By Erik Badia
It’s pretty hard to ignore the sky-high price of gas. Since everyone is surely interested in saving some money, and summer is typically “road trip” season, let’s go over some tips for improving your gas mileage. Some of them may seem obvious, but the average driver does not realize just how often they sidestep these rules for good fuel economy. The first thing I would recommend is to start keeping track of your vehicle’s gas mileage—it’s easy and it will help you gauge your progress and success. Get a small pad of paper and a pen and stash it in your glove box or other easily accessed storage compartment. When you take your car to the gas station and fill up your tank, write down the exact mileage on your odometer and how many gallons it took to fill up (from the gas pump). The next time you fill up your tank, record these numbers again. To calculate your gas mileage, subtract your first odometer reading from your second one. This will tell you how many miles you've driven. Then divide this number by how many gallons it took to refill your car. The resulting number is your vehicle’s fuel consumption for that tank-full of gas. You may be surprised to find that it is a lot lower than you thought, or what the manufacturer claims. This is due to a combination of factors, including elevation, climate and most importantly—driving habits. But before we get to that, here are some things you can do to your vehicle to improve its fuel economy, most of which won’t cost you anything:
The Vehicle: First, check your tire pressures. This may seem irrelevant, but the fact is that underinflated tires can rob MPG’s from your car and cash from your wallet. The increased rolling resistance of an underinflated tire requires more energy to move. Make sure that your tires are up to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures and check them regularly, especially when there are big changes in temperature. Check your trunk, backseats and other storage areas in the car—are you lugging around stuff that serves no purpose? Eliminating extra weight is another easy way to improve fuel efficiency. Again, more weight equals more energy required to move the vehicle. This goes for external accessories as well—that roof cargo carrier or bike rack strapped to your vehicle is robbing you of aerodynamic efficiency at highway speeds, so if you’re not using it, take if off. Of course, if your vehicle is older, particularly if it has high mileage, make sure you’ve done your maintenance. While it may seem like a lot of money up front, a few simple tweaks like changing your spark plugs, air and fuel filters could save you hundreds of dollars in the near-future. These tricks may seem insignificant, but if you add them up, they could save you some green at the pump, where every dollar counts.
The Driver: The straight truth is that you will save far more money at the pump by changing your habits behind the wheel than you ever could by the aforementioned vehicle tuning (that’s not to say you shouldn’t try those tips, however!). The easy way to bump your gas mileage up is to take it easy while driving. It may be difficult at first, but slowing down and driving more like “miss daisy” will help save you money. That includes trying to coast when coming to stop lights or signs, avoiding sudden and/or aggressive acceleration and keeping your speeds down on the highway. Just slowing from 65 to 55 mph on the expressway will make a noticeable difference in your efficiency. Another helpful technique on the highway is to use the cruise control—even small fluctuations in speed on the highway can reduce your mpg. Of course, skip any unnecessary driving and try to combine errands or trips. If you really try, you will see your fuel mileage increase and more money in your bank account at the end of the month!