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Airbag Hazards: Pro and Con
Don't be Fuelish
Put the Squeeze on Your Cooling System
Automatic Transmission Care
Visit to a good service center
Shopping for service centers
A Bit of Prevention Ö
Fall Behind
Choosing Tires for Wintertime Driving
A Little Good Reading
Tires Last Longer With Proper Care
Car Care Resolutions For a New Millennium
Flats and Flares: Roadside Emergencies
Spruce Up For Spring
DIY at the Self-Service Pump
Fill Gas Cans Carefully
Ford Recalls Millions of Firestone Tires
Doing the Straight & Narrow

Don't Be Fuelish

Donít Be Fuelish: Tips for Reducing Your Gasoline Costs

With gasoline prices near record levels, fuel conservation is more important than ever

By Peter D. duPre

There probably isnít a motorist anywhere that isnít aware that gasoline and diesel prices have skyrocketed recently. Shortages in production and increased demand have really put a crunch on available supplies and consumers have been feeling the crunch in their wallets. Currently, the national average price for a gallon of unleaded regular is hovering around $1.65 and $1.51 for a gallon of diesel fuel. In the Midwest, prices have been higher, averaging in the neighborhood of $2.25 a gallon. Even though industry experts say the price will come down eventually, prices arenít expected to drop significantly in the near term.

While gasoline is still inexpensive, when adjusted for inflation or compared to the prices in other countries, the sudden rise in the price at the pump has come as somewhat as a shock to consumers used to paying bargain basement prices. Folks on a strict budget are particularly hard hit by the increases.

But whatís a driver to do? Obviously, an increase of even 25 cents a gallon, while significant, is probably not high enough to justify trading in Old Betsy on a new economy car unless you drive more than a couple of hundred miles a week. Odds are that any new car you choose will require a cash outlay thatís considerably higher than the increased costs for fuel you are currently experiencing. It can take a long time to amortize the cost of the new vehicle in fuel savings. Besides, it probably isnít necessary to buy a new vehicle just to get better gas mileage. Most of the gains associated with good fuel economy happen because of driving habits and vehicle condition. In fact, just driving a little more conservatively and giving your vehicle a tune-up can decrease fuel consumption by as much as 50 percent.

If you already drive with a light pedal foot and have a vehicle in a good state of tune, donít fret, there are plenty of other ways to lower your driving costs. For starters, follow the tips below. Each is a sure-fired money saver.

  • Make sure your vehicle is in a good state of tune. If itís been more than a year since youíve had your car in the shop for general maintenance, nowís the time to take it in and have it checked to make sure the engine is running efficiently and economically. An engine tune up can improve fuel economy by an average of one mile per gallon.
  • Keep the tires properly inflated. The air pressure in your tires has a big impact on fuel economy. Check the tire pressure weekly. The correct tire pressures for your vehicle are posted in the glove box, on the inside of the gas fill cover, or on the driverís side door post (depending on vehicle). Keep a tire pressure gauge in the vehicle; they cost only a couple of dollars and are available at any auto parts store. Check tire pressures when they are cold (when the vehicle has not been driven for at least three hours or when it has been driven two miles or less). Having just one tire under inflated by only a few pounds can affect fuel economy by as much as 5 percent and severely shorten tread life.
  • Avoid jackrabbit starts. Being quick off the line may be fun, but it is hard on the vehicle and costs you in fuel economy. A quick takeoff from a dead stop consumes almost 50 percent more fuel as a gradual pull away.
  • Watch your speed. The higher the speed, the more fuel your car uses. Slow down and save on fuel. Driving at 55 mph instead of 65 mph, for example, can increase fuel economy by about two miles per gallon. Pacing your driving can also help. Unnecessary speedups, slowdowns and stops in heavy traffic decrease fuel economy by about two miles per gallon. Increase your following distance, and drive steadily. On long trips use the cruise control to maintain steady speed.
  • Avoid excessive idling. Letting the car warm up in the driveway or idling at the curb while the spouse runs into the store uses more fuel than you might think. Even idling at long traffic lights costs you in fuel economy. An idling engine can consume up to a gallon of gasoline an hour. Donít let the vehicle idle longer than a minute; it wastes more gas than youíll use in restarting the engine.
  • Plan your trips carefully. Donít make a bunch of short trips to run errands. Instead, tally up the errands you need to run, plotting the most efficient route on a map. Then make one trip. Combining trips can increase overall fuel economy by as much as 10 percent.
  • Lighten the load. Why haul extra weight? Emptying your trunk or cargo area of unneeded items decrease fuel use by as much as 5 percent a week.
  • Turn off the air conditioner. Using the air conditioner in stop and go traffic can increase fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent under certain conditions. Instead, use the flow-through ventilation system and open the windows. At highway speeds, however, the increased drag caused by the open windows can actually increase fuel consumption.
  • Keep luggage off the roof. Unless absolute necessary, carry luggage in the trunk or cargo storage area. A full roof rack can increase fuel usage by as much as five percent.
  • Pump it yourself. Filling up at the self-service pump can save you 25 cents a gallon over the cost of fuel at the full-service pump.
  • Burn regular instead of premium. Most vehicles get the same fuel mileage on unleaded gasoline as they do on premium. Check the ownerís manual to see what grade fuel your vehicle requires. Buying regular grade fuel instead of premium can save you as much as 35 cents a gallon (depending upon area).
  • Take the bus. Taking the bus to and from work generally costs less than the cost of operating a vehicle, though it may take a little longer to get where you are going.
  • Carpool. Starting or joining a carpool can cut your fuel costs by as much as 50 percent and it is a great way to make new friends.
  • Use pedal power. Bicycling instead of driving whenever possible will save you wear and tear on the car and reduce the amount of gasoline you use. Youíll also improve your physical condition.
  • Use your feet. Instead of driving from store to store when you run errands, park in a central location and walk to the places you have to go.
  • Use your fingers. Why drive when you can stay home? Use the telephone for comparison-shopping and the computer to buy everyday items, such as groceries, online.
  • Tele-commute. If you have a computer at home, consider tele-commuting a couple of days a week instead of driving to work. Youíll save gas, time, wear-and-tear on the vehicle, be more relaxed and probably more productive.