Road Trip Savings: 7 Ways to Save 15%

Between airfare, meals and lodging, the average American spends about $1,600 on a summer vacation. But, by taking a road trip, you can dramatically reduce your overall travel budget, especially amidst falling gas prices.

Here's how to manage your fuels costs, and save more than 15% on gas alone.

Optimize Your Car
First tip is to prep your car. Ask your mechanic for a maintenance check that optimizes your car for fuel efficiency. This should include making sure your tires are properly inflated, and a general inspection of all fluids, belts, hoses, air filter, your battery and air-conditioner.

Map It
Next, avoid long detours and getting lost by using a free online road trip planner to build a custom map and itinerary with planned stops for gas and restroom breaks. This means you can research the best gas prices ahead of time. For example, Gas Buddy is a free site and mobile app that shows you where to find the cheapest gas for both short and longer trips, calculating up-to-date data for the best deals.

Also See: Save on Picnic Meals

Tools like this can help you decide where to buy your gas, one of the biggest cost factors on your road trip. For example, the first gas station you encounter after a long stretch of highway might be pricier than others so again, plan ahead to find a cheaper station. If you're about to enter a new state with a lower tax rate, wait to fill-up after you cross state lines.

App It
Once you've got your route, stay on track using your smart phone. "Navigation apps like Navigon and TomTom - although pricey - let your phone act as a stand-alone GPS," says Mandy Walker senior project editor at ShopSmart. "Gas Cubby and Green Meter will also track your gas mileage for you," she says.

Also See: Save $1,000 on Monthly Bills

Know When to Buy
Perhaps you've heard that buying gas early or late at night will get you more bang for your buck, capitalizing on the density of gasoline at lower temperatures. But, experts say, that doesn't really make a difference. "It's true that gas is denser at lower temperatures, but most stations throw their tanks underground, so the temperature changes very little if at all during the day," says Walker.

Instead, fill up early in the week. Prices typically rise between Wednesday and Saturday and remain lower Sunday through Tuesday. As well, don't wait until your tank is almost empty to buy gas. That's because you won't have the luxury of being picky. If it's an emergency, spend about $5 and then look for a better deal elsewhere.

Also See: When It Pays to Spend More

Minimize AC Usage
Maybe you've heard that leaving your windows open will increase drag and therefore cost you more gas, but Walker says it's really your air conditioner that's the drag. "In our test of a Honda Accord traveling at 65 miles per hour, turning on the AC can reduce the fuel efficiency by 3mpg. There was virtually no difference in rolling down the windows. So you're better off enjoying the breeze than turning on your AC."

Drive Responsibly
Driving fast will cost you, too. Hard acceleration and braking are habits that waste fuel so instead, drive smoothly and just below the speed limit.

Use Fuel Rewards
Look for Fuel Rewards programs from gas stations, banks and participating retailers. For example, with the new Fuel Rewards Network Program you can earn rewards at participating Shell stations. Just make everyday purchases online with participating name-brand merchants or restaurants, for savings like 5 cents/gallon for every $50 you spend. To receive your free rewards card, register online.

And we want to hear from you. What are some ways you save gas on road trips? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit