Go Long! Ten Tips to Make Your Trips Between Fill-Ups Last Longer-And Three Myths That Won’t Help

If you’re like most people, you dread heading to the gas pump these days. There goes that extra latte you were hoping to get later in the day. Then dinner out Friday night. Braces. College for the kids.

Okay, so maybe it’s not THAT bad, but gas prices are high. And while we know the standard copout in these types of articles is the simple “buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car” or “carpool,” for most of us those simply aren’t options.

To that end, we’ve gathered this expert advice that can save you money at the pump (plus a few things that don’t work as advertised). Because little Jimmy really wants to go to a good university!

1. Easy Does It
It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating that the more aggressively you drive, the more gas you’ll use. It’s that simple. Ease up on the jackrabbit starts and coast into stoplights instead of jamming on the brakes. Aggressive driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. (An independent study by Edmunds.com found that driving in a “moderate” fashion can improve a driver’s mileage a combined 31 percent!)

2. Don’t Speed
I know, I know. It’s the hardest rule to follow. But did you know the national 55-mph speed limit (when it still existed) was enacted not as a life-saving measure (that was the unexpected benefit) but as a fuel-saving measure? Fuel mileage for vehicles rapidly declines at speeds above 60 mph. In fact, according to the DOT, each five mph over 60 you drive is like paying an additional $0.29 for gas (at a U.S. national average of $3.65 per gallon). Slowing down can save you as much as 12 percent on gas versus speeding. That might be worth extending your trip by a few minutes!

3. Clean It Out
For many of us, our trunk is like our closet, a catchall repository for the clutter in our lives. But did you know an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your fuel mileage by up to 2 percent. That’s about $1 a fill-up, which might not sound like much, but could mean an extra latte a month in savings!

4. Shut ’Er Down
Several independent tests have shown that if you are going to be idling for more than a minute, it is more cost effective to simply shut your car’s engine down, and then restart it when you need to. After all, an idling vehicle is getting zero miles per gallon!

5. Cruise to the Beat
Remember that Edmunds.com test we mentioned earlier? That same test found using cruise control versus your foot can save an average of about 7 percent on fuel economy, a fact backed up by DOT statistics. So any time you’re out on the open road, turn that cruise control on.

6. Pump ’Em Up
It’s perhaps the easiest way to improve your car’s fuel economy: keep your tires properly inflated. According to the DOT, properly inflated tires can improve mileage by up to 3.3 percent. Plus, properly inflated tires are safer and last longer. And now, several states require service facilities like dealerships and fast lubes to test your tire’s inflation for you.

7. Smooth the Airflow
Anything sticking off your vehicle interrupts the airflow and increases drag, so if you’re not using that ski-rack or bicycle-rack, ditch it. (And if you have a sunroof, keep it closed if you want to save gas.) No, you won’t look as macho or outdoorsy, but your credit card won’t have to work as hard when it comes time to fill up, either.

8. Keep It Tight
According to the Car Care Council, loose, missing or damaged gas caps cause 147 million gallons of gasoline to simply evaporate into the air each year. Not only is this bad for the environment, it also costs you a little bit of money over time. No, making sure your gas cap is tight (or replacing it if it’s damaged) won’t double your fuel economy overnight (you might not even notice a difference), but you will be doing Mother Nature a favor and saving yourself a few cents in the long run.

9. Put Your Foot Down
My grandmother, God bless her, was a two-footed driver her entire life. Her right foot she kept on the gas, her left she kept resting on the brake pedal. If you drive like her, you might not realize that even the smallest bit of pressure on the brake pedal causes the brakes to clamp down. You might not even feel it, but even the tiniest bit of mechanical drag from the brakes can suck your fuel tank dry in a hurry. Plus, it wears out your brakes prematurely, as well, and a brake job is equal to a bunch of lattes!

10. Shut ’Em Down
So you’ve dropped off the kids at school; now what? Well, for starters you can turn off the rear air conditioner (if you have one). Air conditioning is just one of a number of power-sapping accessories your car might have. Others include navigation systems, entertainment systems and anything else that draws electricity. Shutting off these systems (especially rear A/C) when not in use can result in a small but noticeable improvement in fuel economy. Every little bit helps!

Fuel Economy Myths

While we wish every little tip and trick would yield substantial savings in fuel economy, the truth is that some tips widely touted in the press and elsewhere are simply not true. To whit:

1. A Breath of Fresh Air

Okay, so we’re guilty of publishing the myth that a new air filter can improve fuel mileage, as well, but in our defense the DOT study that refutes the myth of “new air filter equals better fuel mileage” just came out recently. Turns out that a new air filter really only helps if your car has a carburetor (and a whole generation of our readers just said, “What’s a carburetor?”). However, the same DOT study did find that a new air filter will improve acceleration, so if your only concern is keeping your sports car in peak performance, a new air filter might be for you.

2. Fill Up When It’s Cool Out

According to the folks at Consumer Reports (who test these things religiously), the temperature of fuel varies little during the course of a day, so there’s no real benefit to topping off the tank during the cool part of the day.

3. Keep Pumping

Some “hyper-mileage” blogs have recommended over-inflation of tires as a way to improve fuel economy. And while it is true that doing so can create a small bump in mileage, it also increases wear on the tires and decreases the “contact patch” where your tires are touching the road. This can upset the vehicle’s ability to steer and stop, especially in abrupt, accident-avoidance situations or when it’s wet outside. Better to pay a few more cents at the pump than risk your life.

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