As gasoline prices rise, give your mileage a lift

Spending Smart

Your Money

April 03, 2005|By Gregory Karp

Here we go again. Gasoline prices are breaking through the barrier of $2 a gallon, and some dire forecasts see prices going to $3 by summer.

At current prices, a typical family would spend $3,000 a year on gasoline, assuming two vehicles that get 20 miles per gallon and drive 15,000 miles annually. A bump up to $3 a gallon would push annual spending to $4,500.

And while you can't do anything about the rise in gasoline prices, you can reduce the amount of gas you use.

True, the type of car or truck you drive is the biggest factor in how far you stretch a gallon of gas. So that won't change in the near term, unless you are car-shopping.

But there are several ways to get more miles from your gasoline dollars.

Here are do's and don'ts for getting more value from fill-ups, adapted from tips by the Alliance to Save Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Federal Trade Commission and AAA.

Do's

Do check for the lowest prices in your area. Online site GasBuddy.com allows you to compare gas prices in your area as reported by fellow drivers. But don't go far out of your way to save a few pennies. Any savings will be used up traveling to a distant service station.

Do get a tuneup. A poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption 4 percent, and fixing a faulty oxygen sensor could improve mileage 40 percent.

Do replace air and oil filters. Clogged air filters can increase fuel consumption 10 percent.

Do keep tires inflated. Underinflated tires can increase fuel consumption more than 3 percent. Find the proper inflation level on the driver's side door jamb or in the manual.

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

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

Do 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.

Do take the smaller car on errands. If you own more than one vehicle, drive the one that gets better mileage for running around town.

Don'ts

Don't be a lead foot. Each 5 miles per hour above 60 is like paying an additional dime per gallon.

Don't drive like a jack rabbit. Anticipate traffic conditions to avoid sudden braking and acceleration. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in the city.

Don't bother with gas additives. 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.

Don't keep junk in the trunk. Each 100 pounds reduces gas mileage by 2 percent.

Don't piggyback. Carrying large items on the roof of the vehicle creates drag that can cut gas mileage 5 percent.

Don't overbuy. Buy regular-grade gasoline, unless your owner's manual says otherwise. Costlier high-octane gas does not improve performance and could actually hurt gas mileage.

Don't run air conditioning unnecessarily, but don't lower your windows, either. Both create drag on the car.

More radical changes in your driving habits include changing your work hours to avoid rush-hour traffic, using carpools and ride-sharing programs, taking public transportation, walking to work and working from home.

And if you're in the market for a new vehicle, consider a high-mileage car or even a hybrid gas-electric car, which can qualify for a tax deduction.

Among 2005 car models, 11 get 40 miles per gallon or more. However, research how much you're likely to save on gas versus the higher prices of some of these cars. Fuel-efficient cars might be more environmentally friendly, but from strictly a consumer standpoint they might also be more expensive overall.

A new online calculator is at www.40mpg.org, sponsored by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute. It figures that switching from a 20-miles-per-gallon vehicle to a 40-mpg one would save $750 a year, burn 375 fewer gallons of gas and emit 7,500 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide. That assumes $2 a gallon and 15,000 miles per year.

For more fuel savings information go online to:

www.ase.org

www.fueleconomy.gov

www.greenercars.com

Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, a Tribune Publishing newspaper in Allentown, Pa. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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