Cost of gas lowered by wise drivers

Your Money

May 09, 2004|By Gregory Karp

With gasoline prices likely to be hovering around $2 a gallon this summer, it's a good idea to get the most out of the money you spend at the pump.

A two-car family is likely to spend up to $177 more on gas this year because of higher prices, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Gas is a significant expense for many families. An average four-person family spent about $1,800 annually on gasoline in recent years, according to government statistics. And motor fuel spending could be significantly higher for others. Two vehicles getting 20 miles per gallon and traveling 15,000 miles each would cost $3,000 in gasoline, assuming a price of $2 a gallon.

So if you can cut fuel consumption 20 percent, you could save hundreds of dollars this year.

Advertisements for gasoline additives that supposedly deliver better mileage are exaggerations or outright lies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has tested more than 100 of them. Some additives might even harm your vehicle, so don't bother.

Instead, use the following strategies to increase gas mileage and save at the pump. Savings figures below are based on Department of Energy estimates and adjusted for a gas price of $2 per gallon.

Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., a Tribune Co. newspaper.

1. Pedal off the metal

Savings: 23 cents to $1.10 per gallon

Rapid acceleration is the enemy of fuel efficiency. Anticipate traffic conditions and don't tailgate to avoid jack-rabbit braking and acceleration. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent driving around town.

Keep the speed down. Each 5 miles per hour above 60 is like paying an additional 10 cents per gallon.

2. Tune it up

Savings: 8 to 80 cents per gallon

A poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption 4 percent, and fixing a faulty oxygen sensor could improve mileage 40 percent. Also, replace air and oil filters. Clogged air filters alone can increase fuel consumption 10 percent, or up to 20 cents a mile.

3. Pump it up

Savings: Up to 7 cents per gallon

Keep your tires properly inflated. It sounds like one of those tasks only meticulous people care about, but underinflated tires cause fuel consumption to increase more than 3 percent. You can find the proper inflation level on the driver's side door jamb or in the owner's manual.

4. Use the right oil

Savings: 2 to 4 cents per gallon

Use the recommended grade of motor oil, preferably one with "energy conserving" on the label. Gas mileage could improve 1 percent to 2 percent.

5. Remove trunk junk

Savings: 14 cents per gallon by eliminating both a roof item and 100 pounds from the trunk

Many people use their car trunk as an extra household closet. Eliminate that weight and see your mileage rise 2 percent for each 100 pounds taken out of the trunk. And avoid carrying large items on the roof of the vehicle, which can cut mileage 5 percent.

6. Don't overbuy

Unless your owner's manual says you must use a higher grade, buy regular gasoline. Costlier high-octane gas does not improve the performance of your vehicle.

7. Cruise along

Using your vehicle's overdrive gears and cruise control improves fuel economy.

8. American idle

Turn off the engine if you'll be sitting awhile. Idling gets zero miles per gallon.

9. Combine trips

Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

10. Think small

If you own more than one vehicle, drive the one that gets better mileage. Does it make sense to drive to the video store in a 5,000-pound sport utility vehicle?

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