Saving Money on Gas: Tuning Up Your Car to Tune Up Your Wallet

What is the cost of transportation freedom? How much are cup holders, DVD players, and satellite radio systems? How many pennies add up to airbags, anti-lock brakes, and other safety features?

According to the gas pump, the cost is $2.90 per gallon and rising.

As gas prices increase, consumers are feeling the pinch of inefficient vehicles and long commutes. While gas prices also affect the cost of public transportation, airline travel, home heating, and other necessities, the greatest dent is at the pump. Coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family members commiserate about the price of gas, but rarely do they share tips or tricks for conserving fuel. Meanwhile, conservation is the key to putting your gas bill on cruise control.

Everyone knows the basic tips: carpool, use public transportation, consolidate errands into one trip, and plan your route to eliminate unnecessary backtracking. Few consumers are aware, however, that a properly tuned car conserves more than all those tips combined: with regular care, your car’s fuel efficiency increases up to forty percent.

For example, a tune up increases fuel efficiency by four to twenty percent. Not sure when you need a tune up? Simply use the trip gauge or standard odometer to track your mileage per gallon, and when the efficiency starts to drop, it’s time for a quick trip to the mechanic.

A clean air filter, which controls engine air flow, can increase fuel efficiency by up to ten percent. Proper tire inflation and balancing adds another three percent. This may not seem significant, but with today’s fuel prices, three percent is equivalent to nearly nine cents per gallon. What driver wouldn’t want to see prices nine cents cheaper, or to squeeze nine more cents out of each gallon?

The car’s weight is also a factor in its fuel efficiency. An extra 100 pounds decreases fuel efficiency by one to two percent, depending on the make and model of the car. To lighten your load, refrain from using the trunk as additional storage, leave the extra tools at home, and remove the bike or luggage rack when it’s not needed. In some cases, this improves the car’s aerodynamics, pushing fuel efficiency even higher.

Driving habits impact gas mileage. At speeds greater than 60 miles per hour, fuel efficiency decreases approximately one percent for every five miles over. Aggressive driving, including fast acceleration and hard braking, also lowers fuel efficiency. Excessive idling wastes gas: if you are going to idle for more than a minute, it uses less fuel to simply restart the car. This is a useful trick for drawbridges, railroad crossings, traffic jams, and while escorting children to and from school.

One of the best ways to improve gas mileage is to purchase a more fuel efficient car. While the figures quoted on sales stickers are estimates obtained through lab tests, they do provide a general feel for how often you’ll be filling up. The most efficient cars on today’s market are the increasingly popular hybrids, such as the Ford Escape and Honda Accord hybrids, along with the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.

Every day, local gas stations seem to raise prices by a penny or two. Little changes add up to big expenses, and little changes in your car and your driving behavior add up to big savings. Instead of continuing to complain about rising crude oil prices, gas taxes, and higher pump prices, it’s time to tighten the hose and take the initiative to lower gas spending. Prices may remain high indefinately, but with a few simple changes, your wallet won’t even notice.

For more tips, car comparisons, and updated gas price information, visit www.fueleconomy.gov.

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