Gas prices are skyrocketing due to a confluence of very unpleasant factors including at least two of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Some gas stations in California are using the numeral six on their signs for the first time ever. Uber is listening, with its fuel surcharge for drivers and couriers, but it might not be enough. With the influx of new drivers, rideshare drivers are already experiencing lower pay—gas prices almost doubling makes it worse. What can you do? Señor contributor Gabe Ets-Hokin has ideas.
If you’ve filled your tank in the last week or two, you’re experiencing a mix of outrage, shock, and maybe even deep sadness. Gas prices are way out of control, and higher gas prices are frustrating because unlike upgrading to business class or name-brand spaghetti sauce, you don’t get any added benefit unless you’re a Chevron shareholder.
Not to worry—you’re not powerless. Check out the list below to see what options are available to you. Odds are you can save more than enough to offset the increased prices, or discover that you’re not paying as much as you thought.
- Determine how much you’re really driving by using a free mileage tracker, like Stride, to calculate your true expenses/costs
- Change your habits by driving smarter (avoid hard braking, and keep your car tuned up) to save more
- Seriously consider getting an electric vehicle – this might be one of the last times to get the max for your gas-powered car, and who knows how high gas prices will go in the future?
How Drivers Can Handle Rising Gas Prices
1: Do Nothing
How much gas do you use, anyway? Seriously, how much? If you drive a hybrid car or only work a few hours a week, you’re probably only spending a few extra dollars a week. But how much?
What? You don’t know? How can you not know? Successful gig workers slavishly detail their expenses and costs—if you don’t, how do you know how much money you’re making? So before you make any big changes, start tracking your mileage and gas purchases, and calculate your miles per gallon (MPG) or kilometers per liter, if that’s your thing.
Just fill your tank until the nozzle shuts off and then reset your car’s tripmeter. The next time you fill to the same point, divide the miles on the tripmeter by the gallons you just paid too much for. That’s your car’s fuel economy.
Next, figure out how many miles you drive in a week and how many gallons you’re burning, and then multiply that by the price of gas where you buy it.
Finally, figure the difference between what you pay now for a week’s worth of gas and what you were paying a year ago (see historic AAA data here). So say you use 12 gallons a week, which would get you 600 miles in a Prius or 200 miles in an XL vehicle like a minivan or an SUV.
If you average 15 miles in a working hour, that’s what a full-time driver will use in a Prius or what an XL driver might burn in a busy weekend shift or two, right?
In March 2021, that would have run you $33. Today, it’s $50—will $17 a week (or $884 a year) make a huge difference in your life? Enough to justify changes in your personal habits or lifestyle or enough to justify a big outlay for a new car? Don’t panic! Do the math and use your non-lizard brain.
Also, Uber has softened its corporate heart and is offering drivers “temporary fuel assistance.” It varies by region and service (here in San Francisco it’s 55 cents per ride for UberX, 45 cents for deliveries) and is paid by the customers as a surcharge.
It’s the same amount regardless of trip length, so a full-time driver completing 120 trips would get $60. If you mostly do short trips (or drive a fuel-efficient car or EV) you’ll be getting ahead; if your strategy depends on longer rides it might be time to rethink that (see below).
You can also use a free app like Stride to track your mileage and input your gas expenses to help you figure this out!
2: Pay Less for Gas
This sounds obvious, but with those prices creeping up it may start to be worth it. We’ve written about loyalty programs like GetUpside (check out our GetUpside review and sign up for GetUpside), and there are lots of other ways, too.
Both Uber and Lyft offer fuel discounts for drivers that participate in Uber Pro or Lyft Rewards, and the gas stations themselves offer fuel discounts if you use their credit cards. You can also apply for a cash-back card that has higher awards for fuel, and big supermarket chains have fuel rewards too.
Oh, and did you know Uber Select Diamond drivers get a free year’s Costco Membership?
It’s not much, and it requires some hassles, but if you’re paying $500 or $600 a month for gas, a few percent can add up over time.
3: Tune in and Tune up
You know how your car somehow feels better when you get it serviced? It’s not just in your head. Your car was designed to be most efficient when it’s properly maintained, so stay on top of that.
You’ll likely get the biggest gains from a clean air filter and properly inflated tires (don’t forget to keep them rotated, too), but there are little things that can add up to a few percentage points of MPG as well, like:
- Clean out your trunk—why are you paying to transport a bunch of stuff you don’t need for your job (take your luggage or bike racks off too)?
- Change your oil (the jury is out as to synthetic oil getting better fuel economy, but the added price of the synthetic oil probably is more than the gas you’d save, if any) if it needs it, and spark plugs might help if they’re really old and dirty.
- Check tire wear in case you need to replace them—using manufacturer-recommended tires will get you the maximum efficiency, especially if you drive an economy car or hybrid.
Keeping your car well maintained alerts you to problems before they’re catastrophic, which will save you money as well as gas.
4: Change your Habits
Ask Americans if they’re above average drivers and most of us will answer yes. We’ve been driving since we were teenagers and nobody is going to tell us how to drive. But what if you could save 10 percent or more on gas by just doing a few little things?
1) Slow down This is the number-one thing that will save you big cash-ola. Seems really freaking obvious, so why are people hauling ass all the time? The Department of Energy says every five mph you drive over the speed limit costs an extra 18 cents a gallon (back when gas was an average of $2.63 a gallon).
2) Don’t be a rabbit: Don’t be a tortoise, either, but there’s no reason to be first all the time unless you’re Jesse Owens.
3) Brakes are the enemy: We’re not telling you to avoid using the brakes, but you can use them a lot less. You don’t need to zoom up to a red light and then come to a skidding stop, and if you keep your field of vision further down the road you’ll anticipate hazards and traffic conditions, which means you won’t have to brake as hard and probably be much safer as well.
4) Do shorter trips: Since you know your mpg and how much gas costs, and now Uber is telling drivers how far a trip will be and how much we’ll get paid before we accept, you can figure out how much gas will cost you. Is that 120-mile round trip for $50 worth it?
5) Do something else: I haven’t done a lot of delivery driving, but it’s no secret that you do fewer trips per hour and shorter distances. If you haven’t tried delivering for Uber Eats or DoorDash, maybe this is the time to try it out?
Another company to try out, particularly for drivers in Texas and California, is Alto. You can read more about Alto at our Alto review, but Alto recently shared that 50% of its signups for drivers in Silicon Valley are coming from Lyft. Why? Because Alto lets drivers use their vehicles and drivers don’t pay for gas – Alto does!
You can also add things to your car, like Wrapify, to help you earn passive income while you drive. If you’re going to be out, might as well maximize your earnings even more!
6) Stop your engine between trips: Unless you’re at risk of freezing to death or dying from heat exhaustion if you don’t run your HVAC, consider turning your motor off. In addition to polluting far more than in a moving car, you’re burning money, about a half-gallon per hour, which adds up. If Uncle Fred told you it takes more gas to start a car than to leave it idling for a minute, he was probably drunk (again) because that’s wildly untrue.
7) Climate-control Change: Air conditioning sucks a lot of energy, so if you can do without it, or stand a few more degrees of heat, you can save a few percent or more. Also, if you’re a fresh-air person and always have the windows down (yes, we know the CDC wants the windows down because of Covid), that’s costing you a penny or two a mile as well.
And if you’ve always driven around in between trip or delivery requests, do you really think the investment in fuel will yield more or better requests? Sometimes yes, but oftentimes, no. Park, roll down the windows, relax and play some computer solitaire for a few minutes.
Another pro tip: use your destination filter to help avoid deadheading out of areas with fewer or lower-quality requests.
5: Leave it Parked
Just because your car makes you money doesn’t mean you have to drive it all the time.
When you’re not working, consider walking, using public transportation or some other inexpensive way to get around.
We’re fans of electric bicycles here (check out our article on the best bike sharing apps), which are excellent for 1-3 mile trips and cost almost nothing to charge. They’re also fun and might help you burn off those “sitting in your car for hours” pounds!
6: Change your car
Up till now, we haven’t really suggested any capital outlay, but if you drive a lot and currently have an inefficient vehicle, you may be ready for a different car.
It’s a good time and a bad time to do this. Good because you’ll get top dollar for your old car (and maybe the last opportunity to get maximum equity out of a gas guzzler), but bad because sellers are getting top dollar for their new and used cars.
Research is going to be key, and you can get started by checking out our article on the cheapest electric cars.
You can go four ways here to save money, but use a spreadsheet to see if the gas savings will make it worth it—multiply the expected miles you’ll do in the new car by the difference in fuel cost per mile and then subtract the difference between the new vehicle and your trade-in from that.
Is it worth it? If yes, let’s look at your three basic categories of fuel-efficient rides, aided by my highly questionable spreadsheet calculations:
Price: About $15,000 ($0 with trade-in)
MPG: About 32
Savings over 200,000 miles: $22,996.32
A small, late-model economy car like a Hyundai Elantra or Honda Civic. Avoid SUVs or crossovers because the higher profile, bigger wheels, and added weight mean less mpg. Smaller, “subcompact” (think Kia Rio or Mitsubishi Mirage) cars don’t really get much better economy than the larger sedans, and passengers (and drivers) don’t really like them much, as they’re noisy, less roomy, and harder to get in and out of.
The savings works out to roughly $66 a week (600 miles times 11 cents/mile)–worth it for losing the XL, Comfort or whatever other benefits from driving the bigger vehicle?
Price: About $20,000
Savings over 200,000 miles: $25,525.49
Surprise! A hybrid is an outstanding choice as a rideshare vehicle. In fact, it’s very close to an EV in terms of costs.
We’re not calculating maintenance items in this comparison, but there just isn’t enough data on the long-term costs of EV ownership to make a good guess.
I think the EV will be cheaper to 200,000 miles, but hybrids, since they thrive on low-speed, stop-and-go driving and have regenerative brakes like an EV, are pretty cheap as well.
Price: $30,000 or more
MPG: What’s that?
Savings over 200,000 miles: $27,558.82
The winner by a smaller margin than you’d expect is buying an electric vehicle (EV). That’s because the outlay to get into an EV (new or used) is unfortunately elevated right now. But there are ways to save to get the price down.
Some states have cash or other incentives for EVs (even used ones), Nissan has a $2,000 rebate for Uber drivers that purchase a new 2022 Leaf EV and the Federal tax credit for $7,500 still stands for most of the EVs available.
Owning an EV is kind of a lifestyle choice, though. We’ve written a lot about this (check out our article on the best EVs for Uber and Lyft drivers), but the TL;DR is I’d only recommend it if you have a place to charge at home (on a Level two charger, not the Level-one charger that plugs into a 110 outlet) and if you don’t usually drive more than the vehicle’s actual range each day.
Otherwise, you’ll spend more time at a fast charger than you’d like and your EV’s limitations may cause you to change your earnings strategies or even make less money (less Uber’s cash incentives for EV drivers, of course).
Want to learn more about how rideshare drivers are using their EVs? Join our Uber and Lyft EV driver Facebook group!
At over $4 a gallon, increased costs hurt—but they shouldn’t be catastrophic. And while switching to something more efficient (and environmentally friendly) is always a good idea, is $84 a week worth trading in a car you’ve bonded with?
On the other hand…the last few years have taught me that the world is changing, and fast. Will gas prices stop at $4 a gallon? $6? $10? $12? Or sink back to $1.80?
I like EVs because electricity can be produced locally (even at home with solar panels) and regulated to keep prices more predictable. Gasoline? Not so much; events happening on the other side of the planet can immediately affect your bottom line.
Taking advantage of your car’s peak resale value today can help you stay ahead of the competition tomorrow. Happy savings!
Are you trying to conserve fuel or considering a more economical vehicle or have you recently made a switch? Start the discussion below or check out our Facebook Uber and Lyft EV Drivers forum.
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-Gabe @ RSG