12 Tips for "Best" Gas Mileage
12 Tips for "Best" Gas Mileage
by Stephen F. Mansard
For most of us, gas prices are broadening our use of the word "obscene," but there's nothing we can do about them, right? Wrong. There are 12 easy ways to foil a petro-billionaire from purchasing another small nation.
1. Drive Sensibly
Okay jackrabbits, let's start with you. You're hoping to get home from work 37 seconds quicker than the thousand other drivers sharing your road, but your feisty acceleration and power-braking waste gas. You lower your mileage as much as 33% on the highway, not to mention drenching other drivers in adrenaline. Smooth out. This can save more than your gas money: this can save the lives of your babies. Manufacturers design vehicles to give you the best mileage between 35 and 60 mph, but drastic speeding-n-braking at 45 mph lightens your wallet faster than does smooth driving at even 70.
2. Observe Speed Limits
Still, all else equal, mileage decreases rapidly when you slip above 60 mph. Each 5-mph increase is the same as up to a 23% tax on your impatience. Slow down and you'll save enough money for yoga lessons and some new-age CDs.
3. Remove Excess Weight
An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces your mpg by up to 2%, so if you're one of Tony Soprano's boys, always remove your dead bodies as soon as possible. Every ounce hurts.
4. Avoid Excessive Idling
Idling gets you nowhere, but it gets you there fast. It also gets you zero mpg. And larger engines usually waste even more gas at idle than do smaller engines.
5. Use Cruise Control
Use cruise control where practical to help maintain a constant speed, thereby detouring dollars destined for your gas tank into a family vacation. You deserve the break.
6. Keep Your Engine Tiptop
If your engine is huffing-n-puffing, or has failed an emission test, simply getting it fixed can improve mileage by as much as 40%. Just one misfiring cylinder can mean 25% of your fuel goes out the tailpipe. While gas prices surpass $2.00/gal, $200 spent on a trusted mechanic can save you several times that amount over the first year. Stick to the suggested maintenance schedule.
7. Check Your Air Filters
Replacing a filthy filter can immediately improve your mileage by up to 10%. Since filters protect your engine, you'll also save on future maintenance costs.
8. Keep Tires Properly Puffy
If your tires are 10 pounds under-inflated, say goodbye to another 4% of your already outrageous fuel bill. Properly inflated tires are also safer and last longer. A good tire-pressure gauge-one with a dial or digital readout, not the inaccurate pencil-in-a-pocket type-weans you from the pressure gauge at the gas station, which is probably inaccurate. For best mileage, use the highest recommended pressure. While you're at it, think "proper wheel alignment."
9. Use the Recommended Motor Oil
If the manual says to use 10W-30, then that's the only oil for you. Using 5W-30 or any other weight just because your buddy says to, can lower mileage by up to 2%. Oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API label contains friction-reducing additives. Use it.
10. Plan and Combine Trips
Combining errands into fewer trips saves time and money. Many short trips can double fuel consumption relative to multi-purpose trip. Multitask! Multitask! With a little planning, you avoid retracing routes and reduce overall distance. You'll not only save fuel, but feel like you were paying attention back in your high school math classes.
11. Commuter Tips
Join a carpool or a ride-share program. In a 4-person carpool, you can cut monthly fuel costs by 75%. The few of us who can adjust our schedules to avoid rush hours spend fewer minutes in traffic jams (see tip #4). Since I'm one of the people stuck in that stop-and-go-slow mire (I'm the guy using his cell phone-Hi!) I'll be happy to NOT see you there. Also, consider working from home if
your employer sanctions it. Where available, public transit is safe and can be convenient. For links to every state, see www.apta.com.
How often do you fill your trunk? If infrequently, then a roof rack can handle your occasional cargo, meaning that a smaller car-and lower fuel costs-may fit your needs. (Parents note: the law does not allow putting your children in the trunk, nor on roof racks; with or without car seats.) However, roof racks, loaded or not, increase aerodynamic drag and decrease fuel economy. Consider getting a removable rack, and place your cargo in the trunk whenever possible.
Free Bonus Tip: Choose an Efficient Vehicle
Thinking about buying a new vehicle? Then think "economy". Your vehicle selection is the most important fuel-munching decision you can make, except, perhaps, for joining a large carpool or choosing to win the lottery.
At current prices, the difference between getting 20 mpg and 30 mpg is about $550 per year. That adds up to $2200 over four years-before you even pay off your car! Why not instead use those dollars to buy a computer, a thousand acres
in Greenland, or shares in a hi-tech company (whose products I don't understand)?
See www.fueleconomy.gov for a "Most Fuel-Efficient Vehicles" feature that can help you decide.
If that list doesn't meet your purposes, www.fueleconomy.gov also has a slick vehicle-comparison page that lets you investigate specific vehicles by fuel cost. This is a good time to remember how many dollars you make in an hour. How
much do you like your job? How many hours of your life will you use up on purchasing a car? On purchasing gas?
If you've thought it through and you're still thinking about that Hummer, this may get your anxiety flowing: compare an SUV to a Small Car:
* Lowest rated 2005 SUV: Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG, at 12 mpg city, 14 mpg highway; $2722 per year
* Highest rated 2005 Small Car: Honda Insight, at 61 mpg city, 66 mpg highway; $515 per year. Mega-ouch.
Vehicle selection matters.
People who buy from Mercedes probably aren't obsessing over buying gas versus buying food, but even Mercedes buyers may reconsider their purchase when they view how badly their vehicle spews Greenhouse Gas Emissions (14.6 tons per year-more than 450% compared to the Honda) or that the EPA assigns the Mercedes zero out of ten on the air pollution scale.
And by the way, if you've followed the numbers and decided to implement every tip, you've noticed that your overall savings add up to well over 100% of your current fuel costs. This means that gas stations will pay you, every time you drive past one.