Gas-saving tips and tricks for Southern California road trips this Fourth of July

A jam-packed Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.
Traffic slows on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on the day before Thanksgiving in 2021.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The wallet-draining price of gasoline probably won’t stop people from taking a drive to their Independence Day holiday destination.

The American Automobile Assn. predicts that 42 million Americans will be hitting the gas pedal and traveling 50 miles or more this Fourth of July weekend. Driving is expected to trump flying despite gas prices of more than $6 per gallon in California and close to $5 per gallon elsewhere, although the national average has been heading down.

Doug Shupe, a spokesperson for AAA, said the association anticipates that the demand for gas will pick up in the days before the holiday as drivers fill up for their road trips. So we could see the pump prices move higher again, he said.


The price of oil might be burning a hole in Americans’ pockets, but Shupe said consumers have continued to increase spending on travel, hospitality and leisure as concerns related to COVID-19 have abated.

If you are driving to your holiday getaway, Shupe suggests that you travel at off-peak traffic times or on less popular travel days, or that you point your car toward a hidden gem closer to home.

Based on AAA booking data, he said, the peak travel days are likely to be Thursday, June 30, and Friday, July 1.

So if you are getting ready to pack up your family for a road trip, consider these tips for a more cost-effective and safer weekend.

Gas prices are high across California, and it’s unclear when prices will go down. But, there are ways to save money on gas. Here are some tips.

March 10, 2022

Save at the pump

If you’re on the road and notice that you’re starting to run low on gas, don’t wait until the last minute to refuel.

Shupe said it’s unwise to let your vehicle’s fuel tank run near empty not just because you risk being stranded on the road, but also because you could damage expensive car parts and create mechanical problems down the line.

Letting the car’s fuel level drop to “E” and betting on having enough gas to make it to the next station may cause the car’s electric fuel pump to overheat, he said. The cost to replace this component alone can be $500 or more.


So keep your eye on the fuel gauge, Shupe advised, and don’t let it sink below a quarter of a tank.

If you’re a member of AAA, the Auto Club app can show you the closest gas stations that are charging the lowest amount wherever you happen to find yourself in the United States.

If you’re not a member, there are other apps and websites that help you find lower gas prices, including:

  • Gasbuddy, whose app and website display real-time pump prices near you.
  • Gas Guru, an app that can search for gas stations by price, fuel grade and distance, as well as show gas prices in your area.
  • Mapquest, a website that has a feature allowing you to see gas prices on the route of your trip. The Google Maps app and site offer a similar feature.

Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said you should do your homework about the stations on your route before you pull out of the driveway. If you’re not using an app, take a moment to check out the stations online. Some gas stations charge lower prices if you pay in cash, some don’t. And some might not have the fuel grade you’re looking for.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders of the California Legislature have agreed to provide more than $9 billion in refunds to taxpayers to offset high gas prices and inflation. The deal comes after months of slow negotiations at the state Capitol and disagreement between Democrats over how much relief to offer.

June 24, 2022

When you’re at the pump, getting the right fuel for your car can also save you money.

There are many cars whose manufacturers recommend filling with premium fuel, but Consumer Reports has tested regular and premium fuels on these vehicles and for some hasn’t seen a difference.

When car makers recommend premium fuel, Fisher said, that’s typically for maximum performance. So if you can tolerate losing a few horsepower by using regular fuel, he said, you’ll be fine.

“If your car requires premium, by all means use it,” Fisher said. “But if it’s recommended, that doesn’t mean that you have to use premium. And you could save a few cents each gallon” by sticking with regular. Read the label inside the cover of your car’s gas tank — it will tell you the minimum octane rating of the fuel you should use.

Another gas-saving trick is to moderate the way you drive. Your fuel economy is related to your driving style, Fisher said.

“Just simply slowing down five or 10 miles per hour can make a substantial change in fuel economy and save you a bunch of money,” Fisher said.

Your car’s condition is also related to your fuel economy. For example, if you haven’t checked your tires in a month, the pressure in one or more of them may have dipped below the manufacturer’s recommended level. Driving when your tire pressure is too low could use more fuel, he said.

One other tip: Check your aerodynamics. If you have an empty cargo carrier or bike rack on your car, the added wind resistance can hurt your fuel economy. So if you’re going on a trip and not using your add-ons, take them off your car.

Where to go in Los Angeles when you need a pool to cool off? Hotels with day passes.

July 14, 2023

Keep it (sort of) local

If the high price at the pump is making you think twice about a trip that requires more than one tank of gas, Shupe says to consider these options:

  • Palos Verdes Peninsula. Shupe’s take: “The exclusive Los Angeles community is home to sweeping ocean views that sometimes include whale sightings, and peacocks roam through many of the public areas.”
  • Idyllwild. “This Riverside County artist community nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains is the perfect escape from urban and suburban Southern California,” he said.
  • Santa Ynez Valley. “Santa Barbara and Solvang are some of the most well-known Southern California tourist destinations, but there’s plenty of less crowded options just outside those areas,” he said. “Towns in the Santa Ynez Valley include Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos and Santa Ynez.”
  • East San Diego County. “San Diego is one of the top U.S. tourist destinations, so avoiding crowds can be tricky,” Shupe said. “Travel a little farther northeast to the El Cajon and Alpine areas to get in some outdoor activities in a higher-elevation desert setting.”

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