Driving Down Gas Usage

The price of oil continues to be discussed incessantly, with most talk centering on how high it will go or who plans to do what about it. Perhaps instead, we should consider how to use less of it. Since barrel upon barrel of it is turned into gasoline to fuel our personal vehicles, all of us have something to gain from doing a few simple things while driving that can make that gallon of gas go a little farther:

Don't let your car idle. Though it is often tempting to leave your car running while you run back into the house to get that thing you forgot or while waiting to pick up a friend or child, it is almost always better for the environment and your gas usage to turn off the car and then start it again when you're really ready to leave. In fact, letting your car idle for only 10 seconds uses more fuel than turning it off and then turning it back on.

Empty out that trunk. While trunk space is often convenient, the extra weight of whatever you've decided to keep in there can also result in your car getting lower gas mileage. Adding 100 pounds of weight to your vehicle (whether in the trunk or anywhere else) uses 2% more fuel. Using the trunk is preferable, however, to using a roof rack, which will not only add to the weight, but will also reduce the aerodynamic qualities of your vehicle, thus increasing fuel consumption. A loaded roof rack can decrease fuel economy by up to 5%.

Keep your tires properly inflated. Check them once a month with the same gauge, to ensure consistency. The average tire loses 1 pound per square inch per month, but keeping them properly inflated will save about a tank of gas each year. Proper pressure for your tires can be found in your owner's manual. Flatter tires won't roll as well and will also wear out faster than properly inflated ones, which will also help your fuel efficiency by around 3.3%.

Don't drive aggressively. Aggressive driving can increase fuel consumption by up to 33% AND puts out more dangerous emissions than more conservative driving. Slamming on the brakes, accelerating rapidly, and the acceleration and deceleration of frequent lane changes are not only hard on your car, but the environment too. Seconds of this kind of driving can release as much carbon monoxide as half an hour of normal driving, while a more relaxed approach can save you between $0.19 and $1.23 per gallon over time.

Perform regular maintenance. Check your filters. A clogged air filter can reduce your fuel efficiency by around 10%. And this will help protect your engine. Make sure to use the right motor oil, and change it and the oil filter on a regular basis. Whenever possible, use recycled oil and make sure your old oil gets recycled. You can improve your gas mileage by 1-2% by using the motor oil recommended by your car's manufacturer. Also look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the label. A general tune-up to check for this and other issues can improve your car's fuel efficiency by 15-50%.

Watch your highway speed. Driving slower can make your gas go farther: driving 55 mph instead of 65 mph on the highway uses 15% less fuel. You may not earn many fans amongst the speedy drivers around you, but you'll save up to $0.86 per gallon in the long run, as for many vehicles, fuel efficiency drops rapidly past 60 mph. Also use cruise control whenever possible, as the reduced pedal usage makes for more efficient operation.

Think ahead. Check the traffic before you leave (or, if you're really lucky and have an on-board GPS system, while you're out) to avoid stop and go traffic and lengthy periods of idling. Combine your errands into a long trip rather than taking several shorter ones. Taking multiple trips from a cold start can use up to twice as much fuel as covering the same distance while the engine is warm. This may also help you avoid re-tracing your steps, putting less wear and tear on your car as well as saving gas. If you have a garage, park in it to keep your car out of the sun and minimize fuel evaporation. If not, try to find a shady spot or buy a window shade.

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Volume 4, Issue 12, Posted 7:25 PM, 05.29.2008