on the gas pump.  Small engines like lawn mowers and chain saws can’t handle the ethanol. It draws moisture, and with time the water droplets clog the lines in your mower and cause rust on your carburetor.  This doesn’t take long to happen.

You should only leave gas in your machines for two months at the longest, and that’s if you use a factory recommended stabilizer. Otherwise, the ethanol in the gas can cause problems.

The repairs can be costly, and often it’s cheaper to just buy a new machine. The solution is to rotate your gas often and drain it completely when you’re not using a machine for a long period of time.  Just because the gas should no longer sit in your lawn mower, doesn’t mean it can’t be used in your car. We go through so much more gas in our cars it’s not as big a deal. Plus, cars can deal with the ethanol better than small engines.

You can also buy ethanol free gas like MotoMix although it’s expensive at around $9 a quart. The manufacturers are trying to come up with new products to deal with this growing problem and new products are continually rolling out on the market.

This problem is likely only going to get worse. The EPA wants to allow up to 15% ethanol as their studies show many cars can safely use it.  There are many critics of adding that much ethanol to gas, but it’s a sign that this issue is not going away.