How Much Gas Will I Use on a Road Trip

by Teo SpenglerUpdated August 24, 2017
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Fueling the Family Wanderlust

If your children love road trips, you probably introduced them to joys of the open road at a young age. Many books and songs have celebrated the pleasures and freedom of being "on the road again," and there is no finer way to learn geography than studying a map.

But every delight has a price, and one of the costs of a road trip is the gas your vehicle drinks to take you from point A to point B. These days, hybrid and electric vehicles may reduce the amount you have to invest in gasoline, but you are still likely to pay something. The amount you'll have to shell out for the family road trip depends on a variety of factors, including where you are going, current gas prices, how fast you zip along and the miles your vehicle gets per gallon.

Map Out Your Trip

Where will the open road take your family this vacation? What kinds of roads will you travel and how fast will you drive? You need to know where you are going before you can calculate gas mileage. Location is also important as gas prices vary among regions.

Figure Out Your Car's MPG

You may think you know how many miles your vehicle gets per gallon, but that "knowledge" might not help you when pricing out the gasoline cost of a current road trip. If you are relying on the manufacturer's estimate or gas usage you calculated a couple of years ago, you may be using inaccurate information. Cars age just like people do, and the gas they use may increase as time passes.

Also, keep in mind that the gas a vehicle uses varies depending on the type of terrain it is traversing. For example, "commute" gas mileage is not the same as "road" mileage, and you may use more gas on mountainous roads than straight, flat ones. Air temperature, idling time, speeding and braking, towing and using electrical appliances like air conditioning can all affect your gas mileage.

Compute how much gas your car is using today. Try to find a similar type of road your family will travel on a road trip. If you're heading from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Interstate 5, for example, test out mpg on a fast, flat road. To calculate gas mileage, top off the gas tank before you leave, drive 100 miles, then top it off again. Divide 100 by the gallons of gas used. For example, if you used five gallons, your car gets 20 miles per gallon.

Apps that Find Cheap Gas

You can find a variety of applications for your smartphone to help you find the lowest prices of gas along your route. It's a good idea to download at least one. If your kids are old enough, have each child download one and see which is most accurate along the way. Here are a few worth trying: Gas Buddy, Gas Guru, Waze and Dash.

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