Planning A Trip? EPA's Fuel Calculator Predicts Your Gas Bill

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These days, taking a road-trip isn’t as simple as throwing your luggage and a few snacks into the car, turning up the radio and hitting the freeway.

With gas prices on the ever-upward rise, even a relatively short trip over state lines could leave your credit card heaving.

Help is now at hand, thanks to a new feature offered by the U.S. Department of Energy on its FuelEconomy.gov website.

Using route-planning software from Microsoft’s Bing service, the My Trip Calculator allows you to program a route between two addresses, then gives you approximate fuel costs based on any given car, using its EPA database of official gas mileage figures for any car sold in the U.S. over the past 28 years. 

Like the rest of the fueleconomy.gov site, the calculator allows you to compare the fuel costs of up to three different cars. This particular feature is extremely useful if you’re looking to hire a car for the trip, or you’re unsure of which of your own personal cars will be the most efficient. 

As an illustration, we programmed in the popular 380 mile road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, comparing the fuel costs of making the same trip in a 2012 Ford Focus SFE and a 2012 Toyota Prius. 

At a price of $4.10 per gallon, making the same trip in the Prius would save you 4 gallons of gasoline, or $16.13.

EPA's My Trip Calculator

EPA's My Trip Calculator

Enlarge Photo

While you can duplicate the functionality of My Trip Calculator with a spreadsheet or some back-of-a-napkin math, we like the way in which it combines route planning and car comparing functionality in a simple, clean interface. 

Are there any drawbacks?

Like most other route planning software, My Trip Calculator does not take into account changes in elevation or road conditions.

Nor can it take into consideration a fluctuating fuel cost based on geographic location. 

Finally, while the EPA’s car comparison tool allows you to look at the effective Miles Per Gallon equivalence (MPGe) of plug-in cars, they are not included in My Trip Calculator, meaning you’ll have to work out real-world costs of plug-in car trips by hand. 

Caveats aside, we think this useful tool is well worth some of your time.  

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