Plan a Budget-Friendly Road Trip with AAA’s Gas Calculator

Picture of an open road

In my opinion, summer doesn’t officially start until I’ve taken a road trip. Whether it’s to see friends and family, or to explore someplace completely new, a road trip—preferably with windows down and a great playlist blaring through the speakers—perfectly encapsulates the carefree, laid-back feel of the season.

Before I take any road trip, I first consult AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator. This gas calculator helps estimate the fuel cost of your road trip, based on your trip route, local fuel prices, and the make/model of your vehicle. Prices are broken out by region (e.g., Pacific Coast, Mountain West, Southwest, Midwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast), with updated fuel data supplied by the Oil Price Information Service (OIPS).

In short, AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator gives you a one-stop spot to determine your actual transportation costs: how much you can expect to spend in getting there, getting around, and getting back. Once you have that knowledge, it’s easy to plan your budget. No more guesswork in trip planning, or sticker shock at the pump!

I ran a few different regional test scenarios in the Fuel Cost Calculator and got the following estimates:

  • A road trip from Washington, D.C., to Myrtle Beach in a 2011 Honda CR-V with four-wheel drive would cost approximately $74 one-way, and $148 round-trip.
  • A road trip from San Francisco to Reno/Lake Tahoe in a 2010 Toyota Corolla would cost approximately $32 one-way, and $63 round-trip.
  • A road trip from Chicago to Branson, Missouri, in a 2012 Ford Mustang convertible would cost approximately $112 one-way, and $224 round-trip.

I also couldn’t resist checking the classic summer cross-country road trip in two very different vehicles: If you want to drive from New York City to Los Angeles in a 2013 Chevy Silverado (the second-best selling vehicle this past April), you should expect to spend $719 one-way, and $1,438 round-trip. Conversely, that same trip in a 2013 Toyota Prius would cost $211 one-way and $423 round-trip.

Additionally, this tool is incredibly useful if you’re in need of a rental car for an upcoming trip, or if you and your friends and family are trying to determine whose car to drive. While (in the rental car scenario) you’ll rarely be able to request an exact make/model from your agency, you can still get a ballpark sense of which cars are fuel efficient, and which are gas guzzlers, and then budget accordingly.

Be aware of a few caveats, too, when using this tool:

  • The calculator only takes a current snapshot of fuel prices around the country, so if you’re planning a trip a few weeks (or a few months) out, you’ll want to check back closer to your trip dates to get an up-to-date assessment of what your fuel costs will be.
  • At press time, the tool wasn’t optimized for smartphones – although it looked and worked fine on a tablet. (AAA: please improve this tool for phones, stat!)
  • The tool only calculates U.S. cities, so if you’re taking a road trip into Canada or Mexico, this isn’t the best one to use.

Lastly, the Fuel Cost Calculator is also a great resource if you’re trying to decide whether to drive or fly for your upcoming trip. By giving you a sense of what can you expect to spend for your road trip, you can compare the calculator’s fuel costs to airfares and determine which option makes the most sense for your budget.

See you on the road this summer!

Image: Odan Jaeger