The Enemy...

The Enemy: Your Local Gas Pump
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The neighborhood gas pump: ready to pump cash out of your wallet!

I  know your kind: you’ll drive five miles out of your way to fill up with gas at a station that charges three cents per gallon less. Did you ever stop to think that increasing your gas mileage by a measly 1 percent is the equivalent of saving more than three cents per gallon? Here are ten ways to increase that fuel economy, and eight of which are pretty painless.

1 Avoid Driving at High Speeds

Too Fast? Maybe, for Good Mileage
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High-speed driving goes through gasoline faster than moderate speeds.

According to the people at the U. S. Department of Energy, speed kills – it kills your fuel economy, for sure. That’s because the drag as your vehicle moves through the air increases as you pick up speed. Studies suggest that a car moving 62 miles per hour (that’s 100 kilometers per hour) gets 15 percent better gas mileage than a car moving 75 MPH (120 KPH).

Speed vs Fuel EconomyCredit: / US EPABesides being safer, driving at a reasonable speed will also save fuel. As the graph at right shows, a vehicle’s gas mileage begins to decrease steeply at about 50 MPH, and it just keeps getting worse as you go faster. 

2 Remove Unused Heavy Items

And You Thought A Full Trunk is a Heavy Load
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Overloading your car can reduce fuel economy.

Ever wondered why new cars have those goofy “rolling donut” spare tires instead of a full-size spare? Easy: it’s because the donut weighs a lot less – and that’s not just to make it easier for you to change a flat. In fact, 100 pounds of excess weight reduces your fuel economy by as much as 2 percent - from 25 MPG down to 24.5, for example. So taking all the old clothes out of your trunk or dumping the snowdrift of fast-food bags and candy bar wrappers in the back seat could make a little difference.

The savings is dependent on the total weight of your car: losing 100 pounds from a smart Car is going to make a bigger improvement than 100 pounds of junk removed from the luggage compartment of a Suburban, but every little bit helps. Plus, this gives you an excuse not to take your obnoxious brother-in-law along on trips.   

3 Keep Your Windows Closed

Open Windows Reduce Fuel Economy
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No matter how much your pooch  likes the fresh air, open windows reduce your mileage - especially at highway speeds.

Modern cars are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. That’s why windshield wipers are hidden behind the hood and it’s also why cars no longer have rain gutters. If you open your windows, especially at cruising speeds, you’ll add drag and reduce fuel efficiency. The same thing goes for roof racks, light bars, and other aftermarket accessories that disturb the streamlined profile of your vehicle. 

4 Don't Idle for Long Periods

Might as Well Shut 'er Down
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Gonna be stuck for a while? Shut it down and save gas.

Depending on whom you ask, idling for more than thirty seconds or a minute will use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting the car. Of course, there are a lot of variables, such as how hard your car is to start (see #9), but if you’re stuck in gridlock for several minutes, you might as well shut her off. 

5 Avoid Jackrabbit Starts and Hard Braking

Aggressive driving, also known as “driving like a maniac,” drinks gasoline like a frat boy on Friday night. Drivers who practice “hypermiling” know that you can increase your fuel economy by as much as 20 percent by not only accelerating and stopping smoothly, but also by anticipating the traffic and adjusting your speed to avoid needing to accelerate or decelerate. The most aggressive drivers can decrease their fuel economy by as much as 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in city driving.

6 Reduce Air Conditioner Use

A/C controls
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Staying a little warmer can improve fuel economy a lot.

Studies say that the air conditioner piles on the stress when it comes to fuel economy. Depending on the size of your engine, running the A/C can reduce gas mileage by as much as 20 percent. That’s from 25 MPG down to 20 MPG or from 20 MPG down to 16. Ugh: that revelation makes it a little easier to put up with slight discomfort; and maybe wear light-colored clothing in the car, too…

And by the way: in case you hadn’t noticed, setting the climate-control to “Defrost” also runs the air conditioner to dry out air hitting the windshield. 

7 Use Your Cruise Control

Cruise Control
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Driving at a steady speed is more efficient than constant acceleration and deceleration.

Accelerating and, to a lesser extent, decelerating both use more gas than driving at a steady speed. Since that’s what cruise control is for, using yours will increase your fuel economy when you’re driving on the highways on long trips. It also keeps you from creeping up to higher speeds when you’re not paying attention.

The downside of cruise control is that using it can actually decrease mileage on hilly terrain, as a vehicle with an automatic transmission might downshift to a lower (and more fuel-hungry) gear when going uphill. If you feel the car lurch and hear the engine speed up when climbing hills, you may want to hit “Cancel” and start driving manually. A light foot on the throttle will use less gas.

8 Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated

Properly-Inflated Tires Save
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Soft tires waste money.

Studies say that any one of your tires, if underinflated by 2 PSI, can reduce your fuel economy by 1 percent. That may not seem like much, but if all four are running soft, you’re suddenly burning close to 5 percent more gas. Use a pressure gauge and keep the tires inflated to their recommended pressure. You can usually find the pressure on a sticker in the glove box or on the driver’s side door or door frame. Trust me: if you don’t check your tire pressure, no one else will!

9 Keep Your Car Properly Maintained

Tune it Up and Improve your Mileage
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Tune-ups save money in the long run and gas in the short tun. What's not to like?

A poorly-tuned engine is an inefficient engine. Though the price of scheduled maintenance may seem steep, following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule will very likely increase the life of your engine and prevent costly repairs down the road (often at the most inconvenient time possible). Maintaining your vehicle also increases gas mileage by keeping the air and fuel filters clean, thereby allowing the engine to run at its most efficient. You’ll also reduce fuel-wasting misfires and weak spark by replacing worn-out spark plugs and other components. 

10 Replace Your Vehicle with One That's More Fuel-efficient

Buying a new Ride? Look for Fuel Efficiency as Well as Style
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Small, fuel-efficient cars save money every day you own them.

When the time comes to buy a new vehicle, do your research. Smaller and lighter models with small engines may not let you wheel around town like a NASCAR driver, but they won’t make as big a dent in your wallet in the long run. New cars all come with a sticker showing EPA estimated mileage, but the EPA will also help you out when it comes to used models as well. You can find the estimated mileage for almost any car or light truck all the way back to the mid-1980s at their website[1].

These techniques do work: our passenger vehicle is supposed to get 25 MPG highway mileage. On a recent road trip, we got 30 MPG for a long stretch of driving at 55-60 MPH using the cruise control but no AC. That’s even though the car was loaded (three people and their gear) and had a cargo box on the roof. On a different stretch of road while driving between 75 and 80 MPH and running the A/C constantly, our mileage was below 20 MPG.