So you love cruising around town. It's quality fun, no doubt, especially in the warmer weather, driving around, radio blasting Billy Joel (or Creed, or Lady Gaga, or Stravinsky - whatever floats your boat). Nothing like jumping around from store to store during the week, going to the gas station to get gas, heading to the grocery store several times a week to pick up a meal for the evening, or driving down the street to drop something off to a friend cause it's quick and easy.
The zooming around town for every little errand is part of the American culture that stemmed from years and years of gas costing less than water (sort of like wine to the French). The thing is, the prices are creeping up once again, slowly but surely, and these habits from the days of sub-dollar gas prices are costing us.
The general rule is this:
Do not take short trips in your car(!).
Cars get their worst possible mileage in the first five to ten minutes of driving. In the winter, this time is prolonged and the mileage becomes atrocious during the warmup phase. To stop for errands, wait until your car is fully warmed up, and then stop for whatever you need on the way home instead of just after leaving the house. Go for broke on those grocery trips, get what you need for a week. Driving your car three miles on a cold engine, especially in winter, will absolutely kill your mileage. Even in my Prius, I know from my house to the grocery store from a cold start gets me about 20 mpg. If you think you're safe with a 25 mpg average EPA rating car, you're probably getting 10-15 mpg during the first few minutes of cold weather (sitting at the stop light is 0 mpg, by the way!).
Let's do some actual calculations. Let's say you can get 30 mpg in your vehicle (very generous, the US average is below this). You expect to go 240 miles between fillups for a grand total of 8 gallons. My most recent gas price of $3.18/gallon would give us $25.44 for a fillup. Let's assume 1,200 miles a month for a total of five fillups in a given month, for a total of $127.20.
Now let's say that you drive a mere 30 out of those 240 miles on short-distance trips - to the grocery store, etc. At 15 mpg your mileage will instantly drop to 26.66 mpg for the entire tank of gas. You've lost over 11.1% of your mileage, and you're paying 12.5% more at the pump. That monthly gas bill jumps to $143.10.
Let's double that amount to 60 miles of short driving per 240 mile fillup. It sounds like a lot, but if you kept track for a week you would find a whole host of surprise short trips that add up. Bank, grocery store, post office, little shopping trip, gas station, dropping off something at someone's place (cause moving a couple thousand pounds of steel is reasonable to transport a piece of paper...go for your e-mail!) - it's easy to do.
With 60 of your 240 miles at 15 mpg, you now drop to 24 mpg, a drop of 20% from your original figure of 30 mpg, and you pay an whopping 25% more! For what other good or service would you pay 25% more than what you need to besides gas? The premium is enormous. You now pay $159 a month instead of the original $127. It's the equivalent of filling up your tank an entire extra time per month!
For the extra you spent, of course, that adds up into $381.60 over the course of the year. Seems better to save it than to spend it for no reason...
So what's the solution? Besides stopping only after the car is warmed up for errands and doing a lot of grocery shopping instead of a little, don't forget that bikes and your own feet get infinite miles per gallon. Walk up the street to the drugstore. Ride your bike to the post office. It's fun, more relaxing than driving, good for you, and costs you and the environment nothing.