Runnin’ on Empty: Tips for Saving at the Pump



As of November 2008, gasoline prices all over the country are falling. It’s nice to see smiling faces at the gas pumps, and to know that at the end of the fill-up you’ll probably get enough change back to buy lunch. But nothing is definite, certainly not the price of crude per barrel, so it’s wise to find ways to stretch the miles per gallon in your vehicle, no matter how much you’re paying at the pump. No need to empty the savings account for a hybrid or for expensive repairs to your current vehicle. Many fuel saving ideas require only a change of driving habits.

Allowing a car to idle for long periods of time is the enemy of gas efficiency. Cut it down. Warming your car engine in the morning is important, but only requires 30-45 seconds, even on cold, frosty mornings. Leaving the car running to dash inside the house may seem like a good idea, but if you’re going to be more than one minute, turn it off. It requires more fuel to restart the car for stops shorter than that. Try to prevent stopping and idling at stop signs and lights. (No, don’t run them; slow down and coast to the stopping point instead of brake at the last minute.) If you don’t have to drive during rush hour, avoid it. Idling an accumulated one hour will eat away a full gallon of gasoline.

Coasting is always a good alternative to punching the gas. If you can coast down a slight decline, for example, there’s no need to use fuel to cover the same distance. Taking your lead foot off the accelerator and coasting in slow areas (school zones, thee area between you and a red light, etc.) is also preferable to braking suddenly. Reducing idling will increase your gas mileage per gallon by a potential 19%.

Sudden anything is detrimental to gas mileage. Aggressive driving, where you switch from one lane to another, speed up to make a light, brake hard when you dn’t and tailgate slower drivers will cost you. Some studies say you use as much as 37% more gas by driving aggressively. Speeding on long trips will also drain the tank; 14% more gas is required to make the same distance.

Simple things, such as using your cruise control, following recommended maintenance practices and watching the air pressure in your tires will all improve gas mileage. Fueling in the morning or evening will get a little more gas into your tank, because cold tends to contract gasoline. The more dense gas can be at the time it’s pumped, the more you get for the price per gallon.

We cannot do a thing to regulate the price of crude oil and, therefore, the gasoline we use on a daily basis. But by thinking, and by changing some basic driving habits, we can improve the number of miles we can expect from every gallon we pump into our vehicles. And that’s a good thing, for all of us.

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