If you’re like most Americans, chances are good you’re heading out on the roads over the Memorial Day weekend. Oddly enough, gas prices seem to be coming down instead of taking their usual skyward trend on the first weekend of the summer vacation season. That may be a good sign, but gas is still damn expensive; in fact, it’s doubled in price since 2009, and I’d be willing to bet that most of our incomes haven’t kept pace. Short of trading in your current ride for something more fuel efficient, what can you do to reduce your gas bill as much as possible? Below are five tips that can save you money at the pump.
Tune Up Your Car
A properly tuned car gets better fuel economy than one with spent spark plugs and a dirty air filter. Checking your air filter should take you less than 10 minutes, and if you can’t remember the last time you replaced it you’re probably overdue. Ditto for spark plugs; the manufacturer may claim that they’ll last for 60,000 miles, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll work optimally towards the end of their life. Also, keep an eye on any dramatic changes to your car’s fuel economy. Increased fuel consumption could be something as simple as a stuck thermostat, which is (usually) easy and inexpensive to repair.
Use A/C On The Highway, Not Around Town
Above 45 miles per hour or so (depending on the car), it’s more efficient to use your car’s air conditioning system than it is to drive with the windows open, thanks to wind resistance caused by the open windows. Below 40 miles per hour, drag is reduced and it’s more fuel efficient to drive with the windows down. Also, realize that electrical draw uses fuel since the alternator is powered from the engine. The less accessories you have on, the better your fuel economy will be (although, admittedly, we’re probably talking about a few more feet per gallon, not miles per gallon).
Squeeze The Throttle And Brakes
If you take a high-performance driving school, one of the first things you’ll learn is “squeeze the throttle and brakes”. Mashing the pedals causes abrupt changes in vehicle stability at speed, and that’s rarely a good thing on a racetrack. It’s not a good thing on the roads, either, since you’ll get the best fuel economy by accelerating slowly, coasting when you can and braking gently, well in advance of stopped traffic. Just like racing a Mazda Miata, getting good gas mileage is all about preserving momentum.
How much crap do you carry around in your car that you don’t really need? That D-cell Maglight that you keep under your seat for protection won’t help if you run into a guy who knows how to fight, so you might as well replace it with something lighter. Do you need to carry a quart of oil in your trunk, or that lug wrench that you haven’t used in five years? Not only is a lighter car better on gas, but it’s also faster, so you can think of cleaning out your car as getting free horsepower.
Use The Correct Grade Of Gasoline
If your car requires premium gas, or even recommends it, you’ll get better fuel economy (and better performance) by using premium over regular. Will it offset the difference in price between regular gas and premium gas? I can’t say, because the cost savings is likely to be car dependent. I look at it this way: the engineers who built your engine had specific performance goals in mind, and achieving them requires a particular grade of gas. If you can’t afford to put premium gas in the tank, then you shouldn’t buy a car that requires it.
Also, feel free to ignore the myths about only buying gasoline in the morning, when temperatures are cooler. Gasoline is kept in underground storage tanks, which maintain a relatively constant temperature throughout the day. Fill up when you need gas, but I’d still bypass a station getting a fuel delivery. I know most pumps use filters, but why run the risk of getting fuel-filter-clogging sediment in your tank if you can avoid it?