7 Ways to Spend Less on Gas (and 3 Ways Not To)
"Last year, 147 million gallons of gas evaporated because of loose, missing or broken gas caps," says Lauren Fix, aka the Car Coach and the national automotive correspondent for Time Warner Cable. By paying attention at the pump and turning the cap until it clicks, your dollars won't float into thin air.
Do: Get the Junk Out of Your Trunk
If your car looks like a closet on wheels, it's time to clean it out. That extra storage space doesn't come free.
"For every 100 pounds, you lose a mile per gallon," says Ben Wojdyla, Popular Mechanics' associate auto editor. This includes excess weight outside the car (bike racks, rooftop racks) too.
Do: Turn Right—and Only Right
In the early 2000s, UPS employed new routing software to increase the efficiency of its delivery fleet and reduce fuel consumption. By eliminating as many left-hand turns as possible, UPS has saved an estimated 10 million gallons of gas in the past eight years.
What makes the rule so effective? Before making a left-hand turn on a busy two-way street, you usually wind up idling—getting 0 mpg. Right-hand turns keep you moving.
Do: Download a Gas-Saving App
Smartphone apps like GasBuddy—which has been downloaded more than 371,000 times—find the cheapest gas near you (and let you to report gas prices to help others). GasBuddy's Trip Cost Calculator advertises savings of $4.81 on a 690-mile round trip between Chicago and Cleveland.
Don't: Warm Up Your Car for Several Minutes
Drivers in snowy, cold locales know the rule: Always (always) warm up your car. But this means an idling engine. This just isn't necessary with modern engines. A car with a fuel-injection system—basically any car made in the last 20 years—can warm up while you're driving. California's Consumer Energy Center recommends only 30 seconds of idling, even on winter days. "As soon as the gauges are up and where they're supposed to be, you should take off," Fix says.
Do: Put On the Air Conditioning
Another bedrock truth: Air conditioning wastes too much gas. Except...this one isn't true either. "Cars are designed in such a way now that when you put on your air conditioning, it doesn't put a draw on the engine, so it doesn't use more fuel," Fix says. In fact, in recent models, choosing air conditioning is a more fuel-efficient option than rolling down windows, which increases the drag on the car, Wojdyla says. (This may not be the case for vehicles made before the mid-'90s.)
Next: Why you shouldn't ride around on empty
If gas is cheaper at a station slightly out of your way, think twice about riding on empty to get there. Even with the EPA-mandated cleaning additives in fuel, sludge builds up and settles at the bottom of your tank. "If you're running your gas tank on fumes, that sludge is now running through your fuel system," says Barbara Terry, an automotive columnist for the Houston Chronicle and an off-road racer. The pump in your fuel-injection system will start sucking up particles from the sludge at the bottom of the tank if you're running low on fuel. Plus, the pump has to work harder at lower fuel levels—and pump replacements can cost $600. So fill up before the low-fuel light comes on.
Don't: Speed Up or Slow Down Too Often or Abruptly
You've heard about the fuel-saving benefits of driving under the speed limit, but that's just one golden rule. A report this year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says fuel-efficient drivers limit the amount of time their car spends idling as well as the frequency and intensity of accelerating and decelerating.
The report suggests drivers slow down by stepping off the gas pedal, instead of braking, to save fuel. And for speeds above 10 mph, accelerate slowly so at least 2 to 3 seconds pass for every 10 mph increase. Essentially, you want to keep the brake and the gas pedal away from the metal.
The overall savings from mastering these driving habits would be 5 to 10 percent for most drivers, and could be as high as 20 percent for some, explains the report's co-author, Jeffrey Gonder. With today's average gas prices, that's 19 to 76 cents per gallon!
Do: Check Your Tires (Really)
We've all heard this one—and we all keeping meaning to check the tires, but a survey by the Rubber Manufacturers Association this year shows that only one in six vehicles has four properly inflated tires, and only 15 percent of drivers know how to check their tire pressure.
Here are a few reasons to head to the garage: Properly inflated tires keep you safer on the road and last longer. They also save you up to 11 cents per gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The average American buys 558 gallons per year; that means more than $60 in annual savings.
Need a tire pressure primer? The proper pressure for your vehicle is located on the manufacturer's sticker in your doorjamb. Check tires monthly and use a digital gauge to take away the guesswork.
Do: Trade In Your Car
Higher gas prices are likely here for the long haul. And many of us have a gas-guzzler on our hands: The average car on the road today is 11 years old, with a much worse fuel economy than newer-model vehicles.
Trading in your car for a hybrid, diesel or smaller vehicle will save you money at the pump. "The bigger the vehicle, the worse fuel economy it's going to get," Wojdyla says. "It's just physics." If you're turned off by the higher cost of hybrid or diesel options, upgrading to a newer model will save you money at the pump. For example, it takes $200 more annually to fill up a 2000 Honda Civic than the 2012 model. Plus, a decade-old car might be headed toward major, costly repairs.
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