Everyone knows the cost of gas. Everyone complains about the cost of gas. Chances are, if you are drawing a blank on small-talk topics, gas prices will be popular.
So how do you take care of your car and drive to maximize your miles-per-gallon (mpg)?
- Get the lead out–of your trunk. Your car’s trunk is a handy place to store all sorts of things–car stuff, sports stuff, that return-bound bag of cement you never used for that fencepost project. Whatever it is, it adds up, and every one hundred pounds removed can improve fuel economy by 2 percent, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.
- Walk! Park your car and get some exercise. The best way to stretch your gas money is to leave your car parked and walk instead. It is rumored that short trips of 1 mile or less are the number-one reason for most American car trips. And, according to the Web site www.walkscore.com, a study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs seven pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood. | So next time you think about climbing in your car to drive somewhere nearby, stop and think–can I walk there? Can I ride my bike? The life (and the money) you save may be your own.
- Buy an almost-new car instead. According to the Kelley Blue Book, the average car loses about 65 percent of its value in the first five years of ownership. Some cars lose as much as 35 percent of their value in the first year of ownership. So how do you save money on cars? Buy them when they’re a few years old. If you want to find a lot of relatively late-model used cars in the “sweet spot” on this depreciation curve, and don’t want to trust and haggle with dealers or private parties, try used car “automotive superstore” CarMax. They specialize in selling exactly the cars you might be looking for.
Use regular gas. Sure, any fancy car will tell you in the owner’s manual that you must, must use premium gas in your car or terrible things will happen. “When I first bought my Range Rover,” our friend Bob Slobe told us, “I only used premium gas, just like the manual said. Then I sat next to a judge at a dinner party who was explaining a case in which a gas company had been forced to admit that the type of gas really didn’t affect the engine’s performance. I started using regular gas that next day.” The difference in price between premium and regular is usually around 20 cents, which adds up when you are filling an eighteen-gallon tank. And when you are filling your tank week in and week out, the cost difference is considerable. So go ahead and take the regular gas plunge. Keep the money in your wallet instead of in your tank. And speaking of keeping the money, fifteen years later, Bob is still driving the same car.
- Pump up your tires. Remember the days when you rode a bicycle (And we hope you still do), and those tires weren’t quite pumped up enough? It seemed like you were slogging through mud–hard crank after hard crank, and the bike slowed to a crawl between cranks. Well, your car ride much the same way. Poorly inflated tires make your engine work harder. And guess what? You use more gas–perhaps as much as 10 percent more. EPA studies suggest that properly inflated tires save 1 to 2 miles per gallon. Taken over time that’s a lot. So keep a pressure gauge handy, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a service station with free air nearby.
- Change the air filter in your car. Imagine running a marathon wearing one of those little dust masks people use for sanding wood or other home projects. Now imagine it’s clogged with dirt. You’d suffer. You’d wheeze and gasp for precious air. It’s the same with your car. A dirty air filter can reduce your fuel economy by up to 10 percent. A clean one not only will boost your car’s fuel efficiency, but make it run better too. For most cars, it’s an easy fix–two to four clips, maybe a screw or wing nut or two, and an $8 or $10 filter from your neighborhood auto parts store. You can do it yourself in less than five minutes on most cars. When in doubt, ask the guy or gal behind the counter at the parts store.
Slow down for savings. You may remember the national 55 miles per hour speed limit of years gone by, which was enacted at the height of the 1973-74 oil crisis. The government had a point: Driving slower saves gas. According to the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov Web site, every 5 mph over 60 adds the equivalent of 20 cents per gallon to the price of your gas (by using more gas). Or, put it another way, a car getting 30 miles per gallon at speeds of between 45 and 60 mph gets only 23 mpg at 70 mph. Big, big difference.
- Wash your own car. Go to the gas station, fill the tank, add $4 for the car wash, maybe more if you get one of those wax jobs you really don’t need. Sure, it’s convenient, and your car comes out looking a whole lot better. But it only takes care of the outside. What about the inside? If you use the car wash once a week for a year and throw in one of those hand washes and vacuum jobs for $20 every now and then, pretty soon you’re into some real money, especially if you have more than one car. So we say, do it yourself. It isn’t real hard work. It’s one of those “pride of ownership” things, and the interior of your car will get cleaned more often, too. That’s the part you see the most anyway.
- Time for only one car? Most American couples are two-car couples. Is it time to rethink that at your house? You might not bring your auto costs down by half, but your savings will be considerable. Taxes, insurance, gasoline, parking, repairs–think of it. Instead of each of you driving around in your own car, can you give one up and commute together? Can one person work from home? Take public transportation? Bicycle? Don’t approach it as a punishment for the one giving up a car; approach it as an opportunity to rethink your habits and decide that you can do things differently from now on.
- Watch your lead foot. Stomp on that gas pedal, take off, beat the guy next to you. Feels good, right? Well, only until you start thinking about your hard-earned dollars fluttering out your tailpipe. According to the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov Web site, so-called “aggressive driving”–that is, speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking–wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. And it’s not just about burning money; it’s about making your car last longer, and it’s about safety too.
- Check your gas cap. Of course, most states and areas with emissions testing laws will take care of this for you with inspection programs, but know that gas just loves to evaporate into thin air and will do so quite willingly at the sign of a missing or poorly fitting gas cap. These devices cost under $10. Studies show that 20 percent of all cars have some sort of gas-cap problem, and that some 147 million gallons become vapor each year as a result. That’s a lotta gas.
- Park where the sun don’t shine. Gas really likes to evaporate, and get it warm inside your tank and fuel lines, and it will go anywhere it can. That includes out the gas filler and gas cap (see the tip above) and out through the fuel injection or carburetor system in your engine compartment. And when your car gets hot, it only wants to get out all that much more. So if you can avoid it, don’t park your car in hot sun–look for a shady spot. You’ll be more comfortable when you get in the car, and your interior will last longer, too.
- Know when to–and when not to–use your car’s A/C. You’ve heard that running the air conditioner makes your engine work harder–and use more gas. For the most part, this is true. So naturally, the instinct is to, when possible, turn off the A/C and open the windows. Good instinct–but it isn’t always right. The problem is that today’s modern cars are designed to run with the A/C on. Why? Because of aerodynamics–open windows actually create drag at higher speeds. So you’re actually better–above 40 mph–to keep the A/C on.
The above tips are directly quoted from 573 Ways to Save Money by Peter Sander and Jennifer Sander. Borrow it from the library. If you like it, buy it. Many of the tips include Websites for further reading, tips, instruction and reference, and I can see myself referring to them frequently.