Repost: Gas Math

Published on Sunday, May 26, 2013 in , , , ,

Micov's photo of 4 Dollar Gas in Lewiston, Maine(Note: This is a repost, with some link updating and minor rewriting, from about this same time 5 years ago. I repost it because it has become relevant over this Memorial Day weekend.)

If you do math at all at the gas pump, it's probably either related to how many gallons you can get for a given amount of money, or how much money will be required to get a needed amount of gas. If you're willing to do a bit of math and planning before you go get your gas, you can actually work a surprising amount of real savings into the equation, as well.

How do you save on gas? The obvious first answer is to find the cheapest gas you can. My grandfather's method for this was to drive around looking station by station, but that only works well when you're sure you can find gas lower than 35 cents/gallon. Unsurprisingly, the internet is here to help! Sites such as fueleconomy.gov, FuelMeUp, and GasBuddy make short work of finding the lowest gas prices in your area.

Unless you find the cheapest gas in your immediate area, another question begins to raise its head at this point. Sure, if you go a little farther to that station with the cheap gas you can save some money, but if you factor in the gas you'll burn going the extra distance, and the added gas you'll require, are you really saving money? With the current level of gas prices, this isn't a trivial question.

Fortunately, Kimberly Crandell, better known as Science Mom, tackled the question of whether nearby expensive gas or cheaper gas across town was cheaper in July 2007.

As I've explained, there is some math involved, but there are only five different factors involved: The number of gallons needed, the gas mileage of the car, the cost of the closer (more expensive) gas, the cost of the farther (cheaper) gas, and the miles out of the way for the cheaper gas (Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, or MapQuest will come in handy here). In the article, you learn the formulas to process this, and how to solve for the savings you'll get, as well as the break even points for cost per gallon, total gas gallons, and distance.

Understanding and working through the formulas is one thing, but how about if you would just like to get your answer and go? Once again, the internet is here to help. My favorite tool for this step is Instacalc, which I first mentioned in August 2007.

I've created an instacalc version of Kimberly Crandell's equations where all you have to do is plug in the five factors (remembering that the two prices requested are both price per gallon).

If you prefer, I've also created a metric version of this calculator, for readers in other countries. Whichever version you use, I hope this helps save you some money and that you find it useful!

Update: If you enjoy William Spaniel's Game Theory 101 videos, you'll enjoy his method of finding cheap gas without perfect information. This method, based on game theory, is equally mathematical, but requires fewer calculations.

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