Squeeze Every Mile From That Pricey Gallon of Gas

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The price of gasoline seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, and it’s easy for the average motorist to feel helpless in the face of the spiraling price of oil on the global market. In fact, there are a number of actions the average driver can take to cut their fuel bill. Obviously, walking, biking, and alternative transportation are all good options, but when you absolutely have to drive your gas-guzzler across town, how do you make sure that you get the best mileage possible?

In large part, the type of mileage you can expect from your vehicle depends on the way you maintain your vehicle, and the way you drive. It is entirely possible to increase your mileage by up to 30% just by making sure you are driving a tuned up, stripped down vehicle, and by practicing efficient driving habits.

Before you even pull out of your driveway, there are several important steps that can be taken. Make sure your vehicle is well maintained. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a tune-up can boost mileage by 10% or more. If your car is more than a few years old, you should consider having your tailpipe emissions analyzed on an annual basis. Dirty emissions indicate a car is not running as efficiently as it should be. Among the common culprits are dirty spark plugs, clogged air filters, and faulty oxygen sensors. Sparks plugs should be replaced at least every 30,000 miles, while air filters (which can reduce mileage by as much as 10%) should be changed every 15,000 miles, more often if you regularly drive on dirt roads. A faulty oxygen sensor can decrease mileage by as much as 40%. While oxygen sensors on vehicles manufactured in the last ten years should last up to 100,000 miles, those mounted on cars ten years or older should be replaced every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.

Another factor that will affect your mileage is the amount of gasoline that evaporates from your tank, so check your gas cap on a regular basis. The Car Care Council estimates that 147 million gallons ($600 million) of gasoline are wasted each year due to faulty or missing gas caps. One way to minimize evaporation is to park in the shade when possible. Gasoline is sold by volume, and expands when warm, so the smart consumer will purchase gasoline early in the morning or at night.

The weight of your vehicle has a direct impact on your mileage, so remove any unnecessary objects from your trunk and pickup bed. Drag is another culprit, so detach bike racks and roof racks when not needed. When driving in town, avoid using your air conditioner and roll the windows down, but on the highway it may be better to turn on the AC rather than driving with the windows open, which increases drag. Contrary to urban legend, pickup trucks are more aerodynamic with their tailgates up.

Cruise control is perhaps the most effective method of conserving fuel on the highway. Using cruise control will ensure that your vehicle travels at a steady speed over long distances, and is one of the most efficient ways to save money while traveling. While this may not be a popular suggestion in wide-open Montana, driving a little slower on the highway will boost your fuel efficiency. Most vehicles get their best mileage at about 65 miles per hour, with fuel efficiency dropping approximately 1% for every additional mile per hour. In other words, traveling at 85 mph is 20% less efficient than traveling at 65 mph.

Driving habits are important around town as well. Higher gas prices have given birth to a new movement called hypermiling, which is the art of driving in such a way as to maximize vehicle mileage. One of the key principles of hypermiling is to know what kind of mileage you are getting. At the very least you should track your mileage every time you fill your tank, by dividing the number of miles traveled since the last fill-up by the number of gallons consumed. Digital trip computers that track gas mileage have been around for 20 years, and are pretty much standard on new cars, but there are also aftermarket computers that can be added to most older cars via a data port. These computers can record the rate of fuel consumption, amount of fuel remaining, time and distance to running out of gas, and other information.

Another principle of hypermiling is to avoid tailgating and aggressive driving. Minimize braking and take your foot off the gas as soon as you see a traffic light turn red or a driver brake in front of you. Accelerate slowly away from traffic lights and stop signs. A little forethought and route planning can eliminate unnecessary trips. Whenever possible combine errands, drive at non-peak hours, and get an early start so you’re not feeling rushed.

Which brings us to those gas-savings devices advertised on late night television and on the Internet. Some of these are outright scams. In fact the Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 such devices and additives and “has not found any product that significantly improves gas mileage.” Significant may be the key word there. At $4 per gallon, even a marginal improvement might be worth investigating. The Missoula County Sheriff’s department has been testing a cold air intake device, which they estimate could save the County about $40,000 annually if installed on all of its vehicles.

More information:

www.hypermiling.com – Information on how to dramatically increase your mileage and save money by changing your driving habits.

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ – This government website provides mileage estimates for new and used cars, information on hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer.htm – This Environmental Protection Agency website has a green vehicle guide, and a wealth of information on vehicle emissions and gas-saving devices

http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/ – US Dept. of Energy website on alternative vehicles and fuels


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