How You Drive = What You Spend on Gas
Despite voter anger, Congressional hearings, and ringing speeches by politicians, energy experts agree that significantly lower gasoline prices aren't likely anytime soon. So your only real alternative to cut driving costs is to go farther with every gallon. And, unless you can afford to buy a less-thirsty car, you only need look into the mirror to see your best option for improving gas mileage: you, and your driving habits.
For years we've been hearing eat-your-spinach advice about how driving more slowly and less aggressively could boost gas mileage. But back when gas cost less than half as much as today, it didn't seem to be all that important to pay attention. Now, a recent series of road tests by the staff at automotive Web site Edmunds.com has shown how dramatically changing your driving habits can improve gas mileage—especially in highway travel.
Test drivers from Edmunds.com, Santa Monica, Calif., made mileage-testing runs on a California interstate involving a sedan, a small sports utility vehicle (SUV), and a pickup. Gas mileage gains from slowing down and driving less aggressively ranged from 10% to 38%, depending on how significantly driving style was changed. "People can do a lot to improve their mileage," says Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for Edmunds.com. "Judging from the vehicles that went speeding by us, a lot of drivers haven't adapted their behavior to the new gas price realities."
Rooftop luggage and the air resistance it adds can cut gas mileage up to 21%.
The amount you might save with changing habits depends on your driving style now. If you are a fast, aggressive driver your savings potential is higher than if you already drive near the speed limit. Of course, if you have been driving fast since you got your first driver's license, it may be hard to change; but focus on the money you could save. Whatever your driving habits now and whether you drive mostly for commuting, shopping, or family trips, here are tips on saving gas:
Slow downSlow down and calm down. By cutting speed from the mid-70s to 65 mph and avoiding lane changes and bursts of acceleration, the Edmunds.com drivers got a 33% mileage improvement to 32.5 mpg in a Lexus ES350 sedan, 35% improvement to 20.8 mpg in a Toyota Tundra pickup and 38% improvement to 27.2 mpg in a Buick Enclave, a so-called crossover SUV built with car-like qualities. In an earlier test, Consumer Reports found similar results with a Toyota Camry—a 33% mileage gain by slowing down by 20 mph.
Use cruise controlSimply making sure you drive at a steady speed instead of faster/slower/faster again can produce sizable mileage gains. Setting cruise control for 77 mph (the average of traffic flow where the highway speed limit was 70 mph), the Edmunds.com crew got a 15% improvement in mileage for the Lexus sedan compared with aggressive lane changing. Click here to see full details of the Edmunds.com test.
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Don't tailgateNot only is it dangerous to drive close to the car ahead of you, it also means you need to brake and re-accelerate when cars in front slow down. So even in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, leave yourself enough room to drive smoothly and save gas.
Don't put luggage on top of the carThose roof-top luggage carriers are tempting for family vacations, but put your stuff inside the car, SUV, or minivan if possible. Rooftop luggage and the air resistance it added cut gas mileage 21% in the Edmunds tests. "We calculated that for the Buick Enclave, keeping luggage off the roof could save $44 in gas on a 1,000-mile trip," says Dan Edmunds. "That's enough to buy dinner for the family."
Avoid idlingWhile shopping or doing errands in the city or suburbs, shut off the engine if you're stopping for more than a minute. When you sit with the motor running, you're getting zero miles per gallon.
High gas prices have knocked down resale values—the beating you take on selling your old vehicle may not be made up in gas savings.
Check tire pressureLike tailgating, underinflated tires are both dangerous and detrimental to gas mileage. Keep the tires at the pressure stipulated by the manufacturer—usually on a plaque on the driver's door visible when the door is open. Having tires inflated 25% less than the recommended pressure can cut gas mileage 3% to 5%.
Don't believe everything you hear
Not all mileage-saving tips that you hear from friends and co-workers may be good advice. Consumer Reports looked at some of these gas-saving myths. For instance, the idea that turning off the air conditioning and rolling down windows saves gas was not borne out by their tests. And while it's good to have your engine's air filter changed periodically, driving with a dirty air filter did not cut mileage because of computerized adjustments that are made by modern engines. (If you are a magazine or online subscriber, you can see the full test results of Consumer Reports online.)
Changing your driving habits can improve gas mileage—especially in highway travel.
And speaking of myths, don't fall for Internet or other promotions for devices or additives that promise big fuel savings. If those devices really worked, their promoters would have sold them to car companies instead of pitching them online.
Of course, when it comes time to buy a new vehicle, look for something that will give you a big improvement in mileage while still meeting your needs. But if you're stuck with a gas-guzzling pickup or SUV now, don't assume you really will save money by selling or trading it for a gas sipper. High gas prices have knocked down resale value of big SUVs and pickups by nearly 10% and the beating you take on selling your old vehicle may not be made up in gas savings. "People may wind up spending thousands of dollars to save hundreds," cautions Jack Nerad, executive editorial director for Kelley Blue Book and its Web site kbb.com. The gas guzzler trade-in calculator at Edmunds.com can be an eye opener.
Instead of trading your car, concentrate on how much you might cut your gasoline consumption by paying attention to the way you drive.
Jerry Edgerton is an automotive writer whose work has appeared in Money and other national magazines. He also is the author of "Car Shopping Made Easy."
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