Since prices at the pump have escalated to record heights, it's worth every penny we spend on gas to try and maximize the mileage we get with each fill-up. While some of us choose to drive full-sized SUVs or high-performance musclecars and some might select a fuel-efficient hybrid as a daily driver, our driving habits and vehicle-maintenance practices can extend each tank of gas and save us a significant amount of money over time regardless of vehicle preference.
The Energy Information Administration reports (August 2004) that the average cost of regular unleaded gas across the United States is up 35.2 cents from last year. That's all the more reason to check the lead under your foot, the air in your tires and the filter under the hood-to name just a few ways to save. The Department of Energy discloses that repairing a poorly-tuned vehicle can increase mileage by about four percent and that replacing a bad oxygen sensor can improve your mileage by up to 40 percent. Here are some more ideas to help you improve your fuel economy (and possibly extend the life of your vehicle and its tires):
On the highway, more than 50 percent of the energy required to keep rolling is aimed at overcoming aerodynamic drag. As the pedal hits the metal, the aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance increase. That's why the 55-mph speed limit was clamped on the highways in the '70s. Above 55 mph, fuel economy takes a dive. So, by cutting highway cruising speeds to 65 mph instead of 70 mph, gas is conserved. When you use overdrive gearing, the engine speed decreases, reducing both fuel consumption and engine wear. On the open highway, utilizing cruise control maintains a constant speed and can also help reduce fuel consumption.
Nearly 50 percent of the energy needed to power a vehicle goes into acceleration. A pattern of "rabbiting" through traffic with sudden stops and squealing accelerations wastes a lot of gas. Eliminating tailgating from driving habits and the resulting unnecessary braking and acceleration can improve fuel economy by five to 10 percent and reduces wear on tires and brakes.
* Keep tires properly inflated. Low tire pressure reduces gas mileage and causes increased tread wear. You can lose up to 6% of fuel efficiency for every pound per square inch (psi) below the manufacturer's minimum recommendation.
* Turn off your engine if you are stopping for more than 30 seconds. Restarting your car takes less gasoline than idling.
* Remove unused luggage, bicycle or ski racks and other extra weight you may have in your car. Every 200 pounds of unnecessary weight reduces mileage by one mile per gallon. (Yet another reason to go on that diet!)
* Have your tires properly balanced and keep the vehicle "in alignment" to get the best gas mileage.
* Plan your trip before you leave. Getting lost or having to backtrack wastes fuel and frays tempers.
* Service your vehicle regularly. Keeping a vehicle well maintained keeps it operating efficiently and reduces fuel usage. Replace air filters and fuel filters regularly. A new air filter alone can improve gas mileage by as much as 10%.
* Turn off the air conditioner whenever you can. Running you're A/C causes extra work for the engine, which lowers fuel efficiency by 5-10