The price of gas affects not only your everyday budget but also your kitty for a road trip, so it's important to make saving on fuel a part of your routine.
One way to find the best prices at the pumps is to drive around town or around the locations you're passing through on your vacation until you find the station posting the lowest rate. But that defeats the purpose of conserving gas, doesn't it?
Once again, the Internet comes through. Away from the jangle of ads and promotions that clutter the information superhighway, there's an army of well-wishers who use the Web to bring information and people together.
Using a site called Gaspricewatch at http://www.gaspricewatch.com, you can compare prices at some stations. On the site's leading page, you enter the five-digit ZIP code of the area you want to know about.
I recently entered the numbers 01776 (for Sudbury, Mass.). That produced a list of six area filling stations, and of the ones that had been canvassed, the lowest price was $1.71. Each gas station listing comes with an address and phone number as well as a button that brings you to a map with the station marked.
I followed my Sudbury search with the destination of a hypothetical road trip to the gas-guzzling highways of Disneyland in Anaheim (92801). There the prices for standard gas ranged from $1.83 to $1.95 a gallon. Twelve cents a gallon may not seem like much, but as drivers know, it adds up (as do much greater differences found in other areas of the country). It's sites like this that will encourage more aggressive competition between stations.
Gaspricewatch is maintained through the vigilance and kindness of fellow Web surfers, and its success depends greatly on what users put into it.
Right now only a few stations per town have prices attached (although most of the stations are listed but with the prices left blank).
To bolster its information, the site encourages you to sign up as a "spotter," which enables you to submit price updates to the site so everyone can use your information. Easy enough to do; most of us waste a great deal of our lives at stoplights, where gas stations cluster. You can easily jot down the prices during those red lights and help out your fellow consumers.
If you don't know the ZIP code of your destination, use the United States Postal Service directory, which is accessible at http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/lookups/lookups.htm.
So where is the nation's most expensive gas? According to a recent checking by Gaspricewatch, it was Fort Worth, Texas, at $2.50 a gallon. That high mark would shoot even higher if Hawaii residents began contributing their prices. (These figures change often.)
The lowest was 89 cents in Bel Air, Md.
The rest of us were paying an average of $1.47. Gallon by gallon, we're burning through available supplies. One day, sooner or later, we'll have to face up to the fact that gasoline is based on an exhaustible resource, and all the Internet sites in the world won't fix that.