How to conserve gas on a short trip across town, including not going


November 14, 1990|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

You are pulling away from a stop sign. Should you accelerate slowly to save gas? You are idling at a train crossing. Should you turn off the engine if the train looks like a long one? You are getting in the car on a cold morning. Should you let the engine warm up for 10 minutes before you go, or should you set out fairly promptly?

If you want to save gasoline, the answers are no, yes and set out promptly.

Everybody wants to save gas. By using less, you help decrease your country's dependence on foreign oil. You emit less air pollution. And you save yourself money. The average one-car household spends upward of $1,000 a year on gasoline.

The best way to save gas is to buy a car that gets terrific gas mileage. If you are looking for a car, secondhand or new, make sure you buy one that gets at least 27 miles to the gallon.

Buying a new car may not be an option for you. However, you can still cut your gas consumption by more than 10 percent by following some simple, sensible driving tips. Here's how: Let's say you have to drive across town to pick up your mother. Call her up and tell her to take the bus. See how easy saving energy can be?

Sorry. Let's try that again.

Let's say you have to drive across town to pick up your mother. Before you think of going anywhere, take a look at your car. Have you been driving around with cinder blocks in the back of it? Two 50-pound bags of dog food you've been meaning to unload? Half a cord of firewood that it has just not been convenient to lug out?

On average, every 100 pounds of needless weight burns up half a mile per gallon of gas. A roof rack will also cut down drastically on your fuel economy. Unless you use your rack every week, consider taking it off between times.

Now, take a look at your tires. Keep a tire gauge somewhere handy, and use it to check your air pressure at least once a month. Underinflated tires can reduce your fuel efficiency by 5 to 10 percent.

Are you a two-car household? If you have a choice, always take the car that is warmed up. A cold engine only gets 30 percent the mileage that a warmed engine gets.

Turn on the car. Set off as soon as the oil pressure light goes off or the gauge reads "normal." The engine will warm up faster while it's being driven.

Accelerate smoothly but briskly. Both a too-fast start and a too-slow start burn unnecessary gas.

The ideal is to accelerate smoothly up to 45 miles an hour and stay there until you get to where you are going. Of course, this is impossible. But you can plan a route that minimizes stops. Take the highway if you can. Nobody in their right mind is going to drive at 45 miles an hour on the highway. But a car that gets 28 miles a gallon at 55 miles an hour gets only about 21 miles a gallon at 65 miles an hour, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

And if everyone in the United States who now disobeys a 55 miles-an-hour speed limit were to start abiding by it, we would save 9 million gallons of gasoline a day.

Unless it's blistering hot, use the vent to keep yourself cool. Air conditioners use a lot of gas, and so do open car windows, by increasing wind resistance.

Now we're off the highway. Oops! Just missed the light at a long intersection. Switch off that engine! If you are going to idle for more than 30 seconds, you'll save gas by turning it off and restarting when the light turns green.

Running low on gas? Don't fill up with high-octane. Fewer than 10 percent of cars actually need the stuff. High-octane gas can cost you 40 percent more, decrease your fuel efficiency by almost that much, cause more air pollution and even muck up your engine, especially if you have fuel injection. Volvo and other car manufacturers actually urge car buyers not to use high-octane gas.

Now you've picked up your mother and you're back home and you've saved an unbelievable amount of gas with all that sensible driving. Could you have saved even more? Yes. By having bought a house closer to your mother in the first place.

That sounds pretty silly. However, if all of us thought about transportation every time we considered a new job, looked for a house or apartment or picked a school for our kids, we might find ourselves really driving fewer miles every day. And that's not a bad thing at all.

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