An urge to hit the road and low gas prices have not curbed our desire to use less fuel. The Federal Energy Information Administration recently announced that U.S. demand for gasoline has averaged about 9.2 million barrels a day, an increase of only 0.4 percent from the same period last year 2008, when gas prices were through the roof. Now that gas prices are back on the rise ( nearly 20 cents per gallon to $2.63), consumer demand is not expected to move downward any time soon.
So here are 10 tips you can use to squeeze the most mileage out of every penny spent at the pump. Some involve proper maintenance of your vehicle, but most require a change in behavior. All will help ease the burden on your wallet.
- Stop Driving Recklessly
Changing the way you drive is the most effective way to reduce the amount of fuel your car consumes. Accelerate gradually, drive smoothly and with care and you could see as much as a 33 percent gain in fuel economy on the highway and 5 percent around town, compared with what you’d get with an aggressive driving style, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That means skipping those jackrabbit starts at stoplights and sudden pedal-to-the-metal maneuvers on the highway.
- Don’t Over Compensate With The Brake Pedal
Anticipate stops so you avoid sudden braking. In fact, spend as little time on the brakes as possible. “Any time you hit the brake [in a traditional gas-powered vehicle], you are throwing away energy,” says Eric Kaufman, engineering manager for fuel economy and drive quality at General Motors. Take a long view of the road ahead, coasting safely to an intersection in front of you where you see traffic stopped.
- Stay Within Posted Speed Limits
A car or truck moving at 55 mph can get about 15 percent better fuel economy than the same car going 65 mph. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional 24 cents per gallon for gas.
- Use Cruise Control Whenever Possible
Sure, it’s a luxury convenience. But, when used properly, cruise control can also be a fuel saver. It smoothes out driver input, helps maintain an even speed and allows the driver to take a long look at the road, rather than reacting to every little change in the surrounding traffic.
- Avoid Excessive Idling
Idling uses more fuel than turning the engine off and restarting it again. So if you are stopped for more than a minute, shut off the car. That means don’t waste fuel by sitting in that drive-thru lane at McDonald’s or Taco Bell; park and go inside instead. And shut off your vehicle while waiting outside the elementary school to pick up your children.
- Turn the AC Down
When you’re in slow city traffic, keep the air conditioner off, if possible. Lower the windows and open air vents to keep occupants comfortable. The air conditioner is a burden that uses fuel, and if you’re tooling around town, you can see a slight improvement in gas mileage by keeping it turned off. On the highway, however, keep the windows closed and AC on low. Open windows will impede aerodynamics and hurt fuel economy.
- Pulse and Glide Technique
This is a favorite technique of so-called hypermilers, a unique breed of drivers who go to extraordinary lengths to get as much as they can from each gallon of gasoline. However, it can be done only with hybrid vehicles. The first step is to accelerate the vehicle to around 30 or 40 mph (pulse). Then, ease slightly back on the accelerator until no energy arrows appear on the energy monitor, indicating that the vehicle is neither relying on the engine nor recharging the battery. As a result, the car begins to glide. When the vehicle slows to about 30 mph, repeat the whole process again. The pulse-and-glide technique improves fuel economy by minimizing use of the internal combustion engine.
- Plan Your Trips Ahead of Time
Combine your errands into one trip, rather than striking out multiple times during the day. Organize your stops so they’re near each other and so you don’t retrace your path. You may even be able to park in one central spot and walk between some of your stops, rather than driving and parking at each one. For commutes or events, organize a car pool and plan to travel during less congested times of day. When there’s less traffic, you’re more likely to drive smoothly. Use navigation aids on the Internet or in your vehicle to keep from getting lost — and thus wasting fuel — when you’re headed to a new, unknown location.
- Pracice Proper Maintenance
A well-maintained vehicle operates at peak efficiency. An inefficient engine — with fouled spark plugs, for example — won’t make optimal use of fuel. Be sure the air filter and the fuel filter are clean. Replace them if they’re not. Even something as simple as having tires inflated to the automaker’s maximum recommended pressure can improve gas mileage by as much as 6 percent, while periodic wheel alignments can help improve fuel economy up to 10 percent, according to the EPA.
- Get Rid of Excess Cargo Weight
Clean out that trunk, cargo area or pickup bed. Take out unneeded items that only add weight to your vehicle. Extra weight decreases gas mileage. According to the EPA, every 100 pounds of unnecessary weight could reduce fuel mileage by up to 2 percent. Also remove anything that causes additional aerodynamic drag, such as a bug shield, roof rack or cargo carrier. These have the same effect as adding weight; i.e., they increase the demand on your engine, causing premature wear and tear and reducing your car’s fuel efficiency.