Upgrade Your Life: Gas saving winners and losers

Jared Spurbeck
Upgrade Your Life

Gasoline just keeps getting more expensive at the pump. So in this week's episode of Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News' Becky Worley shows us gadgets and smartphone apps designed to save you money on gas ... and some bogus gimmicks you should definitely pass on.

Improve Efficiency

Your driving habits directly affect the gas mileage your car gets: Step on the gas a little too much, and you burn through fuel faster than you would with a more consistent driving style. But what if your car could tell you exactly how your driving was affecting its mileage?

The Lincoln SmartGauge with EcoGuide (PDF link) gives you that feedback when you are driving inefficiently. Just glance down at your dashboard, on an equipped car, and it'll show you what kind of mileage you're getting. The better your driving gets, the more leaves appear on your screen; especially good driving earns a flower. It's sort of a minigame, but one that's not meant to be too distracting.

Not driving a new SmartGauge-equipped Lincoln? Try greenMeter ($5.99), an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It uses your gadget's built-in accelerometer to detect how fast your car is accelerating and braking, and gives you visual feedback about how to improve your driving.

Figure out how to make your car work better

You know those handheld computers they plug into your car at the shop? The CarMD ($119) is sort of like that! Just connect it to a port on your steering wheel -- all cars, light trucks and minivans made to drive in the States since 1996 have them -- and then connect the Car MD to your computer. It uploads all the data from the car's computer to your account on the site, and tells you in layman's terms any problems with the car and how much it could cost to fix them.

With CarMD, you can also find out about problems before your vehicle goes to the shop, even problems like a bad air filter or a loose gas cap that could be affecting your mileage. Their website claims that it pays for itself with a single use; when Becky used it, she diagnosed an immediate problem with her car, and had it scheduled for maintenance the next day.

Find the cheapest gas station

Just want to find the cheapest gas in your area? There's an app for that -- several, in fact! iGasUp ($0.99) promises "The cheapest price... every time!" thanks to its database of over 110,000 stations. Cheap Gas (free and ad-supported) uses the GasBuddy.com database, and GasBuddy itself has its own free apps, for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone.

As an added bonus, you're entered into a drawing for $250 of free gas every time you send GasBuddy your local station's price. Just don't use these apps while driving ... the hospital bills will kill all your savings.

Get where you're going quicker

And I don't mean "drive faster." Route4Me is an online service that tells you the most efficient route to complete all your errands; just put in the addresses, and let it work its magic. The basic plan costs $25 a month, but there's a 30-day free trial and a cheaper, $15 a month plan if it's not to your liking. Free iPhone and iPad apps are available, too, so you can consult your routes on the go.

What about traffic, though? Some cars have traffic alerting built-in, but there are also online services that can help. Inrix uses data from "the largest traffic network in the world" to forecast traffic and show accidents, while Waze is "100% powered by users" who have Waze installed on their phones. Both services have free apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android, while Waze also supports Nokia's Ovi Store and Inrix has a Windows Phone app.

Stuff that just doesn't work

Now we come to the late-night infomercial fodder: Magnets, heaters, oil additives, and other after-market add-ons that just plain don't work. These aren't worth your time and money. As the EPA's website says, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

We'll just mention one of these products here. Remember the Fuel Doctor? Its infomercials promised that it'd improve your miles per gallon by "up to 25%", but Consumer Reports showed that their claims were bogus.

Always do your homework before buying any product that claims to improve your fuel efficiency. Good luck, and safe driving!